BSPP News Spring 2001 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 38, Spring 2001 

Conference and Travel Reports

5th Congress of the European Foundation for Plant Pathology: Biodiversity in Plant Pathology
Taormina/Giardini-Naxos, Sicily : 18 - 22 September 2000

Attending an International Plant Pathology Congress in somewhere as attractive as Sicily should provide the ideal situation to enjoy both science and the ambience of an area.  Support from a BSPP travel award helped me to attend EFPP 2000 - "Biodiversity in Plant Pathology" in Taormina and Giardini Naxos in Italy in September and gave me such an opportunity with a few interesting events on the way.

The opening ceremony and introductory lecture was timed to start at 17.30 and I should have had plenty of time to catch the courtesy bus from Giardini Naxos, where the main meeting was held, to get to Taoromina for this event.  Unfortunately, courtesy of Alitalia we arrived at the airport late and consequently missed the courtesy bus from Giardini Naxos.  However, the Italian solution to this was to shoehorn 7 people into a taxi for 4 and drive with a death wish up hairpin bends to arrive in time for the main paper!  A swift recovery from my trembling soon ensued as cocktails and canapes were served - enough for even me to make up for the absence of food or alcohol on the flight from Milan!  The following concert of opera extracts completed the recovery although encores of "O sole mio" were nearly too much.

After a good night's sleep in an air-conditioned room I went down to breakfast overlooking the bay of Naxos - sun, sea, mountains, Etna - wow, this could be OK!   Then as I walked the 20 mins to the conference centre I realised that heat could be a problem - at 8.00 a.m. my shirt was already sticking to me.  It apparently reached 41oC in Sicily during the week!  Anyway, the scientific sessions were carried out in the air-conditioned luxury of the Ramada Hotel Congress Centre and life at the conference was great.  Sessions covered pathogens, plant-pathogen interactions, disease resistance and biological control agents and I presented an oral paper entitled "Molecular variation in the biological control fungus Coniothyrium minitans".  Plenty of time was available for discussions and the poster sessions resembled something akin to a rugby scrum as so many people crammed together to discuss their work.  I made some really useful new contacts, reaffirmed some existing ones, and learned quite a lot.  A couple of field trips to examine viticulture, vegetable and protected cropping in Sicily highlighted the differences between Northern and Southern European horticulture and the different problems the growers face in Southern Italy.

A question remains as to whether the meeting truly addressed the overall significance of biodiversity in plant pathology. Numerous papers throughout the meeting examined in detail the variation in pathogenicity or virulence of specific pathogens as well as biocontrol agents, and the influence of the plant genotype related to specific pathogen resistance. Considerable emphasis was placed on the use of molecular techniques to aid discrimination of organisms in these various specific categories. However, I believe only in the biological control session was biodiversity on a wider scale really addressed.  A paper by Quirico Migheli considered the environmental impact and risk assessment of the use of genetically modified biocontrol agents.  Here, for the first time, the need to appreciate the interactions not only just between the pathogen, host plant and biocontrol agent but also with other non-target microorganisms and plants was emphasised. Such an holistic approach was also highlighted in a paper by Dani Shtienberg who clearly showed the need to consider the environmental conditions to achieve reproducible biocontrol of plant pathogens under glasshouse conditions. As environmental conditions changed, the levels of disease changed and the biocontrol  that could be achieved also varied. Much has been learned recently by a narrow focused approach within plant pathology, particularly through the application of modern molecular techniques to understand pathogen biology per se, but these two papers were a timely reminder to me that microbial interactions that occur in nature must always be borne in mind when trying to understand fully any host-pathogen interaction. This was the major highlight of the meeting that truly related to biodiversity for me.

A busy social programme was also available in the evenings and I succumbed to a wine tasting of Sicilian wines and the congress dinner.  A white and red wine were on offer at the tasting and after the initial rush, the drinking calmed down as people drifted off to watch a Sicilian Puppet Show - most violent and bloody affair apparently.  However, gradually the numbers thinned and three people remained "tasting" red wine - a Swede and two Brits who will of course remain nameless.  The congress dinner started with cocktails in the garden at 8.00 p.m. and finished after numerous courses at 12.00 p.m.  The meal was punctuated with a series of slide shows of views of Sicily and eating some courses in the dark was quite a challenge.  In addition, many of the courses were unidentifiable because knowledge of Italian was rather limited on our table.  Still, the accompanying twosome singing throughout the meal didn't give us "O sole mio" all night.  Perhaps we should be thankful for small mercies!

As a final point, Alitalia lived up to my previous experience on the return journey as well - late again but with the added nuance of lost luggage too - what fun!

John Whipps
HRI, Wellesbourne

5th Congress of the European Foundation for Plant Pathology: Biodiversity in Plant Pathology
Taormina/Giardini-Naxos, Sicily : 18 - 22 September 2000

Taormina/Giardini-Naxos on the east coast of Sicily was the superb location for the 5th Congress of the European Foundation for Plant.  Wonderful weather and stunning location conspired to distract delegates from scientific sessions which dealt with Pathogens, Plant-Pathogen Interactions, Disease Resistance, Biocontrol Agents and Risk Assessment within a thematic framework of Biodiversity in Plant Pathology.  In total 65 papers and 305 posters were programmed and the meeting attracted almost 400 delegates to the Ramada Hotel Conference Centre located on the shore of the Ionian Sea.

These sessions were preceded by an Opening Ceremony in the hilltop town of Taormina, followed by a rooftop cocktail party prior to a wonderful concert given by the Orchestra Accademia Nazionale Arte e Musica, conducted by Carmen Failla, with Elvira Di Giunta, (soprano) and Antonio Alecci, (tenor) and music by Bellini, Puccini, Mascagni, Lehar and Capera. Throughout the conference the Organising Committee from the Italian Society of Plant Pathology not only succeeded in producing an interesting scientific programme but augmented it with entertaining social events,  field trips to view viticulture, hazelnut and citrus groves, ornamental plant nurseries and protected crops and excursions to archaeological sites. The active volcano Mount Etna (3323m) was close by and many overseas delegates visited its slopes.

The first paper, by Michael Milgroom, Cornell University, New York State, powerfully reminded delegates that identifying genetical variation and biodiversity with molecular technology must be linked to population genetics coupled with epidemiology.  Only by this synthesis was disease management likely to be advanced.  The genetical and ecological context vary between pathosystems and, of course, some are better or more easily studied than others.  In the case of potato late blight genetical markers, mating populations and a continuing widespread incidence and severity of disease has allowed significant progress to be made in understanding population dynamics of Phytophthora infestans.

Richard presented a paper on Bangor's MAFF-funded work on diversity in UK late blight populations.  Although almost 50 different fingerprint patterns were identified with probe RG57, four (clones?) predominated, with one pattern representing half of the nearly 3000 isolates over the last few years.  In the UK greater diversity occurs where both A1 and A2 mating types exist and these jointly occur more frequently on non-commercial crops including tomatoes.  Ullrich Gisi, Switzerland, showed that other molecular markers increase resolution and described RFLP-PCR, microsatellites and AFLP's procedures with late blight parents from potato and tomato and their single oospore progeny.  Evidence that late blight populations are structurally different in various European countries was advanced again when Magnus Sandström, Uppsala, argued that sexual inoculum plays a significant role in Swedish late blight populations.  These regional differences perhaps illustrate the importance of agro-ecological factors, on the pathogen's population dynamics within Europe.

The Oomycota formed only a small part of the conference proceedings compared with fungi, bacteria, phytoplasmas and a sizeable number of virus reports.  Less than a dozen UK pathologists attended the Congress but all were involved in either giving papers, presenting posters or chairing sessions.

Emily Taylor and Richard Shattock. Emily presented the lead paper, "Modern Molecular Methods for Characterisation and Diagnosis of Seedborne Fungal Plant Pathogens", in the session on Characterization and Diagnosis of Plant Pathogens.

These days, speakers use a range of visual aids, some more reliable than others.  During an early paper on Plum Pox, computer-generated displays suffered a putative viral attack.  This event led some to query whether PPV meant Plum Pox Virus or Power Point Virus!!

In addition to presenting a paper Richard attended the EFPP Board Meeting for Member Societies on behalf of BSPP.  He also set up a display stand for BSPP which attracted many of the European delegates particularly as Blackwell Science had supplied free copies of both Plant Pathology and Molecular Plant Pathology.

EFPP will hold its 6th Congress in Prague in September 2002 on   Disease Resistance in Plant Pathology. The Executive Committee welcomes offers from affiliated national societies to host the 2004 Congress. Contact the EFPP General Secretary, Dr Ir. J.F.J.M. van den Heuvel: e-mail

Richard Shattock, University of Wales, Bangor
Emily Taylor, NIAB, Cambridge

5th Congress of the European Foundation for Plant Pathology: Biodiversity in Plant Pathology
Taormina/Giardini-Naxos, Sicily : 18 - 22 September 2000

The European Foundation of Plant Pathology meeting for the Biodiversity of Plant Pathogens was held jointly in Giardini Naxos and Taormina, Sicily. Over 700 delegates enjoyed a comprehensive array of seminars, with warm hospitality in a wonderful climate!

The opening address was held in the richly historical city of Taormina, boasting a Greek amphitheatre with ruins from a multitude of civilizations. Antonino Catara, the chair of the organising committee, opened the meeting and was followed by addresses on Biodiversity: Scientific Aspects and Political Issues. Delegates enjoyed a welcome cocktail and music from the National Academy of Art and Music.

The session formats encompassed the multifaceted issues of Plant Pathology. The "Structure and Evolution of Populations" was discussed in the first two sessions, with a number of seminars using Phytophthora infestans as the model system. The following sessions considered the "Isolation and Testing" of these populations and the further "Characterisation and Diagnosis". We were treated to some classic Sicilian folk dancing to end the first day!

Our interest was turned to plant pathogen interactions with seminars on "Genes and Gene Products for Pathogenicity and Virulence" followed by "Pathogenicity and Virulence Factors". Specific interactions were considered, such as the Hrp genes in Ralstonia solanacearum and the search for genes in specific plant-pathogen systems. Afternoon sessions led into "Tree" and then "Viral Diseases". Evening entertainment involved wine tasting; wine from grapes growing of the nutrient-rich slopes of Etna, and a puppet show.

On the third day the broad details of biological control were covered in the "Advanced Methods for Improving Disease Resistance", including viral, fungal and bacterial interactions. The on-going poster sessions gave ample opportunity for discussions following seminars or alternatively on the hotel's beach!

The final day was initiated with a wide reaching session considering "Biotechnology, Biodiversity and Sustainable Agriculture for the year 2000". Long discussions encroached on the closing session given by Alberto Matta, the President of the European Foundation for Plant Pathology. Finally we had an introduction to EFPP in Prague for 2001.

The technical tours for Friday and the weekend, gave us a fantastic chance to see some of the applications of Plant Pathology in Sicily itself, and to view some of the most beautiful scenery. In a tour of the vineyards, we had a chance to view a farm growing a vast array of crops including peaches, olives, pears and, of course, grapes, with the farmer available for questions!

Hannah Jones
University of Oxford