December 7 2013 Latest news:
PA Environment Correspondent
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Norwich-based scientists have been involved in creating a Facebook game that allows puzzle fans to help tackle a disease threatening the UK’s ash trees.
Chalara ash dieback, which could kill millions of ash trees, was first identified in the UK last year and experts fear it could have the same devastating impact on woodlands as Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.
Scientists at Norwich Research Park have been working with Sheffield-based gaming company Team Cooper to design Fraxinus, an online game they hope will enable people to help identify variations in the genetic code of ash trees and in the Chalara fungus, as part of efforts to breed trees which are resistant to disease. The experts behind the game say it is as easy to play as Candy Crush and relies on the human brain’s ability to see patterns faster and more accurately than a computer can. Players have to match up sequences of coloured leaves, which represent strings of genetic information from ash trees in the UK and from a resistant tree taken from Denmark, where ash trees were badly hit by disease. The game also involves comparing sequences of leaves which represent the genetic make-up of Chalara fungus, taken from Norfolk.
Dan MacLean, head of bioinformatics at the Sainsbury Laboratory, said: “Genetic variation is key to all this. The differences in the genetic code makes every living thing different from every other living thing. In the case of ash dieback, we need to find the genetic variation associated with resistance in the ash or lethality in the fungus.”
Allan Downie, from the John Innes Centre, who leads the research collaboration, said: “The clues generated by members of the public could help us discover the information needed to breed from naturally-resistant individual trees to re-establish our ash woodlands.”
The Genome Analysis Centre and Genepool at University of Edinburgh are also involved in the project.