Investigating horse chestnut bleeding canker

Research to provide an accurate diagnosis of this pathogen and underpin management strategies to combat the disease

News from Forest Research: April 2009

Bleeding canker Close-up of rusty coloured exudate Serious disfigurement caused by bleeding cankers and associated bark cracking

Trees and woodlands play a critical role in sustaining our environment. One of the Forestry Commission’s major objectives is the long-term sustainable management of trees and woodlands. To do this, we need to address the causes of woodland decline and protect trees from invasive species and diseases.

One new threat is a disease known as bleeding canker of horse chestnut, caused by the bacterium Pseudomonas syringae pv aesculi (Psa). This disease has rapidly become widespread throughout Britain over the past five years, but prior to this had only been reported from India in 1980 on Indian horse chestnut (Aesculus indica). It has now proved to be highly mobile and exceptionally virulent to European horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum).

Research is underway to provide an accurate diagnosis of this pathogen and underpin management strategies to combat the disease.

A technique called real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has been developed and is being used to detect the levels of Psa on infected trees and their surroundings. PCR is a highly specific, sensitive and rapid method of identifying pathogens based on the detection of specific and highly characteristic segments of DNA, which can allow us to track how such organisms survive and spread in the environment. Little was known previously about what natural resistance horse chestnut populations may have to Psa, but observational evidence indicates that even in heavily affected locations some trees remain healthy and symptom free. Disease-free horse chestnuts have been propagated and will be tested for disease resistance in inoculation trials and compared against other disease-prone individuals.

This research will ultimately guide management and mitigation strategies and the molecular techniques developed will also be applicable to the study of other important tree diseases.

Further information about bleeding canker of horse chestnut.         


What's of interest

FR News logo

This and other news stories can be found in the April 2009 issue of FR News, our online newsletter.