BSPP News Summer 2001 - Online Edition

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

A Week in the Life of a Lecturer - Elsewhere
Richard Cooper: Lecturer, University of Bath

A dilemma-whether to leave on the air conditioning unit and be awakened at regular intervals when it kicks in, or leave it off and awake with the dampness of a spore in a humid chamber. My bedroom is strewn with papers, slides and overhead sheets from the previous night's preparations and the effects of caipirinha (there's a clue) are still clouding my head. I throw back the curtains to reveal a blinding November sun glinting on the wide, brown river below. Another day begins.

The course begins at 08.30 and by 09.30 I'm impersonating a damp chamber again. What must it be like here in high summer? The large audience is charming and enthusiastic. They smile, say "good morning" and even laugh at some of my jokes; some appear to be wearing rather little. Clearly this cannot be the University of Rummidge (apologies to D. Lodge) or Bath.

No, this is Brazil. Specifically a newish (7 years) University 3 or 4 hours by road North East of Rio de Janeiro, in Campos de Goytacazes and named UENF (Universidade Estadual do Norte Fluminense). I have been invited to give a comprehensive course on Plant-Pathogen Interactions (Curso de Mecanismos de Patogenicidade e Defensa em Doenças de Plantas!). This is part of a link group on microbial diseases of plants and insects funded jointly by British Council and CAPES and has thus far involved visits here by several staff from Bath and we have received one post graduate and a post doc. The local coordinator is Professor Richard Samuels who works on entomopathogenic fungi and leaf cutting ants.

Each of five mornings consisted of two lectures plus discussion when I attempted to give a broad but up to date overview of pathogenicity and defence. Also I drew out the real (and unrealised) and potential applications of this now remarkably dynamic field. The audience of about 45 came from far and wide in Brazil, from the relatively cool, green South to tropical Fortaleza in the far North, from Universities to research or advisory establishments such as EMBRAPA and CEPLAC.   We survived the factual overload and heat with magnificent spreads at coffee time; I was saving myself for lunch however with different hosts in different houses or restaurants most days. My favourite was where you were charged by the weight on your plate.

Afternoons were spent meeting researchers in plant pathology; there are some interesting and major problems to tackle. Workers in plant pathology included: Silvado Felipe da Silveira (Clavibacter xyli of sugar cane; guava rust; eucalyptus rust; Ceratocystis fimbriata of mango). Rosana Rodrigues (breeding for disease resistance to Xanthomonas blight  of Capsicum and Phaseolus bean). Rosana was also the excellent, local organiser and fanatical supporter of one of the Rio football teams (most have their favourite) with real in depth knowledge that put me to shame. As a footballing aside, one of the fascinations of Rio beaches (other than the obvious) is footvolley, a no-hands version of volleyball; many of the players were women (and why not?) and of great skill. Fábio Lopes Olivares showed me the superb microscopy facilities and associated staff in the Biotechnology building where he works on interactions between endophytic, diazotrophic bacteria and plants. Other memorable pathology discussions included those with Carlos Castro (EMBRAPA, Brasilia; yet another Phytophthora product of Bangor) and with Karina Gramacho (CEPLAC, Itabuna) on cacao diseases such as Crinipellis.

For the others, the course continued, to their relief, without me and in Portugese, with many of the participants contributing talks and demonstrations. However, they had to put up with a seminar from me one afternoon on resistance screening and mechanisms to three vascular pathogens of tropical crops.

In the evenings the wonderful hospitality continued with meals out with all combinations of colleagues in the balmy night air. This meant late returns, and preparation for the next morning started around midnight. The rigors of life in a UK University had not allowed me the luxury of being fully prepared; but who is these days?

Campos is described in a guide book as "on the River Paraiba...predominantly a sugar cane producing town...its primarily agro-industrial nature makes it a less attractive target given the local alternatives". However, it was a friendly, inevitably multicultural town and there is the endless beach 30 minutes away. But because the sea is loaded with silt from the Paraiba, the locals dismiss it. Admittedly the colour combination of yellow, brown, blue (sand, sea, sky) was odd, but still very acceptable to a Brit in November. Behind the beach is an excellent seafood restaurant where we had a memorable meal to mark the end of the course (one of three such events!). Its very rude name, reflects a less puritanical attitude than ours to the joy of hybridisation. England then played Brazil at beach football (2-a side) but the conditions clearly favoured the local side; it would have been impolite to win in any event. As if that wasn't enough, the FINAL post-course session was a BBQ by a beautiful lake with the jagged coastal range as a backdrop. Richard Samuels teaches windsurfing there some weekends. I was beginning to enjoy this.

When not dealing with entomopathogens, Professor Samuels likes to
keep fit on Campos' High Lake

A sad farewell took me again to Rio, where it was raining again, and back to Bath, where it was raining again and where the students wear coats and thick sweaters and don't laugh at my jokes.

I am grateful to the energetic organisers at UENF and to the appreciative audience there; we all worked mighty hard that week. I hope that collaborations between some of us will result, especially as my supply of the basic solvent for caipirinha, cachaça (cane rum), is now depleted.

Richard Cooper
University of Bath