Total fungus genome could fight tree-killer

U. TORONTO (CAN) — Scientists have mapped the genome of the fungus that causes Dutch Elm disease, an infection that threatens the survival of trees around the world.

The findings could help scientists figure out how to prevent the fungus, Ophiostoma ulmi, from destroying elm trees in the future.


“Essentially, Dutch Elm disease is caused by a fungus that prevents the normal distribution of nutrients in the tree by blocking the flow of sap,” says Alan Moses, an assistant professor in the University of Toronto’s department of cell & systems biology. “The tree wilts and eventually dies.

“Relatively little is known about the fungus that causes Dutch Elm disease, and it’s a very distant relative of the fungi that are more often studied by researchers, like bread mold or beer yeast.

“We hope that the availability of the genome will encourage and speed-up research on this fungus—it’s only a matter of time before most the elm trees are gone,” says Moses, an author of the study published in BMC Genomics.

Dutch Elm disease is believed to have originated in the Himalayas, traveling to Europe from the Dutch East Indies in the late 1800s. It emerged in Holland shortly after the First World War, which earned it the name Dutch Elm disease.

It is the most destructive elm tree disease in North America, and typically kills most trees within two years of infection. Dutch Elm disease is a problem in many parts of the world, particularly Scotland, Spain, Italy, Western Canada, and New Zealand.

Source: University of Toronto