Researchers at the University of York (UK) have identified genetic markers for disease tolerance that suggest UK ash trees may have a fighting chance against a fungal infection, which has the potential to wipe out 90% of the European ash tree population. The disease, called ash dieback, was first identified in Poland, where it devastated the native ash tree population. It rapidly spread across northern Europe, and was discovered in the UK in 2012. Results from the latest study, a collaboration between the University of York and Queen Mary University of London (QMUL), could contribute to breeding new varieties of ash that are tolerant to the disease. The disease is aggressive, spreads quickly through the population, and has no cure, other than individual natural tolerance to the infection. The disease is spread on the wind or via the transfer of infected saplings between areas. Symptoms include loss of leaves and lesions, which are a useful way to diagnose fungal ash dieback, as they leave a characteristic diamond shape scar on the bark. Professor Ian Bancroft, plant biologist at the University of York, said: "This disease has spread across Europe in less than 10 years so there is some urgency to understand how we can better support breeding programs for the species. Ash trees can be found in home gardens, parks, and roadsides and are an important woodland species that supports a number of insects and fungi. It is not known exactly how the loss of this tree species will impact the eco-system, but from past examples, we know that the extinction of any species can fundamentally alter the environment." The York team had previously tested a genetic screening process on Danish trees.
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