Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Dieback fight back

The UK's ash trees are threatened by so-called ‘ash dieback’ The UK's ash trees are threatened by so-called ‘ash dieback’ Pefkos
11 Jun
2016
A 200-year-old tree named ‘Betty’ is helping identify genetic tolerance to ash dieback disease

Ash dieback, a fungal disease also called Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, has killed off thousands of ash trees in the UK. Thought to have arrived from Denmark, where ash dieback has wiped out 90 per cent of its ashes, it was first reported in Buckinghamshire in 2012. Since then, the disease has made its way across the UK via wind-borne spores, with few areas left unaffected.

Mysteriously, some trees have not been infected – even when they are surrounded by dying specimens, leading scientists to study the genetic markers for these especially tolerant specimens in hopes of finding a cure.

Professor Allan Downie of the John Innes Centre says ‘Because the disease was more advanced in Denmark, we used Danish ash leaves to find a genetic pattern associated with low susceptibility.’ The question was whether or not the genetic patterns for low susceptibility were the same in UK ash trees: ‘UK trees are a little different, we did not know if the Danish genetic markers would work on them.’

Betty is symbolic of a small population of tolerant trees that could form the basis for rebuilding the ash population

This is where ‘Betty’, a 200-year-old ash tree in Norfolk, comes in. Betty had been observed for some time as having low levels of ash dieback symptoms. When Downie tested its genes for the dieback tolerance markers, Betty met the criteria for low susceptibility. ‘Betty is important because it gives us confidence that our genetic predictions are working in UK trees’ he says.

Betty is not alone. There are other ashes near to it that also appear to be tolerant to the disease. Downie hopes to figure out what proportion of similarly tolerant trees make up the whole UK population.

‘In some regards, [Betty] is symbolic of a small population of tolerant trees that could form the basis for rebuilding the ash population,’ says Downie, ‘while disease works its way through the susceptible species. What we do not know yet is what proportion of the trees’ offspring inherit the tolerant genes. There is quite a lot still to do, but we can now see a way forward using trees that are much less susceptible to the dieback.’

This was published in the June 2016 edition of Geographical magazine.

Related items

Subscribe to Geographical!

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Sign up for our weekly newsletter today and get a FREE eBook collection!

geo line break v3

University of Winchester

geo line break v3

EDUCATION PARTNERS

Aberystwyth University University of Greenwich The University of Derby

TRAVEL PARTNERS

Ponant

Silversea

Travel the Unknown

DOSSIERS

Like longer reads? Try our in-depth dossiers that provide a comprehensive view of each topic

  • Natural Capital: Putting a price on nature
    Natural capital is a way to quantify the value of the world that nature provides for us – the air, soils, water, even recreational activity. Advocat...
    The Human Game – Tackling football’s ‘slave trade’
    Few would argue with football’s position as the world’s number one sport. But as Mark Rowe discovers, this global popularity is masking a sinister...
    Essential oil?
    Palm oil is omnipresent in global consumption. But in many circles it is considered the scourge of the natural world, for the deforestation and habita...
    London: a walk in the park
    In the 2016 London Mayoral election, the city’s natural environment was high on the agenda. Geographical asks: does the capital have a green future,...
    Diabetes: The World at Risk
    Diabetes is often thought of as a ‘western’ problem, one linked to the developed world’s overindulgence in fatty foods and chronic lack of physi...

MORE DOSSIERS

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in UK...

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits Kennington…

UK

New research demonstrates the harsh reality of UK immigration policy…

Discovering Britain

On this month's Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole heads to…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits a…

UK

‘Iconic mammals of the hill’ see populations dwindling in the…

Discovering Britain

In this month’s Discovering Britain, Laura Cole visits Winchester’s chalk…

UK

A new interest in Cornish mines has been sparked amid…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole checks out…

UK

An ambitious, long-term project is hoping to bring trees back…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole follows the…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits Hay-on-Wye,…

UK

The UK’s withdrawal from the EU is likely to lead…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole walks up…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits the…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain Trail, Laura Cole visits Norwich,…

UK

With Blue Planet II’s recent rally cry for environmental protection…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain viewpoint, Laura Cole visits St…

UK

A community of 28 bottlenose dolphins has made the southwest…

Discovering Britain

For this month’s Discovering Britain trail, Laura Cole explores Pontypool…

UK

From casual forays beneath to leading scientific breakthroughs, UK’s caving…