My PhD involves assembling and analysing the genome of the European ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior).
Ash populations in Europe and North America are currently severely threatened. The Emerald Ash Borer beetle is an invasive species in N. America, and feeds on the leaves and bark of ash trees. Throughout Europe, ash has also been under threat from a fungal pathogen for more than a decade. The disease, known commonly as ash dieback, was recently identified in the UK in 2012. A small proportion of the European ash individuals have shown sufficient resistance to the disease, in that they can tolerate and even inhibit the growth of the pathogen.
The ultimate goal of the ash genome research would be to find the genetic or epigenetic variants responsible for this resistance. However, until now there has been very little genetic data available for the ash species, making the search for these markers near impossible. As part of the British Ash Tree Genome project, I have assembled a reference genome sequence for F. excelsior, which can be used by all other ash genome researchers for comparisons of different populations and finding genetic differences. We have also identified and annotated over 40,000 genes and comparing the levels of sharing between several other plant species.
I am now working on two sub-projects; one involves comparing whole genome data from 37 F. excelsior trees with origins across thirteen European countries. The second is an analysis of whole genome DNA methylation data from five different clones of F. excelsior; three being largely resistance and two susceptible to ash dieback.
- Find out more about the British Ash Tree Genome Project
- Intercrossing website - an EU-funded Marie Curie Initial Training Network