BSPP News Spring 2000 - Online Edition

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

Conference and Travel Reports

Plant Health: Meeting the Challenges
Montreal, Canada : 7 - 11 August 1999

This was a joint meeting of the American Phytopathological Society and the Canadian Phytopathological Society, and was attended by about 2000 delegates. The whole meeting was held in the modern Palais des Congrès in downtown Montréal. Although it was a large meeting, it was very well organised. However, with many sessions running in parallel disappointment was inevitable and attendance at only a fraction of the sessions was possible. There was a large room dedicated to the display of posters (542 in total) and the products of companies. Consequently viewing of posters could be done leisurely over several days.One interesting session dealt with the role of plant pathology in anti-crop bioterrorism and food security. Biological warfare is old as war itself with the catapulting of rotting carcasses into sieged fortifications. However, only until recently has the US government considered terrorist attacks on the Nation's food supply as a potential threat. That is, food supply has only recently been recognised as a 'critical national infrastructure'. The trend in agriculture of mono cropping with a single variety over great expanses of land has increased the potential impact of the bioterrorist. In the past Old MacDonald had a farm with some sheep, some pigs, some cows and so on. Now the new MacDonald just has wheat or just beef cattle. Issues raised in this session included the discerning between bioterrorism and the natural phenomena of epidemics. If I remember rightly then there was a hint of a conspiracy theory or two aired in the presentations. There were other sessions with a distinctively North American feel. For example, the irrigation of golf courses with mined water and the problem of salinity build-up.

The session that took the name of the meeting was highly informative. Present estimates of world population growth indicate that in the next century world population will reach its maximum of 8 to 9 billion and will be followed by a decrease. However, as the developing world demands more meat and poultry products the demand for agricultural products will increase two or three fold. Interestingly hunger in the past century has resulted mainly from civil conflict and government errors and not a lack of food. It was suggested that the consequence of increasing food demand would not result in elevated hunger, but destruction of the environment by the plough. Consequently the call for higher yielding crops, improved cultural practises and better disease control was heard. It was also suggested that as plant pathologists we should educate ourselves regarding demographic trends and their causes. We should be effective in communicating to governments, the public and other scientists that world hunger can not be overcome without addressing the issue of population growth coupled with an ever-increasing demand for resources. It was concluded that dealing with world hunger requires our involvement in social issues that lie significantly outside our discipline.

The session I had particularly waited for was scheduled for the last afternoon. The symposium on 'Irrigation water quality influences on environmental health' is applicable to an aspect of my present research on the control of zoosporic fungi in glasshouse irrigation systems. I was hoping to hear more on the debate of "Does re-circulating irrigation water elevate disease pressure?" Unfortunately little was presented on this. However, I did pick up a copy of a poster that phylogenetically relates the two fungi I work with.

Montreal is a wonderful city to host such a meeting. By arriving a couple of days early I indulged in a general exploration of the city and managed to get run over by a very apologetic French-speaking roller-bladder. A great meeting in a grand city - what better way to mark the beginning of PhD thesis write-up?

Paul Matthews
University of Edinburgh


Seventh International Fungal Biology Conference
Groningen, The Netherlands : 22 - 25 July 1999

The successor to the Fungal Spore meetings was held at the Haren campus of the University of Groningen. The timing coincided with the retirement of Professor Jos Wessels, in whose recognition the meeting was held. The conference opened on the Sunday evening with a lecture by Frank Harold (Colorado) overviewing fungal morphogenesis and was followed by an excellent Indonesian-style buffet supper.

The following day, sessions on fungal growth and morphogenesis began with talks on the relationship between cytoskeleton, polarisation and cell cycle to fungal morphogenesis in yeasts and filamentous fungi (Neil Gow, Aberdeen; John Hamer, Purdue) and was followed by a session including papers on GPI-anchors (Frans Klis, Amsterdam) and some video imaging of vesicle trafficking in hyphae (Nick Read, Edinburgh). These were followed by presentations on mating interactions and asexual development and fruitbody formation.

Sessions on fungal-host interactions included talks on the pheromone precursors of Magnaporthe grisea (Dan Ebbole, Texas A&M), signalling in the Ustilago-maize interaction (Regina Kahmann, Munich) and the use of Colletotrichum as a model system for the study of the biotrophic and adhesive interfaces in plant-pathogen interactions. A family of hydrophobins in Cladosporium fulvum was described by Pietro Spanu (Oxford) and the role of the cell wall in infection was described by Holger Deising (Halle).

These sessions were followed by sessions on biotechnology and medical mycology. Further sessions on food spoilage and biotechnology were followed by a special symposium on cell walls, hydrophobins and fungal morphogenesis to mark the retirement of Jos Wessels, including a particularly entertaining presentation by Salomon Bartnicki-Garcia (California) ostensibly on fungal physiology but which was in actual fact dedicated to the retiree and the growth rate of his career.
Other talks in this session included an update on Mpg1 by Nick Talbot (Exeter) and an overview by Han Wösten of the Schizophyllum commune hydrophobins worked on at Groningen. The meeting was closed by a talk by Jos Wessels tying together the various subjects included in the conference.

Poster sessions were run on each of the three days, with a total of 105 presented during the meeting. Along with a notable recent proliferation of hydrophobins, there was a wide range of applied and basic research presented utilising a broad range of analytical techniques.

The timetable of the meeting did not allow a large amount of free time for sightseeing, but the Birmingham group did manage to visit the botanical gardens next to the Biological Centre and to investigate a couple of bars in the Grote Markt. The conference dinner was held in the Aa-kerk, a gothic style church in the centre of  Groningen. Again, the food provided was excellent and varied.

We would like to thank BSPP for contributing funds for our attendance at this meeting.

Bleddyn Hughes & Sarah Rawlings
University of Birmingham


BSPP Presidential Meeting 'Biotic interactions in plant-pathogen associations'
Oxford : 19 - 22 December 1999

The 1999 BSPP Presidential Meeting 'Biotic interactions in plant-pathogen associations' was held in suitably academic surroundings at Hertford College, Oxford. The arrival of delegates on Sunday afternoon coincided with flurries of seasonal snow to remind everyone that this was the closest the BSPP has come to holding a meeting on Christmas day! Everyone was given a warm welcome by a cheery Mark Hocart (Programme Secretary) who made sure the meeting ran smoothly, and did so without any apparent fluster.

The President, Professor Mike Jeger started off proceedings on late Sunday afternoon with a paper entitled 'The theory of plant disease epidemics' which took delegates on an interesting and sometimes mathematically-challenging journey into epidemiology, with the complex interactions described setting a suitable tone for the rest of the meeting. As this address was the only paper of the day, there was time for a civilised drink in the college bar before dinner. This was held in a typical Oxford college setting of wood-panelled hall with long tables and large portraits of previous college alumni. As many of my fellow delegates could vouch for, the service was unbelievably rapid and any idle chat or discussion was postponed until later, in case one's food was removed before time!

The second day dawned frosty again but we were quickly warmed up as sessions began on interactions within taxon, with fungi and with prokaryotes. These papers embraced a wide and diverse subject range which was to be a feature of the whole meeting. There was also a brief drama when one of the speakers suffering from flu had to sit down in order to continue, but stoically completed his paper. This showed determination typical of plant pathologists and also sent out a signal to following speakers that they would need a very good excuse indeed not to perform. The afternoon sessions included the Garrett Memorial Lecture, this year delivered by Thomas Pirone from the University of Kentucky on aphid transmission of potyviruses. This excellent paper included a potted history on how the transmission mechanism was elucidated which was very welcome to non-virologists such as myself and we stayed with virology for the afternoon session on homoptera virus-vector associations.
In the evening, (and after the BSPP AGM) we were treated to the President's dinner. The long tables in the dining hall now had candlearbres and an inviting (small) wine glass at each place. The rosy glow of the candles was soon reflected in some merry delegates and Mike Jeger's reminiscences during his speech were therefore well received. Finally, the visiting speakers were honoured with gifts of BSPP T-shirts and further discussion and socialising continued in the late bar. Later, there was also an impromptu carol service somewhere in the corridors…

The virology theme was continued on Tuesday morning with a further session on other virus-vector associations with speakers competing to convince us that fungi, nematodes, mites or beetles were the most important or more interesting association. Two sessions on biological control (within taxon and across taxon) then followed which was a useful refresher for myself, coming back into this field after six years' absence. The afternoon saw the PH Gregory offered paper competition with a record number of entries. The standard was very high and technology was in evidence with some Powerpoint presentations. Tijs Gilles from Rothamsted was a worthy winner and was presented with prize money and the inevitable BSPP T-shirt that evening. The poster competition (sponsored by AAB) was also decided with Aipo Diao taking the prize. The evening was then free to discover the cuisine, sights and sounds of Oxford and even clubbing was not out of the question…

The final morning saw some bleary-eyed delegates challenged by the last session of the meeting on methodology and modelling, ably chaired and encouraged by Larry Madden, visiting from Ohio. The meeting then closed and people departed quickly to return home or do some last minute Christmas shopping.

Overall, it was an extremely enjoyable and interesting meeting. I would like to thank the BSPP for the opportunity to attend with the aid of a travel grant. The abstracts of the meeting are now available online as well as pictures from the conference.

John Clarkson