BSPP News Spring 2000 - Online Edition

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

Conference and Travel Reports

Fungal Genetics Conference
Monterey, California, U.S.A. :  23 - 28 March 1999

The Asilomar Conference Centre and State Park on the shores of the Pacific was the setting for the Fungal Genetics Conference.  The grounds on the tip of the Monterey peninsula, set amongst the Monterey pines, provided ample opportunity for investigating the local fauna and flora.  The area is famous for, amongst other things, the Monarch butterflies which winter on the peninsula and reserve, giving the nearby village of Pacific Grove the nickname "Butterfly Town".  Nearby, Monterey itself provided delegates who arrived early the chance to visit the fabulous aquarium, Cannery Row or a chance to relax in the warm spring sunshine.

Over 600 delegates from a wide range of disciplines attended the conference reflecting the diverse nature of the conference itself and as a result, many sessions were run in parallel.  I have therefore concentrated on a few sessions that may be of interest to many.

The format of the conference was slightly different to previous years and highly successful.  Mornings were devoted to the main plenary sessions and after lunch, six or seven concurrent workshops were held.  After dinner it was down to the poster sessions which lasted until 10.30 or so.  These worked extremely well and were well attended, helped along by the ample free beer served throughout, which predictably fuelled some quite animated conversations.

For those interested, the abstracts of the proceedings are available online at the FGSC web-site:

The opening plenary session was entitled Regulation of Gene Expression and focused on the important features of eukaryotic genomes and forces responsible for shaping them.  In particular, the roles of chromatin, methylation and gene silencing were discussed in relation to gene expression.  One paper concerned inter-nuclear gene silencing in Phytophthora where gene-silenced transformed nuclei can pass on their silenced phenotype to "normal" nuclei in a heterokaryon.  This suggests that an inter-nuclear factor is capable of transferring a silencing signal between nuclei.

The Sexual and Asexual Differentiation session was based around regulation and development and focussed on light and the circadian system.  New enzyme-complexes that act as photoreceptors were introduced as were new regulatory genes affecting development of macro-conidiation in Neurospora.

Presentation topics in the Cell Biology session included motors and intracellular organelle movements, novel proteins involved in dynein movements and biogenesis of trans-membrane enzymes in the mitochondrion.

The Fungal Genome session was composed of a diverse series of talks reflecting the current interest in fungal genomics.  Topics included transposable elements, virulence, structure and function of telomeres and genetic mapping.  An interesting technique was discussed which used the properties of a transposon to identify promoters and elucidate gene function by insertion of the transposon into appropriate areas of the genome.

Predictably, the Population Genetics session was very popular attracting 15 presentations.  In the little time available it meant that presentations were strictly limited to eight minutes, rigorously enforced by an annoying alarm clock!  The talks were diverse, ranging from vegetative incompatibility and investigations of cryptic species to examining the usefulness of microsatellite and AFLP data in reconstructing phylogenies.

After the banquet on the final day, Rowland Davis gave an invited lecture entitled "Models and Oddities" where it seemed he was comparing reproductive models in fungi to those of humans.  It almost turned into a race to discuss as many innuendoes as possible in the half-hour slot.

The Oomycete Genetics Workshop was the final session, unfortunately held on the Sunday morning after the farewell party.  The excellent live music and unlimited barrels of beer at the party meant only 20 participants arrived in time for the first talk at 8.00.  The presentations covered a broad range of topics.  Extra-chromosomal elements have been discovered in Phytophthora. This may add a new dimension to the way we think about gene transfer in oomycetes.  Several presentations discussed  the form and function of Avr genes in Phytophthora.  The final talk of the session outlined the used of green fluorescent protein for tagging reporter proteins in Phytophthora.

The conference itself was a huge success both academically and socially.  As a conference location, Asilomar is fantastic and I am extremely grateful to the society for granting me funds to attend.  I was able to present work in one of the workshops and also at the poster session and as a result made many new contacts.

Andrew Purvis
University of Wales, Bangor


20th Fungal Genetics Conference
Monterey, California : 23 - 28th March 1999

The 20th Fungal Genetics Conference took place at the Asilomar Conference Center, Pacific Grove, California, from the afternoon of the 23rd to noon on the 28th March 1999.  Asilomar is an attractive campus of residential buildings and meeting rooms set in a peaceful forest of Monterey pine, only a short walk over the dunes from the beach.  The tranquility of the location is only challenged by the booming and roaring of the Pacific Ocean pounding the beach and rocks, its power evident even on windless days.  The dunes and forest are home to many unfamiliar plant and animal species, as well as some very familiar and trusting deer.

The pine-clad accomodation buildings have a rustic look, but the rooms within are comfortable and well-appointed, some even having fireplaces.  Site facilities include a heated swimming pool and a new shop.  Although the centre still lacks a bar, the conference was by no means dry!  Meals were served in a communal dining hall, and were generally excellent, although the combinations of foods served together at breakfast seemed strange to English tastebuds.

The programme of talks and poster sessions was full and varied.  Each morning's plenary session started at 8.30am, and topics included regulation of gene expression, sexual and asexual diffferentiation, secondary metabolism and pathogenicity, and cell biology.  Each afternoon there was a choice of at least five concurrent sessions, often with something of personal interest in more than one, necessitating a "pick and mix" approach on occasions.  The breadth of topics and fungal taxa covered make it impossible to adequately summarise, so for the full programme the reader is referred to the conference website - (In addition, a small number of printed copies of the complete programme and abstracts, published as a supplement to the Fungal Genetics Newsletter 46, are available from the FGSC.)

Almost 400 posters were presented, divided between three sessions on consecutive evenings until 10.30pm.  The sessions were well-attended, and the level of genuine interest in the posters themselves showed that this was not just due to the free drinks! One which proved particularly difficult to get close to was that of Bundock et al., presented by C. van den Hondel, on Agrobacterium-mediated transformation of Aspergillus and yeasts.  Another, by P. Chaure, S. Gurr and P. Spanu from Oxford, reported the transformation of Erysiphe graminis using two selectable markers, and this will be of interest to many of the plant pathology community.

One topic which stimulated much discussion was the rapidity with which a genomic approach is yielding new sequence data from filamentous fungal species, including progress towards sequencing the genomes of plant pathogens.  However, the importance of biological approaches to determining gene function must not be overlooked, since despite the power of genomics, sequence is not the whole story where living organisms are involved.

After dinner on the last evening, Dr Rowland Davis gave a most entertaining invited lecture entitled "Models and Oddities".  He outlined the ever-changing profile of fungal species used as model organisms, both to represent eukaryotic cells generally and for the study of more specific fungal processes (including pathogenicity).  He also drew attention to how the Fungal Genetics Conference, originally a Neurospora meeting, had changed over the years.  In 1986, a total of 14 fungal species were represented, but by the last meeting in 1997, this figure had grown more than eightfold to 114 species, including a wide range of plant and animal pathogens.

Approximately 650 delegates attended this year's conference, and although the centre was full to capacity, a relaxed atmosphere remained on the spacious campus.  The general feeling was that the conference had held something for everyone, and that despite the full timetable had been pleasant as well as worthwhile.

I would like to thank the BSPP for their generous financial assistance towards my attendance at this conference.  This has enabled me to present my work as a poster and in a talk, to broaden my knowledge of fungal genetics, and also to convert authors' names into friendly faces.

Jennifer Rawson
University of Birmingham