Monday, 7 January 2013

Ash Fungus Sequence Data Released

Ash blight (common name Chalara, scientific name Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus) is a fungal infection that mainly affects Ash trees. This infection threatens large numbers of trees that are indigenous and very common in the UK and may well lead to severe scarring or death of most trees.

The Ash blight fungus has been rapidly part-sequenced and the resulting genetic data published. For speed the researchers have concentrated on expressed sequences (RNA) i.e. those that are switched on while infecting the tree. Researchers at the UK's Sainsbury Laboratory and John Innes Centre have accomplished this important advance for the fight against this invading pathogen in a matter of weeks and have now released the genetic sequences to enable other researchers to help with the task of finding a weakness we can exploit.

This is an example of 'crowd sourcing' for research which is intended to allow as many scientists around the world as possible to quickly participate in the effort to discover why this strain of Chalara is proving so destructive when there are very closely related strains that are commonly found on Ash trees throughout the UK which cause little damage.

'Crowd sourcing' is intended to allow progress to be as rapid as possible and was famously (and successfully) used during the E. coli outbreak in Germany in 2011 and is essentially a sophisticated form of social media (GitHub). Scientists can safely contribute to the research knowing that their contributions are recorded and protected as the system automatically records who says what & contributes what and when it was mentioned. Traditionally scientists have to be careful what they say to other scientists until their work is published (as that is the accepted form of establishing who was first to make a discovery for example) and that can take many months. However with this system precedence is clear and thus multiple groups can freely collaborate, potentially accelerating research.

Report from the Sainsbury Laboratory

Earlier comment on Ash blight by Aspergillus blog

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