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Wednesday, 28 August, 2002, 06:39 GMT 07:39 UK
DNA finds root of the problem
Tree roots
Tree roots can cause major problems to foundations
A DNA technique could help solve disputes over which trees are responsible for causing subsidence under houses.

The method, pioneered by a team at Newcastle University, will be used by insurers to help settle claims for work to rectify damage - which can cost tens of thousands of pounds.

The technique will help solve long-running disputes when two trees of the same species grow near a house which is damaged by roots growing below foundations.

Scientists at the university have set up a company called Bioprofiles to carry out the work in partnership with tree experts, building surveyors and insurers.

Subsidence risk

Company director Dr Kirsten Wolff said: "Houses built on clay are particularly at risk from subsidence, and more so in times of drought.

"Tree roots suck water out of the ground, which causes the clay supporting the house to dry out and contract.

"We establish which tree is to blame and thus indicate which insurance company should pay out."

Dr Wolff, a reader in evolutionary genetics, added: "The technique is particularly significant for insurance companies or building surveyors acting for people who live in London and the south of England where house prices tend to be much higher and claims are therefore much bigger."

Keith Gaston, a partner with Essex-based firm of solicitors Gaston Whybrew, which specialises in subsidence cases, said: "This is an interesting development.

"Cases where trees are alleged to have caused damage can result in substantial claims and disputes often arise as to whether a particular tree has been a factor.

"It is to be hoped that this technique will assist in resolving disputes at an earlier stage than would otherwise be the case."


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See also:

28 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
28 Aug 01 | Science/Nature
24 Nov 98 | Science/Nature
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