British Society for Plant Pathology
25th Anniversary Celebratory Meeting

Imperial College, London 19th December 2006

Foresight: plant pathology in a global disease context

Jeff Waage, Imperial College, London

The UK Office of Science and Innovation has completed this year a Foresight project on Detection and Identification of Infectious Diseases. This 18 month study considered the future risks of infectious disease across human, animal and plant sectors. The study was focused on both the UK and sub-Saharan Africa. Across these sectors and regions, experts identified the same three future risks as priorities: new pathogens/strains arising through natural genetic change, geographical extension of pathogen range and increased pathogen resistance to microbiocides.

Parallel to risk studies, the project considered future scientific advances affecting
our capacity to detect, identify and monitor infectious diseases. Four areas of technology were seen to converge in future on systems for rapid, pre-symptomatic disease monitoring: gene technology, sensing technology, electronic miniaturization and information technology. In UK and Africa, these future visions of risk and technology were put to practitioners responsible for disease prevention and management, and four "systems" emerged for future development: novel information technology for capture and analysis of disease-related data; tools to detect and characterize new diseases based on genomics and postgenomics; hand held point-of-care devices for rapid disease diagnosis; and high throughput, non-invasive disease detection systems for use in ports, airports. Throughout this project, plant disease perspectives were integrated with those on animal and human diseases. As plant diseases hold a comparatively lesser place in political priorities for infectious disease, such engagement with advances in human and animal disease diagnosis and prevention should be of future value.