BSPP News Summer 2001 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 39, Summer 2001 

People and Places 


Nothing will be quite the same again on the Rothamsted site after the start of work in preparation for the new laboratory. Contractors moved in during April and as I write the old glasshouses and associated buildings in the centre of the site are being systematically flattened. Fortunately, new plant growth facilities including further glasshouses and a controlled environment building are either complete or close to completion, and so far the transfer of research has gone smoothly. The only notable delay was due to the discovery of a mallard duck nest on the roundabout in front of Ogg building, which held up creation of an access road until after the ducklings had hatched!

During March, the 10th Anniversary of the British Aerobiology Federation was held at Rothamsted, in recognition of the major contribution the Institute has made in this field over many years. This one day meeting, combining both medical and plant pathological aspects, reviewed the historical foundations of the science, as well as future developments. Alastair McCartney presented a paper on new technologies including molecular methods for detecting airborne inoculum.

During March, John Lucas participated in a session on E-crop protection at the Agchem Forum in London. The meeting focused on high-tech and IT approaches, but perhaps ironically suffered a blackout due to a major power failure in the neighbourhood. The limitations of Powerpoint in the absence of electricity were ruthlessly exposed (Programme Secretary please note). By an amazing stroke of good fortune the power was restored just before John's own presentation at the end of the day!

The same week, John Lucas and a team of UK scientists from IACR, the John Innes Centre, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, and representatives from BBSRC, the Royal Society, and consumer and science ethics organisations travelled to Parana State, Brazil, to participate in a workshop meeting on Transgenic Plants, Science and Communication. The GM question is a live issue in Brazil, much like Europe, partly due to the importance of agriculture to the economy of many states, as well as market perceptions about the advantages or disadvantages of transgenic soybean exported from Argentina. Some southern states, such as Rio Grande de Sul, have outlawed GM plants. The event attracted over 200 participants and much media attention. In addition to the science issues, the UK team and Brazilian counterparts covered a broad range of topics, including the increasingly important area of public understanding of science. Thanks are due to the British Council, BBSRC, Royal Society and several Brazilian organisations for sponsoring this lively event.

In April, Alastair McCartney and Jon West visited VTT Electronics, Oulu, Finland for the annual meeting of the OPTIDIS project, a collaboration between eight European partners, which aims to develop tractor mounted optically-based equipment that can detect disease patches within fields, and thus allow targeted application of fungicides and improved dose selection. The project will assess the effectiveness of targeted spray application and provide information on the spread of disease patches in fields. Field experiments at Rothamsted are currently investigating three pathogen systems - yellow rust, septoria leaf blotch and BYVD, on winter wheat crops. If the equipment is successful, its application in precision farming could reduce pesticide use and also the risk of pesticide resistance. Knowledge of the temporal and spatial dynamics of disease epidemics should allow the development of more effective disease control strategies using conventional as well as novel methods of field disease monitoring.

A number of staff changes have recently taken place. Chris Smith, who worked in IACR for more than 30 years, most recently running the plant pathology workshop, fixing electron microscopes, and just about everything else, retired just before Christmas. His ability to spirit gadgets out of thin air, or to resurrect obsolete equipment, will be sorely missed. Margaret Perry, who supported much of the molecular biology work, retired in January. Fortunately, we have some new recruits as well. Eleanor Dillon, whose background is in clinical microbiology, joined us in March to work mainly in the area of molecular diagnostics. Helen Kalisz is arriving shortly to provide microbiological support for several research projects and to manage the culture collection.

As usual we have welcomed a number of international visitors to the department. Dr Zbigniew Karolewski from the University of Agriculture, Posnan, Poland, is visiting for one year funded by an EU Marie Curie Fellowship to work on the comparative epidemiology of light leaf spot and stem canker of oilseed rape under UK and Polish conditions. Dr Olu Latunde-Dada, who is well-known to the Institute from previous visits from Nigeria as a Royal Society Fellow, is now working on a one year project investigating mechanisms of induced susceptibility in brassicas. He is also revisiting some of the unresolved questions in host-pathogen relations in Colletotrichum species. Very recently, Dr J.N.Sachan, an oilseed breeder from G B Pant University of Agriculture and Technology in Pantnagar India has arrived to work with Nash Nashaat for 6 months on white rust of brassicas, as part of an ongoing UK-Indo collaborative project on oilseeds.  Nash spent 5 weeks in India during January and February and narrowly missed the epicentre of the devastating Gujurat earthquake.

Recent international postgraduate visitors are Sonny Warokka from the Research Institute for coconut and Palmae, Indonesia, who worked for 3 months with Phil Jones on techniques for the detection of phytoplasmas in coconut trunk samples and putative insect visitors. In April, Tao Zheng from the Zhejiang Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China arrived for a 6 month visit working with Mike Adams on bymoviruses, including oat mosaic virus and barley mild and yellow mosaic viruses.

John Lucas

John Innes Centre, Norwich 

The John Innes Centre has undergone a major reorganisation over the last 6 months. The old departments, which had their origins in the JIC's history as three separate institutes in Norwich, Cambridge and Brighton, have been split up and re-formed into six new departments which reflect the institute's principal areas of research. The intention of the reorganisation is to build on our existing strengths and to create opportunities for research in new and expanding areas.

One of the aims of the new structure is to encourage collaborations - or at least, sharing of ideas - between scientists who have common interests but who were previously in different departments. Pathology at the JIC was previously spread across several departments but is all now in a single Department of Disease and Stress Biology. We are gradually getting to know our new colleagues from the other old departments. In terms of science, we have a lively programme of departmental seminars, complemented by specialist seminars in areas such as cereal pathology. With more of an emphasis on getting to know each other socially, a department Retreat (sorry, Advance!) is taking place on Friday 18th May at the Eco-Centre in Swaffham, home of the UK's largest wind turbine (the blades are as long as the wings of a jumbo jet and the turbine produces 10% of the power used by the town of Swaffham). Not content with allowing us to marvel at the wonders of environmentally-friendly technology, the organising committee is threatening some kind of team-building exercise involving circus skills. (Pictures in the next issue, maybe, if they're not too embarrassing!)

Four of the ten group leaders in DSB are virologists. Andy Maule is the head of department and the other projects on viruses are headed by Sue Angell, Margaret Boulton and John Stanley (Sue describes a week in her life in this issue of BSPP News). Their research concerns the molecular biology of interactions between viruses, their host plants and their vectors. Work on host resistance to viral diseases involves both natural resistance to such pathogens as pea seed-borne mosaic virus and maize streak virus, and novel methods of obtaining resistance, for instance through virus-induced post-transcriptional gene silencing. The control of gene expression in the plant by the virus and vice-versa is a major area of research. For example, John Stanley is investigating the modification of the host cell cycle by viruses, while Sue Angell is studying changes in host gene expression during virus infection and host genes controlling susceptibility to infection. Research on the structure and evolution of viruses includes investigation of novel geminiviruses and sequence evolution in banana streak virus.

A second large group of researchers comes from the old Cereals Research Department. Lesley Boyd, James Brown and Paul Nicholson are supported by MAFF to investigate sustainable resistance of cereals to economically important fungal diseases. Their research has the linked aims of understanding the adaptation of pathogen populations to cereals and undestanding the genetic basis of durable disease resistance. Projects in the first theme include interactions between different species of Fusarium and Microdochium and evolution of virulence and fungicide resistance in powdery mildew and Septoria tritici. In the second area, we are studying novel sources of apparently durable resistance to rust, Fusarium and septoria tritici blotch. A substantial part of the work on cereal diseases is supported by industry, in the form of plant breeders and agrochemical companies.

The Director of the JIC, Professor Chris Lamb, is a member of the Disease and Stress Biology Department. His group is concerned with unravelling the networks of host responses to disease, involving the local hypersensitive response and systemic resistance mechanisms mediated by salicylic acid and NO, using Pseudomonas of arabidopsis as a model system.

As the name suggests, the department includes research on abiotic stress, in the form of Phil Mullineaux's group, which studies the molecular genetics of plants' responses to oxidative stress caused by excessive light levels. Bjørn Drøbak is concerned with signalling at the cellular level, studying the role of calcium and inositol phosphate in plants.

All the new departments in the JIC are quite large. DSB is one of the smallest, with 'only' 80 people. These include Ph.D. students, post-docs and visiting workers from many parts of the world. The cereal pathology lab alone currently has members from Portugal, Greece, France, Italy, India and China, and other labs in the department are equally cosmopolitan. At present, the department is scattered over five places in the institute and the benefits of the new structure will no doubt only be fully realised when we are brought together in one location. Meanwhile, we hope that the new structure will allow us to carry out excellent research on fundamental and strategic aspects of plant pathology, while continuing to generate novel approaches to the control of important plant diseases.

James Brown 

University of the West of England 

Molecular Genetics Group
Research in the Faculty of Applied Sciences has recently been restructured and coordinated in a number of Research Centres and the Molecular Genetics Group, led by Alan Vivian, is now in the Centre for Research in Plant Science (CRIPS:

Dawn Arnold has recently joined the Centre as a new lecturer in Molecular Biosciences and Bioinformatics and hopes to continue her strong links with the Molecular Genetics Group working on the molecular basis of host specificity in Pseudomonas syringae pathovars and the genomic location of avirulence genes.   Since our last report which appeared as long ago as Spring 1998 (oops!), Alan Vivian has been appointed a Professor in the University and taken up the post of General Secretary in the Society for General Microbiology for a period of five years.  Robert Jackson who completed both his PhD and three years as a postdoc, studying the role of plasmids in the pathogenicity of Pseudomonas syringae pv. phaseolicola towards its host plant, bean, moved at Christmas to take up a post-doctoral position in Paul Rainey's lab in Oxford, but still keeps in close touch (being married to Dawn!!).  Lindsay Dutton joined the group as a Senior Research Technician early in 2000, working on a joint project with John Mansfield's group at Imperial College at Wye investigating virulence determinants in P. syringae.  Nuria Elamri (a visitor from Libya), who has been developing specific primers for PCR-based identification of P. syringae pv.  maculicola strains (a collaboration with John Taylor at HRI), has recently submitted her thesis.  Diane Butcher is a part-time PhD student who has just completed her second year and is investigating the role of plasmids in the pathogenicity of P. syringae pv. pisi towards its host plant, pea.

Other groups within CRIPS include the Downy Mildew Research Group led by Peter Spencer-Phillips and the Plant Signalling and Stress Biology Group led by the Centre Director, Steve Neil. More of these next time..

Dawn Arnold & Alan Vivian 


HRI has gone through a major reorganisation last autumn/winter, which included the loss of 150 posts throughout the institute and the closure of the Stockbridge House site. However, only a few posts in plant pathology were lost. Thus, the research on plant diseases in horticultural crops has not been affected much by this reorganisation.

Representatives of nine partners from all over Europe met in February to discuss the progress of the EU-funded project DARE (Durable Apple Resistance in Europe). The project focuses on a better understanding of resistance in apple to scab (Venturia inaequalis) and powdery mildew (Podosphaera leucotricha). The partners come from France, the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, Belgium and the UK.

Representatives of nine partners from Sweden, Germany, Canada, China (Beijing, Wuhan and Shanghai) met at HRI Wellesbourne in September 2000 to discuss the progress of the EC-funded INCO-DC project 'Application of Biotechnology for Genetic Improvement of Brassicas'.  The project is aimed at identifying genes for key traits in Chinese cabbage and oilseed rape and the molecular mapping of these genes.  Research at HRI in John Walsh's group has focussed on mapping resistance genes to turnip mosaic virus in Chinese cabbage and oilseed rape.

New MAFF-funded projects will start on the use of Lux and Gfp markers to study the epidemiology of bacterial plant pathogens in Steve Roberts' group, on the genetics of host-pathogen interactions of strawberry powdery mildew with Xiangming Xu, David Harris and Angela Berrie and on population genetics of apple scab with Dez Barbara.

Roy Kennedy demonstrated the BRASSICA-spot disease forecasting system at HortEx 2001. The software integrates data from a Skye weather station to produce a forecast of Alternaria (dark spot) and Albugo candida (white blister) in real time. Another presentation at HortEx was by Tim Pettitt, who is carrying out research to investigate the use of slow sand filtration systems to remove propagules of fungal diseases from irrigation systems in which the water is recycled. A working model of such filter system was demonstrated at HortEx 2001. John Whipps presented a talk at HortEx entitled 'Employing an unseen army for disease control'.

At the BSPP Presidential meeting in December, John Whipps and John Clarkson presented work on Sclerotinia sclerotiorum apothecial development. Jim Beynon gave an invited lecture entitled 'Function and evolution of the RPP13 disease resistance locus from Arabidopsis'. Also, presentations were given as part of the PH Gregory competition by Alexandra Collins on Verticillium dahliae, Sarah Holcroft on Xanthomonas hortorum pv. hederae on ivy, and Graeme Down on the phylogeny of Spongospora subterranea f. sp. Nasturtii. Julius Mukalazi and Geoffrey Tusiime, visiting workers at HRI from Uganda, also presented posters at this meeting.

John Walsh presented an oral paper at the AAB meeting at the University of Dundee 'Advances in Plant Virology': Turnip mosaic virus-brassica interactions. Eirian Jones, John Clarkson and John Whipps attended the IOBC/EFPP meeting on 'biocontrol agents: modes of action and their interaction with other means of biocontrol' in Seville and two posters and two oral presentations were made. John Whipps further attended a COST Action 830 meeting in Helsinki and presented a paper on Coniothyrium minitans inoculum production and survival. Dave Pink gave a plenary lecture on 'Strategies for non-durable major genes' at the International Symposium on Durable Resistance in Wageningen in the Netherlands. Tim Pettitt presented a talk on 'Fungal plant pathogens in irrigation water' at a Colloquium on Fungi and Actinomycetes in Food and Water for the Society for Applied Microbiology. He also presented a talk on 'Water-borne disease: risks and control' at Contact 2001. Gordon Hanks gave a talk on the control of basal rot at an HDC Narcissus Seminar in Spalding. The author will present work on the effects of temperature and spore density on infection and latent period of Puccinia allii on leeks at the 8th International Epidemiology Workshop in Brazil.

Commercial activities
The Mushroom Group have established a commercial service for testing mushrooms for a new virus problem called Virus X. The service was launched in October 2000 and has been well received and used by growers. An HDC Identification Card Set - Narcissus diseases, pests and disorders - has been published.

Appointments and titles
Nicola Spence has been appointed Vegetables Technical Advisor to the Department for International Development (DFID) crop protection programme. She will provide support to DFID in identifying and reviewing research proposals for work in Kenya, Ghana and Zimbabwe.

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 EU, Framework V. Jennifer has a background in human genetics and detection and treatment of leukaemia at the University of Oxford. Furthermore, Dr Xiaowu Wang of the Institute of Vegetables and Flowers, Beijing has been awarded a Royal Society Fellowship to carry out research on turnip mosaic virus/Brassica interactions in John Walsh's group.

Bruce Adie has been awarded his PhD from Imperial College for his thesis 'The biology and epidemiology of the cobweb disease pathogen (Cladobotryum spp.) infecting the cultivated mushroom (Agaricus bisporus)'. Bruce continues to work at HRI to develop a PCR-based diagnostic for a novel dsRNA mushroom virus. The author has been awarded his PhD from Wageningen University, the Netherlands, for his thesis entitled 'Epidemiology of light leaf spot (Pyrenopeziza brassicae) on winter oilseed rape (Brassica napus)'. He works now in Roy Kennedy's group on the epidemiology of leaf pathogens on onions and leeks. Rachel Rusholme successfully defended her PhD entitled "The genetic control of resistance to turnip mosaic virus (TuMV) in Brassica".  Her HRI supervisor was John Walsh. Joana Vicente successfully defended her thesis entitled: 'Diversity of Xanthomonas campestris pv. campestris (Pammel) Dowson and characterisation of genetic resistance in Brassica spp'. Joana was registered at the Technical University of Lisbon where she was supervised by Professor Antonio A. Monteiro. Her supervisor at HRI was Graham King. The viva was conducted at the Technical University of Lisbon with a panel of six members, including HRI-W staff John Taylor (ex Plant Pathology & Microbiology) and Graham King (Plant Genetics & Biotechnology). Joanna continues to work at HRI on Xanthomonas campestris pv. campestris and bacterial canker of wild cherry in Steve Roberts' group.

Tijs Gilles