Gamers collaborate to help save the ash tree

Posted Aug 24, 2013 by Tim Sandle
A new Facebook game called Fraxinus hopes to crowdsource the solution to protecting the common ash tree from a deadly fungus.
Ash trees near Saxby UK
Ash trees near Saxby UK
David Wright
Scientists have teamed up with game development company called Team Cooper to design a social media game that uses real genetic data from the common ash tree, Fraxinus excelsior, and from the Chalara fraxinea fungus to find out what makes some trees less susceptible to the deadly fungus that has been responsible for so many ash trees dying.
Chalara dieback of ash is a serious disease of ash trees caused by a fungus called Chalara fraxinea. The disease causes leaf loss and crown dieback in affected trees, and usually leads to tree death. The disease has caused widespread damage to ash populations in continental Europe, including estimated losses of between 60 and 90 per cent of Denmark’s ash trees.
According to the Forestry Commission (U.K.), the game is called Fraxinus. The game presents players with multiple rows of colored leaves, the BBC notes, where each color represents one of four DNA nucleotides and each row represents the genetic information from a different ash tree sample. Players are challenged to compare chunks of genetic code between the various ash samples, including around 100 Chalara-resistant trees from Denmark, as a means to search for genes that could be encode resistance. Players will also match genetic patterns from the Chalara fungus to learn more about how it spreads.
Dan MacLean, the lead botanist behind the game, said in statement: "The more people who play it, the more accurate the results will be for us and the quicker we can generate the information needed to help our woodlands recover from the current epidemic.