MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The University of Minnesota on Wednesday announced a possible path forward in controlling the invasive species emerald ash borer (EAB).

According to the university, researchers from its Minnesota Invasive Terrestrial Plants and Pests Center (MITPPC) discovered several different fungi that live in EAB-infested trees, and found that they attack EAB and other insects.

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Researchers are calling it a critical first step in finding fungi that can be harnessed to control the spread of EAB and preventing ash tree death.

“[The fungi] can now be further tested for their potential for biocontrol,” said Robert Blanchette, the study’s project leader and professor in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences. “This is a very important first step in the search for a biocontrol for emerald ash borer.”

Researchers gathered samples where ash is affected by EAB in areas “from Rochester to Duluth”, the university said.

“Through DNA sequencing, scientists identified fungal isolates and revealed a diverse assemblage of fungi. This included entomopathogenic fungi that attack insects, as well as other fungi that cause cankers — which help EAB kill trees — and some that cause wood decay,” the university said in a research brief.

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Before the discovery, researchers haven’t been sure of the fungi linked with EAB infestations in the state.

“This project identified those species and, in doing so, opened up new possibilities for managing one of our state’s most devastating tree pests,” said Ben Held, the study’s lead author and researcher in the College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences.

Now, researchers are using the study’s findings to determine if the fungi can be used to kill EAB in Minnesota and across the country.

“Ash trees are vitally important to Minnesota,” Rob Venette, MITPPC director, said. “They reduce air pollution, storm water runoff, and cooling costs, all while increasing property values in local communities. It’s critical we work to protect them from this invasive pest.”

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EAB has become the most devastating forest insect since it was first detected in the Unites States in the early-2000s. The invasive species has killed hundreds of millions of ash trees at a cost of hundreds of millions of dollars.