Video transcript: How I found ash dieback disease (and what we're doing about it)

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September 2013

Video shows Dr Anne Edwards walking through Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood

Dr Anne Edwards, John Innes Centre
We are in Ashwellthorpe Lower Wood in Norfolk. It is a very ancient woodland and it has a long history of coppicing. And last September and we walked round the wood and it was then that we noticed that some of the young ash seedlings seemed to be dying. We were a bit worried about this and I took a sample back to the lab and got in touch with the Forestry Commission and I did a DNA test in the lab and confirmed our worse fears that we actually had the ash dieback here.

Video shows dead ash trees

Standing out now very clearly are the dead ash coppice stools. We have got one healthy one still there, but there is a huge amount of death already evident.

Video Dr Anne Edwards with black, dead ash tree leaf stalks

So I have just picked up these black leaf stalks from around, underneath this infected ash. They fell off last autumn and the fungus has now produced this vein line dormant within the sticks all winter and has now produced these fruiting bodies which will release the infectious spores that will now go on to infect other ash trees.

Video shows Professor Allan Downie in the John Innes Centre laboratory talking to school children

I then told a few of my colleagues at work and immediately they sort of set too and asked the question what we can do. The John Innes doesn't normally work on trees but we do work on plants.

Professor Allan Downie, John Innes Centre
One of the things that we can do is to maybe try to identify trees that will be able to tolerate the disease. And that involved us going to the Research Council, that's the BBSRC and Defra, and we put in a grant proposal to them. And one of the things we will try to do there is to get a map of the ash trees and try to identify genes that prefer tolerance. If we can map those genes and try to identify the best crosses that we can do with ash trees to get a population of trees that have more probability of being tolerant of the disease.

Dr Anne Edwards
We were given a grant by the BBSRC and that money so far has been used to sequence the genome of the fungal pathogen and also the genome of the ash tree. The publicity surrounding the disease has raised a lot of concern amongst the public and we have engaged a lot of schools and members of public groups. They have come to John Innes to find out more.

Video shows school children working in the laboratory and playing the Fraxinus Facebook game

We had a group of school children today looking at the techniques we use in the lab but also trying out a new game that Dan MacLean from the Sainsbury Lab has put together where everybody, all the public can help with assembling the genome sequence of both the fungus and the tree. They can help with the scientific research and fight back against this terrible disease.

Dr Dan MacLean, The Sainsbury Laboratory
The game helps them to do very individual, very small analysis and all the results that they generate comes straight back into our pipelines and we can use the data immediately. And I think the general public are very keen on helping out because the British public especially are very keen on their woodland and they don't want to see it destroyed and so in this case, I think they will be very keen to give their time and play the game.

Dr Anne Edwards
There is going to be no quick fix solution to this problem. The BBSRC funding has allowed John Innes to collaborative with a number of different universities and institutions in this country and abroad. The funding has also allowed the sequencing of an ash tree from Denmark which seems to be more tolerant to the disease than any other tree. And we are hoping from this sequence to be able to define regions of the genome that are responsible for tolerance. Then transfer this knowledge to our own ash trees and provide markers for breeders to get one step ahead of the fungus, breed trees that will be tolerant to it, and can be planted out now in time to replace trees that sucum when the fungus rips through the rest of the country.



This video may be embedded in its entirety with due credit to BBSRC.

All media (c) BBSRC unless stated.

We wish to thank teachers and pupils from Wymondham College.

Music: An Organ Giver from cinephonix.com