Scientists from the Austrian Tree Research Center have noticed a defense mechanism against harmful insects in some plants. They want to incorporate it into alpine trees to keep them from extinction.
Researchers have noticed that about 10% of trees in the Alps each season suffer from yellowed needles – this is one of the signs of disease caused by harmful microorganisms; in the future, it can spread throughout the crown and cause death of the tree. Scientists in Austria have discovered a natural defense mechanism that can be used to protect against a potentially deadly pathogen.
They published their research results in the BMC Genomics journal. The disease is one of the main threats to trees around the world, especially when they are more stressed by climate change.
The researchers noted that the number of pathogens and insects that will spread them will increase in the near future. However, some trees have been able to develop a defense mechanism that helps fight insects and the effects of their spread.
Scientists monitored Norwegian spruce trees in the mountains of Austria, allowing the team to select trees that show resistance to the disease. From these trees, the group was able to generate clones, study their genes, and the production of chemical compounds that fight against pathogens.
“This defense mechanism consists of producing a complex cocktail of proteins and chemicals that isolate the fungus in the attacked leaves”, the scientists explained. The infected part of the leaf or needles will die in a controlled manner and thus prevent the spread of the fungus to the rest of the tree.
The researchers also noticed that the reaction occurs two to three weeks after infection and lasts for at least a month. This is enough to keep the tree from dying. Now scientists want to implement this mechanism in trees that do not generate it on their own.