Fraxinus Fever

30th Aug 2013

After just two days’ play, every one of more than 10,000 puzzles in the ash dieback game Fraxinus had been looked at.

“This is when it gets really interesting for us, as players have to start stealing from each other to get a better score,” said Dr Dan MacLean, the scientist at The Sainsbury Laboratory behind the idea.

“The puzzles will be fine-tuned and this in turn helps improve the quality of results for us.”

There are already clear leaders among the thousands of people from 80 countries who have played, topped by Thor Nogson with a player called “AshGood GameDieback” coming in second. All players will have their contributions recognised.

The scientists are also lining up fresh data from samples of the ash dieback fungus. The current samples are from three infected woods in Norfolk. Samples from France and Japan collected by Genepool and The Sainsbury Laboratory scientists will help reveal where the British infection originated.

The game involves matching data from different samples represented by coloured leaf shapes. They have to be matched to a reference pattern at the top of the screen, which represents genetic data from the fungus taken from Kenninghall Wood in Norfolk. Players get more points for beating someone else’s score on a pattern.

“The response has been overwhelming and will help with real analysis for our research,” said Dr MacLean.

Some puzzles that cannot be improved on have already been removed from the game and the data returned to the research database ready for further analysis by the scientists.

Each tiny white mushroom of the ash dieback fungus can produce 1500 spores an hour during the morning to spread to new trees and new areas. Scientists were devastated to find the woodland floor at Ashwellthorpe carpeted with these mushrooms the day before the launch of the game, making Norfolk an epicentre for the onward spread of ash dieback.

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