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Fighting Microbes with Microbes to Protect Our Native Trees

2017 | Rachael Antwis, PhD, University of Salford, U.K. and Co-Investigator Andrea Harper, PhD, University of York, U.K.  

Trees constitute the foundation of our natural ecosystems and contribute considerable value to the economy. Emerging infectious diseases, such as the chalara fungus (Hymenoscyphus fraxineus) that infects ash (Fraxineus excelsior), are decimating tree populations, and novel and effective control strategies are urgently needed. Natural microbial communities of trees regulate health and pathogenic invasion, and present a unique opportunity to develop such strategies. Here we aim to identify microbial (bacterial and fungal) signatures of ash resistance to chalara. We will also correlate these microbial signatures of resistance with markers of host gene expression. We predict that combining these two approaches (microbiomes and host gene expression) will identify a much larger cohort of resistant trees, which will provide a wider range of genetically diverse trees for cultivation and reforestation. This information can then be used by nurseries and other facilities to select trees that are resistant to the fungus. This project will result in a management strategy to enhance the resilience of ash trees to chalara, as well as maps of chalara susceptibility across the UK, identifying resistant and vulnerable individuals based on a combination of biological traits. Based on the data collected, we will publish two peer-reviewed journal articles, as well as non-technical reports for all project partners. This project aligns with two of TREE’s Research Priorities: Plant Health Care, and Tree Planting and Establishment.

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