Ash dieback disease has been ravaging ash trees in the UK, but a small number appear resistant to the fungus that causes it and researchers have homed in on genes that may contribute to that resistance, the Independent reports.
Researchers from Queen Mary University of London sequenced the genomes of 1,250 ash trees from a dozen different sites across England. As they report in Nature Ecology & Evolution this week, the researchers then conducted a genome-wide association study to identify SNPs associated with varying levels of damage due to the disease. In all, they uncovered more than 3,000 SNPs linked to either high or low levels of damage, suggesting resistance is a polygenic trait. The researchers further developed a genomic prediction model that could be applied to predict tree health.
"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," senior author Richard Buggs from the Royal Botanic Gardens tells the Independent. "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."