BSPP News Autumn 1998 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 33, Autumn 1998

People and Places

Plant Breeding International

Over the last year since news from PBI was included in the newsletter much has happened and work has continued on many projects related to Plant Pathology. Graham Jellis has joined the BBSRC Agri-Food Committee and Bill Hollins is a member of the Agri-Food Network Group. John Howie has been awarded his Ph.D. for work on the characterisation of susceptibility genes to foliar diseases of wheat and has joined our Arable Marketing Group to provide technical support.

Vivek Duggal from the Punjab, India, continues aspects of the work on susceptibility genes and presented a poster at the International Plant Pathology Congress in Edinburgh on mildew resistance. Alex Hilton (joint Ph.D. student with Harper Adams Agricultural College) completed work on the mechanisms of resistance to Fusarium head blight in wheat, is well on the way to writing up and has taken a post-doctoral position at SCRI, Dundee working in the Crop Genetics Department on diseases of potato. Some aspects of the Fusarium work are being continued by Professor Xunyi Liang, a visitor for 3 months with Bill Hollins from the Institute of Plant Protection at the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hangzhou, China.

In addition, Sharon Hall has completed her Ph.D. working on lignification genes in wheat with Rebecca Stratford and is now working as a post-doc in Richard Cooper's Group at Bath, and Tim Clifford is busy writing up his work on virus resistance in peas. Two further students are busy with experimental work. Andrew Duncan is locating Fusarium wilt resistance genes in oil palm using markers and is currently in the Democratic Republic of the Congo phenotyping plant material, while Claire Hall, based in Richard Mithen's Group at the John Innes Centre, Norwich, on a CASE Studentship, is working on light leaf spot of oil seed rape.

Two new projects have also begun: PBI is one of 12 European sites involved with the EGRAM project, co-ordinated by Steve Quarrie of the JIC, Norwich, mapping resistance genes in the Graminae using syntenic relationships with rice. Rachel Hague is the post-doc working on this project in Peter Jack's Marker Group. Rebecca Stratford and Lesley Boyd (JIC, Norwich) have a joint BBSRC project to identify and tag genes which suppress resist ance to a number of fungal pathogens in wheat.

On a more general front, many of you may also be aware there has been much speculation and rumour about the future of PBI and of developments in and around Trumpington. Anstey Hall, adjacent to PBI, has been sold and is likely to be developed as a hotel. Other land is under review for a supermarket (this may change our site access) and reports have even appeared of PBI land being considered for park-and-ride schemes and light railways. However, I can assure you all that in spite of this, work and life goes on much as usual.

The one concrete piece of news, new at the time of writing in July, is the sale of PBI by Unilever to Monsanto. The sale includes the PBI Fenton business in Scotland, and our two continental breeding sites, PBI France near Chartres and PBI Saatzucht south of Hannover. Unilever has retained its interest in plantation crops and administration for this has moved from Trumpington to London. We will have to wait and see what further developments there may be.

Bill Hollins 

David Royle writes:

I retired on 30 August 1998 from life as a research plant pathologist at IACR-Long Ashton. I will not be asking for a desk at Long Ashton and so for the future I can be contacted at home: East End Stable, Nowhere Lane, Nailsea, Bristol BS48 2PT, Tel. 01275-857197. At the present time I have only the phone number, the need for FAX/e-mail etc. to be assessed presently. I shall, of course, be retaining my membership of BSPP!

Cambridge Mycology & Plant Pathology Club
President: Henry Tribe

Two meetings were held in the Lent Term 1998 in the Department of Plant Sciences, University of Cambridge. John Howie of PBI Cambridge presented `Adult Plant Resistance - a Holistic Approach' on 20th February. Winter wheat `Hobbit sib' was used as a series of monosomic lines to study the effects of omitting single chromosomes (41 instead of 42) on yellow rust resistance. The various monosomics showed both increased or decreased susceptibility to rust compared with the parent cultivar. This presented opportunities to identify and get rid of genes causing susceptibility.

Seeds were irradiated to generate large numbers of deletion mutations and grown on. Lines showing improved resistance to yellow rust were selected and selfed. Only a few of these lines showed improved resistance to other foliar pathogens, perhaps to be expected given the strong selection using yellow rust only. Mapping of the deletions has been carried out and provides evidence of "susceptibility loci".

Whilst the initial deletion mutations frequently affected other characteristics of the plant rendering them unsuitable as commercial cultivars, there are good prospects for deleting susceptibility loci rather than using major gene resistance to improve disease resistance. This is an area requiring fundamental study as questions about the nature of susceptibility loci remain.

Julia Davies presented `Amps, Volts and Fungi: the Electrophysiology of Fungal Growth' on home ground on 27 February 1998. Fungal physiologists are not noted for their interaction with fungal biologists and the speaker offered explanations of methodology, why it is done and what it hopes to achieve.

Fungi are electric beings, familiar examples being zoospores moving towards roots (electro-tactic) and rhizomorphs showing action potentials analogous to nerve axons. Experimentalists have developed techniques to quantify membrane potentials, ion pumps and nutrient uptake systems. These may be exploited in the development of new drugs as simple electrodes in hyphae are a simple system for screening new compounds.

An electrophysio-logical interpretation of germ tube deformation at stomatal ridges has been produced for Uromyces appendiculatus (Zhou et al.), though interpretation of pathogenesis is still a distant prospect. Anyone with an interest in laser microsurgery at the hyphal level would find this a challenging and rewarding area of investigation.

Meetings are planned for autumn 1998. For further information contact Peter Gladders, ADAS Boxworth. (01954 268230).

Peter Gladders, ADAS Boxworth 

University of Reading

The University continues to have a very active pathology group. Several students on the M.Sc. Technology of Crop Protection degree recently finished pathology or nematology projects - promising among other things to lay bare the secrets of an ubiquitous but apparently previously unrecorded disease of small balsam.

A number of Ph.D.s have been awarded: to Joao Pedro Luz last December, and in June to Fazli Raziq, Prakash Pradhanang and Rabiu Olatinwo - all pathologists - and Mischa Aalten, Vicky Stubbs, Tim Baker, Ioannis Gaiannokou, and Sherman Weekes - all nematologists.

Mike Deadman is leaving the University to take up a Professorship in the University of Oman, and Mike Shaw is becoming Head of the Department of Agricultural Botany (but not a professor!). Hossam Saleh has begun a Ph.D. on Botrytis; and by the time this newsletter appears, we hope to have a new post-doc who will be working on fungicide resistance in collaboration with Mike Shaw and Zeneca. Jeff Peters, Simon Gowen and Roland Fox continue to lead active groups and receive many overseas visitors.

Lastly, alas, the sucker elms on the way from Earley Gate to the main campus have all succumbed to dutch elm disease...

Mike Shaw 

Central Science Laboratory, York

Since contributing to the last newsletter, Rick Mumford has abdicated responsibilty to Claire Sansford for news from the Plant Health Group at CSL which has recently been much cited in the popular press. Rick has "gone over to the other side" and is now joint editor of the AAB Newsletter.

The Crop Disease Research Team was present at the British Potato Council Technology Event at Sutton Bridge. On display was their work on blight forecasting and results from the national potato disease survey. The Team was also out in force at Cereals '98 with work on cereal disease forecasting, analysis of the effect of farm size on cultivar selection and fungicide input plus Sclerotinia forecasting in oilseed rape.

Claire Sansford never seems to be able to escape from the smut fungi! In the last newsletter she described her work on Karnal bunt and this continues to be a theme in her life. She visited the FAO in Rome in June 1998 as an expert for an IPPC Secretariat consultation on the strength of measures for regulated pests particularly with respect to Karnal bunt. On the day of her return she was greeted with the news that flag smut (Urocystis agropyri) had been found for the first time infecting a crop of wheat in the UK and had the pleasure of driving 200 miles each way in a day to inspect the crop. Much publicity has followed in the farming press but as the disease is not a quarantine pest for Europe no official action was recommended. However, words of advice were issued in time for the next season's wheat crops.

Claire has also been busy sorting-out the production and printing of 1000 T-shirts for the BSPP stand at ICPP98 which were delivered at the eleventh hour. The designs were printed in the previous newsletter. Princess Anne was delighted with the selection of the shirts given to her at ICPP98.

On the scientific side of ICPP98, the Plant Health Group had a strong presence with invited papers for main sessions from Claire Sansford, Miles Thomas and Derek Morgan. An evening paper was also presented by Claire Sansford. A total of 15 posters were also on display. The CSL trade stand drew some interest not least the beautiful flower arrangements which became the repository for an interesting selection of items!

This is just a small selection of our activities within the Group.

Claire Sansford 

Horticulture Research International

Bacterial diseases

John Taylor and Nigel Lyons attended an annual meeting of an EU project to provide quantitative seed testing standards for bacterial diseases.

Fungal diseases

Roy Kennedy organised a workshop for growers and consultants on foliar pathogens of brassicas in February and has now launched a new brassica ringspot prediction model. The model also includes Alternaria prediction. The foliar pathogen group have a web-site describing current research activities and highlighting recent results in a news page which is regularly updated.

Ian Crute was the invited guest lecturer at the 16th Nordic Post-graduate course in Plant Pathology held in Norway in April 1998. The topic of the course was `Resistance to Plant Pathogens' and Ian presented six lectures on this subject.

John Whipps attended COST Action 830 Management Committee meeting in Brussels as Vice Chairman and UK Representative. The Action is entitled `Microbial Inoculants in Agriculture and Environment' and involves 8 European Countries. Later in March John Whipps, Simon Budge and Eirian Jones attended an EU Biotechnology Project Review in Crete concerning solid substrate fermentation of the biological control agent Coniothyrium minitans.

Courtesy of the British Council, Geoff White attended the US-Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund Workshop on the Management of Soilborne Plant Pathogens in March in Jerusalem.

John Whipps and Nicola Spence attended a British Council funded Israeli/British Workshop (Microbial control of plant diseases and pests) held at Rothamsted in May and presented papers on `Biological control of soil-borne diseases' and `Cross-protection for the control of zucchini yellow mosaic virus'. John Whipps attended a workshop on `Effects and risks of biotechnology in agriculture' in Denmark. He gave a presentation on `Risk assessment concerned  with the release of genetically modified Pseudomonas fluorescens' and presented a paper to the Danish Society of Plant Pathology on `Biological disease control'.

In June, Simon Budge visited North Korea as part of an FAO programme to advise on biological disease control approaches.

Current Pathology R&D projects at Stockbridge House focus on the mechanisms for the suppression of root diseases in "closed" (recirculating) hydroponic crops and the screening of novel fungicides on protected and field crops. New projects funded by the HDC have begun this year, including one on sampling of protected edible crops for the presence of Pythium, led by Dr Geoff White. This work hopes to identify the species of Pythium in these crops, to identify their source and to evaluate their sensitivity to the available fungicides.

A new project on the control of cavity spot led by Dr Geoff White, and involving Dr Peter Gladders ADAS, aims to investigate aspects of the biology of the causal organism (P. violae) and to identify novel fungicides for control.

Martin McPherson is organising a symposium at the ICPP in Edinburgh on the `Etiology, Biology and Control of Root Diseases in Soil-less Systems of Culture'. Several renowned international speakers will be presenting papers on potential mechanisms for the observed suppression.

Virus and phytoplasma diseases

John Walsh, Carol Jenner and Sara Hughes visited collaborators in China in April for the first meeting of an EC project funded by the INCO-DC programme to use biotechnology for the genetic improvement of brassicas. The HRI component of the project aims to identify, characterise, tag and map resistance genes in Brassica species. Discussions were held with colleagues from the Vegetable Breeding and Plant Protection Departments at the Institute of Vegetables and Flowers in Beijing to discuss progress, future directions and available resources. This was followed by further meetings at Huazhong Agricultural University, Wuhan, where other partners from this university and from Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Hangzhou, as well as Germany, Sweden and Canada, attended.

Two new projects started in John Walsh's laboratory in April: the pathotypic and molecular diversity of turnip mosaic virus in wild brassicas (NERC EDGE) in collaboration with Ian Cooper at the Institute of Virology and Environmental Microbiology, Oxford and Alan Gray, at the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, Furzebrook Research Station, Dorset; and the involvement of beet western yellows virus, turnip mosaic virus and cauliflower mosaic virus in internal breakdown of white cabbage during storage (Horticulture LINK), involving other collaborators within HRI.

Rachel Rusholme of Saskatoon Research Centre, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada worked in John Walsh's laboratory in January, mapping resistance genes to turnip mosaic virus in Brassica rapa.

Nicola Spence attended the International Symposium on Tospoviruses and thrips vectors in floral and vegetable crops in Wageningen. She presented a poster and also participated in a hands-on Workshop to disseminate information at the end of an EU-funded project on `Identification, characterization and detection of Alstroemeria viruses'.

General Pathology

East Malling have recently launched a Plant Clinic and commercial trials service, co-ordinated by David Harris. This complements the other plant and mushroom clinics at Wellesbourne and Stockbridge House.

Cheryl Brewster has recently joined the plant pathology team at Stockbridge House. Cheryl, originally from Yorkshire, has returned to the UK after 16 years working in Australia. She comes from a strong background of extension plant pathology in horticulture having worked for many years at the Department of Agriculture's research facility at Rydalmere, Sydney and more recently with Crop Health Services, Melbourne. Cheryl will work alongside Andy Jackson in the Plant Clinic at Stockbridge House to help expand the range of services offered to the horticulture industry as well as the extensive R&D programme. Her appointment follows the publicity of the launch of HortiTech at Hortex in Harrogate in February leading to a marked increase in the number of samples received at Clinic.

Andy Jackson attended the UK Phytodiagnostics meeting held at Alice Holt, Farnham in March. Martin McPherson, together with Peter Chapman, PSD, visited Australia as guests of the Australian government to take part in a national workshop on approval of pesticides for minor uses held at the Institute for Horticultural Development. Martin and Peter outlined the principles behind the HDC sponsored SOLA (Specific Off-Label Approval) project that has been so successful in the UK. Rick Melnicoe, the Western region Co-ordinator for the Pesticide Impact Assessment Program, University of California, explained the systems in place for minor use authorisations in the U.S.A.

Nicola Spence