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Scientists confirm mutated fungus is threat to white pine trees in parts of New Hampshire

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DURHAM, New Hampshire — A mutated fungus is infecting white pine forests in parts of New Hampshire, according to a U.S. Forest Service study.

White pine blister rust comes from a combination of white pines and flowering plants — called ribes — like gooseberries and currants. When infected ribes lose their leaves in the fall, spores of the fungus invade white pines and eventually kill the tree.

The study says fungus is infecting trees in Epsom and Concord, and possibly elsewhere in the Northeast.

Scientists became concerned in October 2013 that the mutated fungus was seen on black currant plants that were said to be immune in New Hampshire.

Hundreds of white pine samples were sent to a Canadian Forest lab for testing last spring, and a number were later confirmed to be infected.

"The pathogen causes cankers that can girdle a tree if they occur on the main stem," said Isabel Munck, a Forest Service pathologist and the study's lead author.

Pathologists say some varieties of ribes are more resistant to white pine blister rust than others, but varieties that were not showing any signs of the infection before are now found to be heavily infected.

When the fungus first hit in 1909, a massive eradication effort, including a ban on ribes, helped stem the destruction.

But a Cornell University researcher found a previously immune currant infected with a mutated form of the fungus in 2011 in Connecticut.

The Forest Service, Canadian Forest Service from Natural Resources Canada, New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands and Cornell University collaborated on the study.

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