BSPP News Spring 2000 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 36, Spring 2000 

Conference and Travel Reports

Fifth International Conference on Plant Protection in the Tropics
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia : 15 -18 March 1999

This conference, organised by the Malaysian Plant Protection Society, had the theme "Tropical plant protection in the information age". The conference brought together delegates from scientific institutions, agrochemical industry and personnel involved in research and development in 20 countries, with the majority from the SE Asian region. The Malaysian Minister for Science, Technology and Environment, Datuk Law Hieng Ding, performed the opening ceremony. He mentioned that agriculture was very important to the Malaysian economy, as oil palm and rubber alone contribute more than RM30 billion (approx. £5 billion) per year to export earnings. The Minister emphasised that the science of agriculture has evolved tremendously and how modern science such as biotechnology and information technology feature prominently in agriculture. He commended the conference for its focus on information technology, which he noted, will further advance tropical agriculture.

The highlight of the conference was the satellite session devoted to Biotechnology in Asia, chaired by Dr Paul Teng (Monsanto).  This opened with a review of the rice situation by Dr Kush of IRRI, who outlined the need for improved food production, particularly of rice, which is currently stagnating.  Dr Shantaram of USDA then gave an account of how USDA ensures 'Biosafety, Environmental Safety and Human safety in Biotechnology Research and Development'.  The general process in the USA seems to be one of deregulation, which means absolved responsibility and hence according to critics the sudden explosion of genetically modified (GM) crops in the USA. Dr Clive James gave an account of the activities of the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotechnology Application (ISAAA) that he heads. He argued that the case for the use of biotechnological methods in agriculture rests on the need to increase food production during the next 50 years.  Mankind will consume twice as much food in that period than in the previous 10,000 years.  ISAAA's objective is to enable the use of modern biotechnology in developing countries and to make sure the benefits of this are transferred to developing countries.  Current activities include banana tissue culture transferred from South Africa to Kenya, control of feathery mottle virus in sweet potato in Kenya (using a GMO) and papaya ring spot. The private sector perspective on commercialisation of biotechnology was given by Dr Consuelo Madere of Monsanto, who have now developed a GM disease- and glyphosate-resistant rice.  What could have been a balanced account of biotechnology impact ended up being biased towards the GM organisms issue but there were sufficient representatives of NGOs and other concerned parties in the audience for a lively debate to develop.

The first day's plenary session was on the role of information technology in promoting tropical pest management. The opening paper by Mr Jim Gilmore (CAB International, UK) gave a futuristic view of information technology and plant protection. The emphasis of following papers by Dr Paul Teng (Monsanto, Philippines) and Dr Geoff Norton (Australia) was on the use of information for decision support for use by crop protection practitioners.  Dr Phil Jones (Rothamsted, UK) described a computer-designed programme for the identification of plant viruses. In the evening delegates were treated to colourful and entertaining Malaysian dances amidst a wide range of sumptuous Asian dishes at the conference dinner.

The second day focused on management approaches in the control of important tropical pest and diseases. Dr Michael Gillings (Macquarie University, Australia) delivered the plenary paper on the role of molecular biology in understanding and managing tropical plant protection systems. This was followed by three concurrent papers covering molecular techniques in pest management, IPM view points and trends, IPM in practice, pest management in forest plantations and pest and diseases of plantations and orchard crops. Many of the posters were also devoted to tree crops of one sort or another.  New problems on teak were given some priority and those highlighted on Eucalyptus in India included pink disease (Corticium salmonicolor).  Pathogen threats to the short term rotation forest plantations now common in SE Asia were reviewed by Dr Ken Old and hymenomycetes such as Ganoderma were of particular concern.

There were two sessions on problems in plantation and orchard crops. Papers presented included a pheromone-based mass trapping of weevils in plantains and bananas, and a screening programme for Fusarium wilt in Malaysia. Another presentation was on the use of mycofungicides in an integrated biocontrol of Phytophthora rot of sweet orange in Thailand. Papers on cocoa included control of cocoa pod borer using black ants, and variation in Phytopthora species causing black pod disease, particularly in W. Africa, which was presented by myself.  There were two posters on pathogenicity of Phytophthora on cocoa and the feeding behaviour of cocoa mirids from SE Asia. The relatively few papers on food crops concentrated more on high value horticultural crops such as tomatoes rather than staple cereals such as rice. Two sessions on IPM included control of Lyriomyzid leaf miners, problematic on horticultural crops in SE Asia and on the golden snail pest of rice.

The third day began with a paper on new pesticide products, given by Dr Gerardo Ramos-Tombo (Novartis, Switzerland), on how new technologies have influenced the development of products for crop protection. This included a review of novel methods of developing new active ingredients through molecular techniques and the role of combinatorial chemistry in the search for new molecules. Successful examples such as "Bion", which induces systemic acquired resistance throughout plants via activation of salicylate biochemical pathways, were cited. This was followed by sessions on novel products and innovations from the crop protection industry and continuation of the session on pests and diseases of plantation and orchard crops. Among the presentations were papers on the strobilurin fungicide "Amistar", a broad-spectrum fungicide based on a natural product. Its wide range of applications and effectiveness has prompted the description "wonder fungicide". Pesticide residue problems were not left out in the proceedings as two sessions with 10 presentations were devoted in this direction.

The opportunity to meet and interact with fellow scientists involved in crop protection in the tropics was very gratifying for me personally. I will like to express my sincere appreciation to BSPP for the travel grant award, the Fredrick Gregory Fund of Imperial College and the Association of Commonwealth Universities (my Ph.D. sponsor) for the financial support towards this conference.

Alex Asante Appiah
Imperial College


International Symposium on Biological Control Agents in Crop and Animal Protection
Swansea, Wales : 24 - 28th August 1999

The opportunity to attend this conference has given me an invaluable insight into the world of biological control. The conference addressed the advantages and disadvantages of biocontrol and covered all  organisms used as control agents (i.e. fungi, viruses, bacteria and nematodes) as well as issues of concern.

Sessions that I attended included "Assessment and exploitation of ecological interactions involving deuteromycetous fungi" (Hokkanen, Gao & Zeng) which looked at the assessment of persistence, dispersal and virulence of  biological control agents (BACs) to non target species.

Sessions that I particularly liked included "Are there any risks in using fungal biocontrol agents?" (Strasser, Butt & Vey) which brought forward an understanding of how there may be risks associated with the use of BCAs and how they may not necessarily reduce toxin levels in the environment. This talk gave an important insight into how BCAs may not be the only answer to disease control, although an important tool nonetheless.

I learnt that the issue of biological control is one of growing importance, where research is looking at its numerous advantages and how they may be used efficiently, together with the disadvantages. The increasing interest in the development of biocontrol agents was highlighted and the enthusiasm of the subject was felt throughout the conference.

In addition I manned a BSPP stall, selling numerous BSPP T-shirts and also enrolling 5 new members.

In essence, I felt that the symposium was a step forward in increasing our understanding of the use of biocontrol agents and how we can maximise the impact of these agents in the future.

I would like to thank the BSPP very much for providing the financial support for enabling me to attend.

Alefyah Ali
University  of Hertfordshire