Tens of millions of ash trees across Europe are dying from the Hymenoscyphus fraxinea fungus that affects them
Researchers have decoded the genetic sequence of the ash tree to help the fight against fungal disease. Tens of millions of ash trees across Europe are dying from the Hymenoscyphus fraxinea fungus -- the most visible signs a tree is infected with ash die back fungus are cankers on the bark and dying leaves.
A small percentage of ash trees in Denmark show some resistance to the fungus and the reference genome is the first step towards identifying the genes that confer this resistance. "This ash tree genome sequence lays the foundations for accelerated breeding of ash trees with resistance to ash dieback," said project leader Dr Richard Buggs from Queen Mary University of London.
The ash tree genome also contains some surprises. Up to quarter of its genes are unique to ash. Known as orphan genes, they were not found in ten other plants whose genomes have been sequenced. "Orphan genes present a fascinating evolutionary conundrum as we have no idea how they evolved." Dr Buggs added.
This research has been published in the journal Nature. Having a huge significance in culture and society, Ash trees are one of the most common in Britain and over 1,000 species, from wildflowers to butterflies, rely on its ecosystem for shelter or sustenance.
Ash timber has been used for making tools and sport handles over the years.