BSPP News Spring 2000 - Online Edition

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

In 2000, BSPP News will continue to be packaged with the April and October issues of Plant Pathology. Members who receive Plant Pathology will therefore receive BSPP News in this way. BSPP News will be distributed separately to members who receive Molecular Plant Pathology only and to members who receive neither journal. Please inform the Editor if you know of members who have not received their copy of BSPP News. From 2001, BSPP News will be distributed separately to all members, and will form part of a thrice-annual members' mailing, to include ballot papers, information about conferences, etc. This will probably be distributed in February, June and October each year.

Contents of BSPP Newsletter 36

Editorial: Living in Interesting Times

Strange things have been happening in Norfolk this winter. Roses have produced new leaves before they have shed their old ones. Passionflowers, whose rampant tendencies should be checked by a month or two of frosty nights, have become flourishing evergreens. And folk have been walking the streets of East Dereham in shirt sleeves in early February.

Further afield, even stranger things have been happening. Titanic floods in southern Africa, snow in parts of America where it has never been seen before while Alpine ski-slopes are bare, tropical cyclones of almost unprecedented strength and frequency. And on the high plateau of Antarctica, the snow that fell last winter was the warmest for at least half a million years.

Global warming has moved from theory to fact. Most frighteningly, the rate at which the Earth is heating up is increasing, so that the average world temperature is rising exponentially. Given the rate at which the polar ice-caps are melting and the oceans are warming, low-lying parts of eastern England look set to be submerged by the rising sea level well within our lifetimes. It is no longer the distant prospect that it was just a few years ago. Apocalypse now? Imminent, at least, and if atmospheric pollution is not cut to pre-World War Two levels - and soon - it cannot be prevented.

Much research funding has been spent on modelling the process of global warming in order to predict what will happen to sea levels and weather patterns. Depending on the model (particularly, what changes they predict in ocean currents), southern England will have either the present climate of the Azores or that of Iceland. When climate change models make robust predictions, they should be useful in helping organisations to plan their responses to global warming.

Much less has been spent on the biological research needed to meet the rapidly approaching challenge. No industry is more vital to peoples' well-being than agriculture. Compared to the nightmare vision of storm and flood of the climate change forecasts, studying microscopic organisms might seem a rather mundane activity. Yet plant pathology, alongside other agricultural sciences, could make the crucial difference for food production. If the British climate becomes warmer, we will have to fight off new pathogens, not previously known in these parts. If it descends into a damp, sub-Arctic chill, effective control of plant diseases may be needed to tilt the balance towards making crop production economically feasible.

Plant pathology must be part of a research programme to help secure food supplies for the new century and beyond. What diseases of our major crops are likely to become more important? What damage are they likely to do? How should we control them? And how fast do we need to act? It would be wonderful if the agricultural industry ended up being so well prepared that, as with the Millenium Bug, the public was left to wonder what all the fuss was about. At the moment, that seems scarcely possible.

James Brown