Ash dieback is a killer fungus that is threatening Britain’s woodland areas. Experts say it poses a real threat to the country’s 80 million ash trees, and since its presence was confirmed in October 2012 the disease has received extensive media coverage.
To try and beat the fungus, scientists are seeking the wisdom of the crowd to help analyse some of its genes.
Genetic data from infected trees is being posted on the OpenAshDieBack website. Individuals who want to help can download data to look for things such as effector genes and genetic variations.
When their analyses are complete they send the findings back to the site. Participants do need to possess some degree of knowledge about genetics, and their contributions will be recognized in any publications that may arise.
Know Your Enemy
Ash dieback is caused by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea and was first identified in mainland Europe in the 1990s. Currently, there is no cure for the disease; all that can be done is to monitor its progress and try to limit the spread.
The aim of the crowdsourcing project is to find out what makes the fungus attack trees, and to come up with the optimum methods to halt or slowdown the fungal invasion.
The project has received an enthusiastic response, especially with some members of the scientific community who are critical of the way some genetic research is conducted.
Typically, researchers perform gene sequencing and then sit on the results until publication, but this method is of no use during emergency situations.
By adopting a crowdsourcing approach the project team can enlist expertise from all over the world, and they may get the results faster.