Scientists uncover resistance genes for deadly ash tree disease
New research has identified the genetic basis of resistance to ash dieback in UK trees, opening up new avenues for conservation.
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London and the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew sequenced the DNA from over 1,250 ash trees to find inherited genes associated with ash dieback resistance.
The study, published in leading journal Nature Ecology & Evolution, showed that resistance is controlled by multiple genes, offering hope that surviving trees could be used to restore diseased woodlands, either by natural regeneration or selective breeding.
Professor Richard Nichols, author of the study from Queen Mary University of London, said:
“We found that the genetics behind ash dieback resistance resembled other characteristics like human height, where the trait is controlled by many different genes working together, rather than one specific gene.”
“Now we have established which genes are important for resistance we can predict which trees will survive ash dieback. This will help identify susceptible trees that need to be removed from woodlands, and provide the foundations for breeding more resistant trees in future.”
Samples were collected from ash trees in a Forest Research mass screening trial, which comprises 150,000 trees planted across 14 sites in South East England.
The researchers screened for resistance genes using a rapid, cost-effective approach, where the DNA of multiple trees was combined into separate pools for diseased and unaffected trees.
Many of the genes found to be associated with ash dieback resistance were similar to those previously shown to be involved in disease or pathogen responses in other species.
Ash dieback is a major threat to the UK landscape, and it is predicted it will kill over half of ash trees across the UK.*
The disease, caused by the invasive alien fungus Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, has spread throughout Europe’s ash populations, and was first recorded in the UK in 2012. It is estimated to cost the British economy £7.6 billion over the next 10 years.**
Professor Richard Buggs, Senior Research Leader in Plant Health at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew and lead author of the paper, says:
“There is no cure for ash dieback and it threatens to kill over half of the 90 million ash trees in the UK. This will have huge impacts on the British landscape. Our new findings of the genetic basis of natural resistance found in a small minority of British ash trees help us to predict how ash populations will evolve under ash dieback. While many ash trees will die, our findings are encouraging from a long-term perspective and reassure us that ash woodlands will one day flourish again.”
Notes to editor:
* *Coker et al (2018) https:/
* ** Hill et al (2019) https:/
* Research paper: ‘Genomic basis of European ash tree resistance to ash dieback fungus. Jonathan Stocks, Carey Metheringham, William Plumb, Steve Lee, Laura Kelly, Richard Nichols and Richard Buggs. Nature Ecology & Evolution.
* Available here after the embargo lifts: https:/
* For a copy of the paper, please contact:
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The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
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About Queen Mary
Queen Mary University of London is a research-intensive university that connects minds worldwide.
A member of the prestigious Russell Group, we work across the humanities and social sciences, medicine and dentistry, and science and engineering, with inspirational teaching directly informed by our world-leading research.
In the most recent Research Excellence Framework we were ranked 5th in the country for the proportion of research outputs that were world-leading or internationally excellent. We have over 25,000 students and offer more than 240 degree programmes. Our reputation for excellent teaching was rewarded with silver in the most recent Teaching Excellence Framework.
Queen Mary has a proud and distinctive history built on four historic institutions stretching back to 1785 and beyond. Common to each of these institutions – the London Hospital Medical College, St Bartholomew’s Medical College, Westfield College and Queen Mary College – was the vision to provide hope and opportunity for the less privileged or otherwise under-represented.
Today, Queen Mary University of London remains true to that belief in opening the doors of opportunity for anyone with the potential to succeed and helping to build a future we can all be proud of.
The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew is a world-famous scientific organisation, internationally respected for its outstanding collections as well as its scientific expertise in plant diversity, conservation and sustainable development in the UK and around the world. Kew Gardens is a major international and a top London visitor attraction. Kew’s 132 hectares of landscaped gardens, and Wakehurst, Kew’s Wild Botanic Garden, attract over 2.3 million visits every year. Kew Gardens was made a UNESCO World Heritage Site in July 2003 and celebrates its 260th anniversary in 2019. Wakehurst is home to Kew’s Millennium Seed Bank, the largest wild plant seed bank in the world. Kew receives approximately one third of its funding from Government through the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) and research councils. Further funding needed to support Kew’s vital work comes from donors, membership and commercial activity including ticket sales.