BSPP News Summer 2001 - Online Edition

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

Biocontrol Agents: modes of action and their interaction with other means of control
Seville, Spain : 30 November - 3 December, 2000 

After the official preliminaries on the first morning, including a welcome from the key organisers, Enrique Monte and Yigal Elad, and an appearance by the Andalucia Minister of Agriculture, the meeting proper then started with sessions on modes of action of both fungal and bacterial biocontrol agents. This included a talk by Alison Stewart from New Zealand on control of Sclerotinia by Coniothyrium minitans, both fungi the subject of current research in our lab and therefore of much interest to myself and my colleagues John Whipps and Eirian Jones who accompanied me to Seville. Other highlights included Barrie Seddon's talk on production of a surfactant and antibiotics as modes of action of Brevibacillus brevis and also our first taste of induced resistance, another mode of action (in this case using Pseudomonas aeruginosa and Botrytis cinerea as a model system) from Monica Hofte. After returning to research on biocontrol very recently after a seven year absence, induced resistance is one of the new modes of action that has been discovered in some biocontrol agents and merited a session to itself later on in the meeting.

The penultimate session of the day was on general biocontrol in agriculture and forestry and included our new President Chris Gilligan who gave the final presentation on using models to understand biocontrol. This being a difficult slot at the best of times as people begin to think of the bar, Chris kept everyone's attention with a well-presented talk which included no mathematical equations - surely a record! The poster session was the last item on the day's agenda and before anyone got a drink to fortify them for this, a few people including myself were invited (or volunteered!) to give short oral presentations of their posters by John Whipps. My poster was entitled 'a screening system for identifying biological control agents of Sclerotium cepivorum.'

Saturday was an organised trip to Doñana National Park, which covers 75,000,000 hectares and is one of Europe's largest wetlands. This is home to many endangered species, including the Iberian lynx, the imperial eagle, mongoose, deer and wild boar and is also a sanctuary for 80% of Europe's migratory birds which include numerous types of geese and colonies of flamingo. The Doñana's landscape is constantly being changed by its dunes of very fine sand which engulf the extensive pine forests of the interior, leaving eerie forests of smothered trees. This we saw from the comfort of large 4-wheel drive vehicles and we were only let out twice, presumably to minimize the impact of scientists!

Exploring one of the huge dunes in the Doņana National Park
Exploring one of the huge dunes in the Doñana National Park

The final day of the conference (Sunday) was a long day and comprised sessions on combining biocontrol agents, induced resistance, post harvest biocontrol and enzymes/genes involved in biocontrol. This highlighted problems in identifying interactions between control agents but also showed how biocontrol could more effectively be combined with chemicals as shown in John Whipps's presentation on integrated control of Sclerotinia sclerotiorum. Finally, the last session showed the progress that is being made in identifying important genes and enzymes involved in many biocontrol systems and how they operate, which may give important clues as to why biocontrol is often unreliable. After another final poster session we were taken for the workshop dinner at the Benazuza palace outside Seville, a beautifully restored Moorish building and a wonderful setting for the last engagement of the meeting.

John Whipps, Alison Stewart and John
L to R John Whipps, Alison Stewart and John
Clarkson with Seville oranges

Before returning to the UK, there was a chance to explore the city of Seville, the most impressive sights being the hugely gothic cathedral and the Moorish Alcazar Palace with its immaculate gardens. We were all by now on Seville time which meant breakfast not possible before 8am, virtually no lunch (except beer) at 2 pm and slim chance of eating before 10.30 pm each evening. Some good old English butties would have been most welcome at certain times!

I would like to thank the BSPP for providing me with the opportunity to travel to the workshop and present my poster.

John Clarkson
HRI-Wellesbourne