BSPP News Summer 2001 - Online Edition

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

Plant Pathology in Contemporary Science

Plant pathology is relevant to many groups of people beyond the relatively small community of plant pathologists themselves - the general public, those involved in public policy (including higher education) and, not least, scientists working in other subjects.

BSPP has taken steps to address important strategic issues in the science of plant pathology, most recently in new ventures in publications, selecting topics for meetings and improving publicity. The focus of these projects is directed towards improving the service to members and in promulgating plant pathology amongst - well, mostly other plant pathologists.  How do we as a Society see the position of plant pathology in contemporary science, in informing national and international debate on science, including genetic modification, sustainable agricultural production, maintenance of biodiversity?

I list below some of these issues, with some exploratory questions, and invite members of BSPP to do the following.

1. Review the major topics and identify omissions.
2. Consider whether or not the Society should review its rôle in contemporary science.
3. If yes, consider future action:

  • Interaction with other scientific disciplines at conferences
  • Provision of information on the web pages: for example by linking to other sites, such as The American Phytopathological Society, Research Councils, Research Institutes.
  • Other forms of national and international representation.
  • Establishment of one or more working groups

Molecular biology, genomics and post-genomics research and application
Plant pathology undoubtedly benefits from developments in molecular biology but:

  • What are the major benefits?
  • How has work on plant pathogens contributed to developments in molecular biology?
  • What future work would be particularly beneficial to the study of plant pathogens?

Sustainable agricultural production
We take it as axiomatic that plant diseases are important in limiting agricultural production but,

  • Where is the contemporary evidence for crop losses?
  • What is the future for genetical, chemical, cultural and  biological  control?

Biodiversity and systematics
This is a highly emotive topic that frequently generates more heat than scientific light. We might ask:

  • Who wants to preserve disease and why?
  • How important is genetic variability amongst plant pathogens and can we measure it?
  • What has plant pathology to contribute to the debate?

Epidemiology and ecology

  • What are the current imperatives for epidemiology? pesticide resistance, invasion of new diseases; optimising the control of disease
  • How does botanical epidemiology contribute to general epidemiology and ecological theory?
  • How important are diseases in natural and semi-natural populations?

Steps that BSPP could take to enhance the role of plant pathology in contemporary science are currently being considered by a subcommittee of BSPP's Board. The views of members and other scientists are most welcome: please post your contribution in relation to the issues raised here to the discussion forum.

Chris Gilligan
President, BSPP