BSPP News Spring 2001 - Online Edition

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

People and Places

Horticulture Research International

International activities

Dr David Parry and Dr Xiangming Xu of the Entomology and Plant Pathology Department HRI East Malling have been awarded an EU Framework 5 programme project to develop risk asessment models for Fusarium species and myctoxin accumulation in cereals. The programme involves 8 partners from 4 European countries and will take 4 years to complete. It deploys the latest PCR methods to detect and quantify Fusarium ear blight species alongside mathematical modelling in order to try and forecast disease and mycotoxin outbreaks.

John Carder presented a paper entitled 'Breeding for resistance to basal rot in Narcissus' at the 8th International Symposium on Flower Bulbs in Cape Town, South Africa in August.  Peter Mills was an invited speaker at the Sanghai International vegetable Conference in October where he gave a paper on "Development and application of techniques for pathogen detection and discrimination". Angela Berrie attended conference in Leida, Spain in October and presented a paper on reducing losses due to rots in cider apple orchards.

Nicola Spence visited Kenya in August and October as part of a DFID-funded research project on management of virus diseases of vegetables involving partners from CABI-ARC, KARI and NRI. Sara Hughes spent three months working in Derek Lydiate's lab in Saskatoon, Canada identifying further markers for TuMV resistance genes and placing existing tags on Brassica reference maps. Sara has now joined the Kenya vegetable virus project team and made her first visit to Kenya in October.

 John Whipps presented an oral paper on molecular variation in Coniothyrium minitans and a poster on tomato powdery mildew at the EFPP Conference in Giardini-Naxos, Italy.  Eirian Jones and John Whipps attended a consortium meeting of an EU Biotechnology project concerning inoculum production of C. minitans in Malchow/Poel, Germany. Lisa Harper from Lincoln University, New Zealand visited Eirian Jones, John Whipps and others to discuss various biological disease control problems.

Nigel Lyons attended a meeting at Direcção-Geral de Protecção das Culturas, Oeras, Portugal by the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture.  The meeting considered progress in the control and eradication of Ralstonia solanacearum in Portugal where potato, tomato and pepper crops have been badly effected.  HRI had developed a rapid field detection test for this pathogen that was evaluated in a joint collaborative project with DGPC and is now being used extensively in the eradication programme.  The test is also being used in similar control programmes throughout Europe and elsewhere in the world and is available from HRI.

John Whipps, Eirian Jones and John Clarkson manned an exhibit on the BBSRC stand at the Royal Show entitled Biological Control of Plant Fungal Diseases. Several VIPs, including Prince Philip, visited the stand and short reports related to this exhibit subsequently appeared in the farming and horticultural press.

Staff news

Peter Mills, Head of the Plant Pathology and Microbiology Department at Wellesbourne, has been awarded an Honorary Professorship by the University of Birmingham. A new BBSRC-funded student, Emily Clewes, started work at Wellesbourne on Oct 1st with Dez Barbara to extend work on pathogenicity in cruciferous isolates of Verticillium already done by Alex Collins. Jim Cleave has been appointed to investigate 'Mechanistic modelling of canopy drying rates in Brussels sprouts crops' as a PhD.  He will be supervised by Dr. A. Verhoef (Department of Soil Science, Reading) Roy Kennedy and Dr. Mike Shaw (Department of Agricultural Botany, Reading) and will spend time at HRI Wellesbourne conducting field experiments.  Tim Pettitt transferred from HRI Efford to East Malling I September where he will work mainly on Pythium and Phytopthora, he will continue to run development trials on slow sand bed filtration at Efford.

The Entomology and Plant Pathology department at East Malling welcomes Dr Graeme Down who recently completed his PhD on Crook root disease of watercress at the University of Bath with John Clarkson and Richard Cooper. Graeme is working on detection and quantification of Verticillium species in hops and Strawberries using PCR. He will also examine mechanisms of resistance in the two crops to Verticillium.

The Lord Mayor of London presented Mike Solomon with the Worshipful Company of Fruiterers Environmental Award for Crop Protection for HRI East Malling's pioneering work on forecast models for orchard pests and disease management.  Mike was presented subsequently with the overall winner's award. The Worshipful Company of Fruiterers is also going to fund a sandwich course studentship to investigate the importance of cherry virus A in the UK with Tony Adams and melissa Kirkby.

Nicola Spence has become a Programme Advisor to the DFID Crop Protection Programme (CPP) managed by NRInternational, on pests and diseases of vegetables and fruit in peri-urban production systems.  DFID currently fund eight vegetable IPM projects in Kenya, India, Zimbabwe and Ghana through the CPP.

Dr Jennifer Walker has been appointed in John Walsh's group to work on the serological and molecular discrimination of Olpidium brassicae isolates that infect lettuce and transmit lettuce big-vein virus.  The project is funded by the E.C., Framework V.  Jennifer has a background in human genetics and detection and treatment of leukaemia at the University of Oxford. Jennifer and John attended a meeting in Braunschweig to discuss progress of the EC Framework V project on lettuce big-vein and its vector O. brassicae with collaborators from Germany, Spain and Holland. Rifei Sun of the Institute of Vegetables and Flowers, Beijing has been working with John Walsh's group 2000 mapping TuMV resistance genes in the Brassica A genome as part of an EC funded INCO-DC project.

Nicola Spence


Institute of Arable Crops Research

Mergers, take-overs and re-organisation are in the air again, and life in IACR is no exception. As many of you will be aware the Institute is in the process of a re-structuring exercise, involving a phased withdrawal from the Long Ashton site, and a major capital development programme at Rothamsted, scheduled to be completed by spring 2003. As part of this all the plant pathology research will be integrated in one Division, Plant-Pathogen Interactions, based at Rothamsted, with the exception of the programme on sugar beet crop protection which will continue at Brooms Barn.

The first year of the new millennium has been a novel experience for many of us, as in addition to the usual research activities we have been involved in an extensive consultation exercise with the site development team over the shape and content of a new laboratory building to be constructed at Rothamsted. Plant pathology and microbiology will occupy a quarter of this space, which will also house new laboratories and analytical facilities for plant science and biological chemistry. New glasshouse and controlled environment facilities are close to completion, allowing demolition of the old glasshouses (and plant pathology tea room!) early this year to make room for the new lab development.

Some plant pathology staff transfers have already taken place. John Lucas moved to Rothamsted in spring 2000, although the contents of his office did not follow until the autumn, and some parts are rumoured to be still at Reading Services. Following Derek Hollomon's retirement in July, work on fungicide resistance also transferred to Rothamsted, where a new laboratory and research programme has been established under the direction of Bart Fraaije. Much of the emphasis of the current research (assisted by Juliana Coelho) is on resistance diagnostics and the use of real-time PCR to track and quantify the incidence of resistance in field populations of pathogens. The molecular diagnostics group is also working on aspects of inoculum detection (Alastair McCartney, Jon West), pathogen population diversity (Elaine Ward, Jackie Freeman), light leaf spot of oilseed rape (Simon Foster, joint with University of Cambridge) and multiplex PCR assays for foliar pathogens of cereals (Bart Fraaije). Meanwhile Derek Hollomon will continue to be actively involved in the fungicide research in a consultancy role.

The Molecular Pathology group, comprising John Hargreaves, John Keon, Paul Bowyer, Richard O'Connell, Rafaella Carzaniga and associated staff are scheduled to move later, once the new building and facilities for pathogen genomics and biological imaging are available at Rothamsted.

As well as designing buildings and transferring people, much effort has gone into planning the new Plant-Pathogen Interactions Division, which currently comprises four research programmes as follows:

1. Plant-nematode interactions (leader Ken Evans): Emphasis on molecular interactions. Principal targets potato root knot and cyst nematodes.
2. Fungal pathogenesis  (leader John Lucas): Molecular analysis of infection processes, determinants of pathogenicity. Existing and novel fungicide targets. Principal focus on fungal pathogens of temperate cereals.
3. Pathogen characterisation and control (leader Mike Adams): Emphasis on diagnosis, pathogen variation, and disease management. Cereal pathogens including viruses, root and stem base diseases.
4. Disease dynamics and forecasting (leader Bruce Fitt): Comparative epidemiology of fungal pathogens of cereals and oilseeds. Modelling and prediction of disease.

Integration of part of the nematology research with work on fungal pathogens in IACR will provide opportunities for comparative studies on pathogenicity mechanisms. This development is also likely to rekindle the old debate as to whether nematodes are pests, pathogens or something else altogether! Hector Cabrera from the Swedish Agricultural University joined us in October 2000 to develop new research in the area of molecular nematology.

Other appointments in 2000 included Frank van den Bosch from Wageningen, who is based in the Statistics Department, but also contributes to disease modelling research, as well as another Dutch recruit, Bart Fraaije (see above).  Clive Bock, currently at CSIRO Canberra, joined the disease dynamics programme in January to work on cereal pathology.  However, we will shortly be losing the expertise and experience of John Jenkyn, who will be leaving IACR in the spring.

Space does not permit a full account of recent comings and goings, visitors and overseas jaunts, but special mention should be made of Nash Nashaat, for his extensive travels on the Indian subcontinent in support of his Indo-UK collaborative project on oilseed crops, and Phil Jones, who set new records for crossing time zones in a single weekend. Phil has recently become the Tropical Virology advisor for DFID.

John Lucas


University of Reading

We continue to have a vibrant pathology research culture.   We have welcomed several post-graduate students Sarah Case, working on Septoria of cereals in collaboration with Rothamsted and Syngenta;  Scott Philips working on potato blight in collaboration with Martin Wolfe and the Elm Farm research centre; Anna Kassaliki working on biocontrol of tomato powdery mildew (mostly in Crete!);  Helen  Kalorizou working on banana resistance to nematodes;   Stephanos  Leontopoulos working on biocontrol of nematodes with Pasteuria; Agnes Amil working mostly at Syngenta, on fungicide resistance in black sigatoka of banana; and Stephane Pietravalle working mostly at Rothamsted on mathematical modelling in relation to cereal disease epidemiology.    Barry Rodgers-Gray completed his PhD in the spring and has begun work as a post-doc, following up some of the more exciting leads from his thesis, hampered only by the rain making sowing wheat a tricky undertaking.  Jeff Peters, sadly for us, but luckily for them, has joined the British Potato Council as their potato pathologist.   Otherwise, Roland Fox, Simon Gowen, Michael Shaw, and - with one of his trophic hats on - Paul Hatcher continue to form the main staff here, making us a strong centre in whole-organism and population pathology.  But there is also pathology under other guises Wilbert Philips has been studying the variation and relationships of Moniliophthora of cocoa using molecular tools, and the researchers into spectral filtering greenhouse coverings have interesting results on Botrytis and Alternaria infections.

Things are less rosy on the undergraduate front.  Our current students are as good and enthusiastic as ever.   But the collapse of farm incomes has made anything to do with agriculture an unattractive career, and in common with other Universities with agricultural interests, recruitment has been poor at undergraduate level.   We hope this will be reversed when our degree programmes are completely reorganised in 2002, offering much more flexibility to incoming undergraduates.   In particular, perhaps I can plug our new degree in "Applied Biology", in which we believe Reading has unique strength which has perhaps been hidden behind too many specialisms.  But the long-term future of pathology does depend on there being reasonably paid jobs at the end of either undergraduate or postgraduate training; and the long-term future of food production depends at least in part on pathology....

Fortunately - or unfortunately -  it is difficult to concentrate on the long term, so I think what we mostly notice is that both research and teaching at Reading are mostly fun, challenging and successful.   And we welcome visitors...

Michael Shaw


University of Hertfordshire

The University of Hertfordshire has a very well equipped suite of biological laboratories and an excellent field station at Bayfordbury (the site of the original John Innes research station). Dr Avice Hall is a Principal Lecturer in the Department of Environmental Sciences. She teaches mycology and plant pathology amongst other things (see her web resource book on fungi: www.herts.ac.uk/natsci/Env/Fungi/html/index.htm). Dr Hall has also supervised many research students, including at present Miss Alefyah Ali who is Research Assistant on the MAFF funded Rose Blackspot Project and working towards a PhD (www.herts.ac.uk/natsci/Env/Fungi/Blackspot). Another student, Dr Moray Taylor has just completed his PhD after six years of part-time study on potato blight forecasting, in collaboration with Dr Nigel Hardwick at CSL. Monica Maksymiak is investigating the possibility of biological control of Leptosphaeria maculans on oil seed rape using Cyathus striatus, a Bird's Nest Fungus. International students supervised by Dr Hall, currently working at IACR-Rothamsted, include Aipo Diao who has just submitted his PhD thesis on biological and molecular studies of Furoviruses, supervised by Dr Mike Adams. Yongju Huang from China is returned in December to continue epidemiological work on Leptosphaeria maculans.

Avice Hall actively encourages participation in conferences and there was a good representation from the department at the recent BCPC conference in Brighton.

The plant pathology 'team' are part of a larger research group, the Agro-ecosystems Research Group (ARG), whose achievements so far include the now widely used Environmental Management for Agriculture software (prize winner in the 1998 Science into Practice Awards and awarded Millennium Product status by the Design Council).

New staff at the University include Dr David Naseby, a plant microbiologist. He takes over teaching duties from Dr Neil Smith, who started academic life as a plant pathologist and has recently had his official retirement farewell, although continues as Deputy Director of the Biodeteriation Unit.

Monica Maksymiak 


Central Science Laboratory

Despite York and its surroundings being unofficially declared an island surrounded by the River Ouse in the autumn of 2000, CSL's Plant Health Group continue to participate in a diverse range of activities, some of which are described below.

Moray Taylor was awarded his doctorate on potato blight forecasting from the University of Hertfordshire at a ceremony held in St Alban's Abbey in November.  Nigel Hardwick attended a European Potato Blight Workshop held near Munich in September.

Claire Sansford gave a paper (Baker & Sansford) entitled "Pest Risk Analysis, Climatic Mapping and GIS" at the "Crop Production Under Cool Long Days" workshop at Newbattle Abbey College near Edinburgh in August.  This workshop was a satellite of the 3rd International Crop Science Congress in Hamburg.   She also participated in an EPPO Ad Hoc Panel on the Phytosanitary Risks Associated with Composted Organic Waste in Göttingen, Germany in November.  This trip included an interesting if somewhat odour-filled visit to a commercial composting plant.  Claire has also been extremely busy as Senior Editor of New Disease Reports which in its first year has proved highly successful.

At the BCPC Pests and Diseases conference in November members of Nigel Hardwick's Crop Disease Research Team were well represented with two platform presentations (Phil Jennings and Nigel Hardwick) and involvement in five posters, three as senior authors (Sharon Elcock, Judith Turner and Moray Taylor).

Alan Pemberton chaired the BCPC session "International Plant Health and Quarantine for the New Millenium" organised by Neil Giltrap, manager of the Plant Health Consultancy Team.  Striking the balance between plant health protection and the need to meet the demands of freer trade and increased personal choice has never been more difficult.  This issue was addressed by three world players in international plant health, Ian Smith  (Director- General of EPPO, Paris), Bob Griffin (FAO, Rome) and Alan Pemberton (CSL, York).  The import of genetically modified organisms, organic production, the effect of invasive species on biodiversity and the concerns of the consumer were also addressed.  Rob Black (NRI, Greenwich) highlighted the problems faced by developing countries in meeting global trading demands and Paul Bartlett (CSL, York) highlighted new pests and diseases of concern to the EU.

The commercial work of the Immunological and Molecular Methods Team headed by Ian Barker was also presented at BCPC in the form of their Pocket Diagnostics Kits.  The range currently includes validated kits for 8 plant viruses:  Potato Virus A, S, V, Y and X as well as Pepino Mosaic Virus and Plum Pox Virus ( www.csl.gov.uk/pocketdiagnostics ).

The EC has continued to support a project on brown rot of potatoes advising the Egyptian Government and Egyptian potato growers on how to reduce the impacts of this bacterial disease in order to continue to facilitate exports of new potatoes into Europe.  The partners involved in the Project are PD, Netherlands (Co-ordinator), CSL, RVP, Belgium and LNPV, France.

Finally, Christine Henry, manager of the Virus Biology and Risk Assessment Team reminds us that the IXth Conference on Virus Diseases of Gramineae in Europe will be at  CSL, York, 21-23 May 2001.  This conference will cover all aspects of graminaceous virology.  For information, contact Christine at CSL.

Claire Sansford