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Antifungal hopes for ash dieback

Posted 30/01/2014 by sevans

At last some good news about the problem of ash dieback affecting an increasingly sizable proportion of the UK’s trees. Scientists at the University of Sussex this week report the development of a fungicide with the potential to inhibit growth of Chalara fraxinea that is the cause of the disease. The news follows a story in C&I back December 2012 - when the ash problem first began to make headlines - which referred to concerns that the large-scale application of fungicides may be impractical and could result in ‘susceptible plants’.

Instead, the Sussex team claims that the new treatments should get around this problem by inhibiting the alternative oxidase (AOX) enzyme that is the cause of fungal resistance problems. The compounds are claimed to be particularly effective when combined with a traditional fungicide that targets a different enzyme, and have recently been subjected to independent trials by the UK’s Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich. Data are available for other scientists to analyse on the crowdsourcing website OpenAshDieback.

The arrival of ash dieback, meanwhile, has added to a growing list of pests and diseases arriving in the UK over the past decade. As an earlier blog on the C&I website pointed out in 2012, the crisis has even attracted the attention of the government’s crisis committee Cobra, which convened a special meeting that year to discuss the problem.

Public help in tackling the problems is also being urgently sought. Numbers of sightings of Ash dieback recorded on the website AshTag, for example, continue to grow as the fungus spreads – with current estimates suggesting that as many as 90-99% of the country’s ash trees could ultimately be killed by the disease.

But while there’s a glimmer of good news on ash dieback, another citizen science study of horse chestnut leaf-miner – involving more than 3500 people across the UK – has revealed more worrying news about the spread and establishment of the moth (Cameraria ohridella). The findings also suggest that a native species of wasp that preys on the moth will not be able to curb its impact, according to a 25 January report on the BBC Science and Environment website.

Our native British woodlands, it would appear, are coming under threat on all sides. We can only hope that modern science and technology finds solutions fast enough before many of our precious trees and other flora and fauna may disappear from the landscape altogether.

Finally, the University of Sussex is currently working with the Sussex Innovation Centre to help bring the AOX fungicides to market, and is seeking commercial partners to develop the compounds for a range of applications. Interested parties are asked to get in touch.

Cath O’Driscoll - Deputy editor

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