BSPP News Spring 2000 - Online Edition

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

Conference and Travel Reports

9th International Congress of Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions
Amsterdam, The Netherlands : 25 -30 July 1999

MPMI-99 had a difficult task to achieve - to inform up to 1000 delegates about every aspect of molecular plant-microbe interaction research, whilst introducing Amsterdam and The Netherlands to scientists from all over the world . It achieved its aim very successfully.

The Netherlands was a natural choice as host country, being active in agriculture, horticulture and research, and rich in history and culture. Situated in the south of Amsterdam, the RAI Congress Centre was an ideal venue:  modern, easily accessible by public transport and set in beautiful parkland. The RAI was also large enough to allow all posters to remain on show during the entire conference and yet not so large that it out-sized the number of delegates.

On the first morning, after being welcomed by Pierre de Wit, the chairman of the local organising committee, we were entertained by the unusual opening ceremony: two musicians playing an enormous drum, which marked the start of the conference with enthusiasm and humour.

The scientific programme was spread over five days.  Each morning there were two 90 minute plenary sessions of four talks each, followed by two parallel sessions and poster viewing in the afternoon.  Without resorting to more than two well-chosen sessions in parallel at any one time, and with a strong emphasis on poster presentation, the days were kept full without forcing you to choose between equally relevant talks.  Spoken presentations came mainly from leading scientists, providing us with an opportunity to hear the most current research and theories in our fields.  Selected young scientists, chosen on the basis of their submitted abstracts, were also asked to speak, giving an insight into breaking research in their areas, and providing those giving poster presentations (such as myself) with something to aim for in future years.

The first two days of talks covered signal perception and transduction, as well as most of the sessions on plant interactions with specific pathogen groups.  The poster sessions on these days reflected these same areas closely, which unfortunately presented the perennial problem of having to choose between dutifully manning your own poster or speaking to the authors of other relevant posters.

Wednesday morning saw two sessions devoted to plant disease resistance genes, followed by social activities in the afternoon.  Whilst many people chose to tour the city of Amsterdam, visiting a diamond factory and the Rijksmuseum, I chose the other tour which visited an area of The Netherlands to the north of Amsterdam, with fascinating technical explanations of the unique Dutch system of land reclamation en route.  First we visited a traditional village, the Zaanse Schans, complete with clapboard houses, windmills and a clog factory, and then onto a family-run cheese factory for a practical demonstration and tasting session.  Then we visited Edam, the spiritual home of round, red cheese, and a typical example of a Dutch country town, with cobbled streets and gabled houses.  Finally we paused in Volendam, once a sea fishing port, but following the damming and desalination of the Zuidersee, now primarily a holiday town.

Thursday saw the last poster session and a varied programme of presentations, ranging from the cell biology of plant-microbe interactions through to a discussion of upcoming model systems.  Thursday evening was our chance to party at the congress banquet, which was held in the glass-ceilinged Wintertuin of the Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky - as opulent as it sounds!  Excellent food and drink flowed all evening, and the entertainment was provided with considerable style by the celebrated Dutch saxophonist Hans 'Big Boy' Dulfer and his band.  As the evening progressed, awards for the five best posters were presented.
There was almost a full-day's timetable of talks on the last day.  Considering the extravagance of the party the night before, there was a surprisingly high attendance in the morning, which is a testament to the exciting areas chosen for the programme and the high quality of the talks.

I would like to thank the IS-MPMI and organising committees for overseeing such an informative, enjoyable and well-rounded congress, and the BSPP for funding which helped me to attend.  I have gained many useful insights and new ideas for my own work, and renewed enthusiasm for a career in science.

Sarah Nettleship,
University of Bristol.


Global Initiative on Late Blight
Quito, Ecuador, 16 - 19 March 1999

Late blight (Phytophthora infestans), potentially the most devastating disease of potato, is becoming an increasing problem due to the new migrations of the fungus from its centre of diversity in Mexico.  The Global Initiative on Late Blight, which was launched by the International Potato Center (CIP) in 1996, aims to reduce the threat of this disease, especially in developing countries, by fostering high quality research, enhancing communications and promoting technology transfer.  The main aim of this conference was to review scientific progress and ensure that research priorities set in 1996 were still relevant and comprehensive.  This was achieved through papers from invited lead speakers and panellists from both developed and developing countries, offered posters, and generous time allocated for discussion.  Over 100 delegates representing 41 countries participated.

The keynote address was delivered by Dr Ed French on behalf of Dr John Niederhauser, who was unable to be present because of illness.  He spoke of the need to feed an increasing world population and, at the same time, conserve the environment; of potato production rapidly increasing in developing countries, which now produce 30% of the world crop but which cannot bear the cost of chemical disease control; and, consequently, of the need for new varieties to be blight-resistant to reduce chemical input - more chemicals are added to potato than any other crop.

The increasing worldwide problem was highlighted by speakers from Eastern Europe, North America, China, Africa and Latin America.  They reported earlier epidemics, increased aggressiveness and virulence, and crop losses of up to 80%.
Research progress and prospects for the future were discussed in five sessions covering:  breeding for resistance; international evaluation of resistance; molecular studies of host resistance and the pathogen; and epidemiology and disease development.

The session on breeding for resistance reported progress being made in Argentina, Ecuador, The Netherlands, Scotland and Kenya.  One of the problems identified was ensuring that resistance is durable in different environments. Papers on this included one about Standard International Field Trials (SIFT) being co-ordinated by CIP.  Resistant cultivars from breeding programmes worldwide are being trialled in countries of both short and long day length to identify the most promising ones for use in integrated control systems.

Talks on molecular approaches to host resistance described work on the mapping of major genes and quantitative trait loci (QTLs), engineering resistance, and the discovery of candidate resistance genes functioning in the infected host.  The session on molecular approaches to the pathogen focused on the use of molecular techniques to examine specificity to different solanaceous host species and variation in the fungal population in the UK and the USA. There tended to be few different genotypes present in commercial crops in the UK, whereas non-commercial crops were highly variable - often a mixture of both the A1 and A2 mating types needed for sexual reproduction.  But there was no similarity in the population over years.  It was thought that clonal lineages are dispersed by seed tubers and that sexual reproduction is uncommon, both in the UK and the USA.  Differences between RG57 and AFLP fingerprints, and somatic reversal of mating type induced by environmental factors including fungicide, were reported.

A session was devoted to helping researchers from the developing countries gain access to molecular technologies.  Needs were identified, the availability of molecular tools and protocols discussed, and genetic populations and training in molecular techniques offered.

Genetic variation in the fungus worldwide was surveyed in the session on epidemiology and disease development.  Prior to the new migrations of the fungus from Mexico, a clonal lineage, US1, predominated throughout the world.  This has become displaced, except in Africa.  The population structure now differs worldwide, being clonal in some areas but very diverse in others.  It was reported that this new population has a wider temperature range and can infect at temperatures as low as 5°C.  Moreover, there were reports from the Netherlands and Scandinavia of circumstantial evidence of oospores providing soil-borne inoculum.  In the USA, fungicides are proving less effective two more sprays per year are being applied than 10 years ago.  Papers on chemical control included one which described blight severity worldwide and a model for predicting the necessary number of sprays using world climate data.  The model suggested transfer from a susceptible to a resistant cultivar would result in a 30% decrease in the number of sprays.

After sessions on the science, there were sessions on integratingand implementing solutions and establishing co-operative models.  We learnt that farmers in Latin America know little about the cause of blight or how to control it.  A CARE/CIP project is working to rectify this through farmers' field schools, in which small groups of farmers learn about the fungus and field experimentation.  Carrying out integrated control experiments, they gain access to new resistant breeding lines and the researchers, in return, gain information on genotype x environment x management interactions.  Farmers from the field school in Bolivia achieved almost double the crop of the control group.  A paper on European organic farming methods discussed how these could help resource poor farmers in developing countries.  We also heard about two international collaborative projects.  Firstly, the Cornell Eastern European & Mexico Model (CEEM) is characterising the P. infestans populations in Eastern Europe and Mexico, breeding for resistance, evaluating it, and studying epidemiology, fungicide sensitivity and biocontrol agents.  Secondly, the Central and Eastern European Network for Potato Research (CEENP) is carrying out joint characterisation of the fungal population, comparing methods of evaluating resistance and providing training.

The conference ended by focusing on GILB.  GILB has no funding of its own but endorses research proposals aimed at fulfilling its objectives (see the CIP web site at  The research priorities were reviewed and, after an excellent closing lunch, regional groups were set up to facilitate future communication between delegates and the Steering Committee.

The conference provided facilities for meetings of several international collaborative projects and included an evening seminar presented by Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems (GCTE), a core project of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Program.

This conference was particularly valuable in bringing together researchers from developed and developing countries, and addressing the problem of late blight from a worldwide perspective.  I am grateful to the BSPP and CIP for  funds which enabled me to attend.

Helen Stewart
SCRI, Invergowrie, Dundee