BSPP News Spring 2002 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 41, Spring 2002 

Conference and Travel Reports

SME 9 - Interactions in the Microbial World  Amsterdam, Netherlands : 26 - 31 August 2001

The RAI international exhibition and conference centre formed the location for this, the ninth meeting of the International Society for Microbial Ecology, and boy what a conference it was. The science got under way on the Sunday evening, with the opening lecture by Dr Rita Colwell highlighting the Dutch influence in the world of Microbial Ecology over the last few centuries. Then the socialising started with a drumming demonstration, which was definitely 'fleshed' out.

Monday saw the start of the scientific programme proper, but with anything from 6 to 10 symposia series running at the same time, choosing what to attend was difficult. My past and present interests are in biocontrol and root colonisation, so I opted for the 'Interactions between bacteria and fungi' for the first two sessions of the day, and then mixed this with the 'Biodiversity and functioning of ecosystems: microbial succession in the terrestrial environment' in the afternoon. The highlight of the sessions for me was the talk by Professor Erland Baath on the 'Comparison of bacterial and fungal growth rates in soil'. The growth rate estimates he presented were based on thymidine or leucine incorporation in bacteria and the production of ergosterol from radio labelled acetate in fungi, thus allowing for growth rates to be discriminated. His results demonstrated the effects of temperature and antibiotic addition and indicated that carbon availability, rather than nitrogen or phosphorus, was the major controlling growth rate factor in both arable and forest soil.

The lunchtime gap was designated for poster manning for the poster sessions, both of which ran for two days. This would have worked fine had long queues at the canteens meant that you were lucky if you got served lunch and away within an hour. As a consequence, authors were often difficult to track down. However, the quality of the posters was very high and some of the images presented were truly spectacular!

The Monday evening was planned for the happy hours. I know the  young scientist happy hour was very warmly received (along with the free beer) and understand the 'senior' party also had a good time. 

For Tuesday's session I chose 'Interactions between plants and microorganisms' and 'Interactions in gradients and biofilms', the latter of which was so well attended that several delegates were refused entry.  For me though, the talk of the day was by Jan Sorensen entitled 'Microbial life in the rhizosphere - the behaviour of Pseudomonas spp. inoculants'. The images he presented were spectacular and his results and insights into detecting and interpreting signals between fungi, plants and colonising Pseudomonas in the rhizosphere were superb. I left this talk thinking that this was worth coming for on its own, but there was more.

Wednesday was a day off, although on reflection it might have been worth moving the first session of Friday morning to Wednesday and putting in another poster manning session. It did, however, offer a great chance to really get to know Amsterdam that little bit better.

The Hortus Botanicus in Amsterdam

Half way by Thursday and today it was an easy seminar choice, 'Control of Pathogens and Pests' all day long and what a selection of speakers. If I had to choose a favourite though, it would be Mark Mazzola's talk on 'Mechanisms of Natural Soil Suppressiveness'.  His insights into the role of the biotic element of soil, examples of natural soil suppressiveness and potentials for resident microbial community transformation to induce a naturally suppressive state was both well presented and thought provoking. My poster went up on Thursday and in an attempt to attract the crowds I wore my kilt. Can't say if it worked, but I had a good half dozen interested people - in the poster that is! Thursday night was the evening of the conference dinner. This was a buffet that included truly exquisite desserts, another free bar (oh dear!), great tunes and was held in the spectacular Grand Hotel Kransnapolsky, just off the Dam. Simply marvellous!

Friday, and the 'Application of genetically modified micro-organisms' first thing. Excellent talks, but the night before was taking its toll. Why couldn't this have been on Wednesday? Lunch and back to the poster before my final session choice of 'Methodology development'. In this final session the talk by Hienrich Siegumfeldt, 'Rapid assessment of bacterial cell viability by measurement of intracellular pH in individual cells using fluorescent ratio imaging microscopy', really camptured my attention. Now, like me, you might not have heard of fluorescent ratio imaging microscopy (FRIM), but look out for it as this is something I could imagine growing into a much more widely used and applicable technique. FRIM basically allows the operator to determine which cells in a community are most viable, based on a cellular pH gradient, and therefore likely to become the major progenitors in the subsequent population. A tool of the future? We'll have to wait and see.

 Now I realise that I only touched upon the surface of the various symposia being given at this conference, have made no reference to the plenary sessions and only touched the surface of the 900+ posters on display, but ISME9 was a great experience. The science was just fantastic, with examples of new techniques into rhizosphere study, beter investigations  into organism interactions and insights into what the future might hold. I can't wait for the proceedings to be published and recommend you borrow a copy and have a glance. In the meantime I'd like to thank the BSPP for their support and am already looking forward to ISME10 Cancun, Mexico in 2004. 

Oliver Knox
University of Aberdeen

10th International Conference on Root and Butt Rots of Forest Trees  Quebec, Canada : 16 - 22 September 2001

This conference was held at the historic Chateau Frontenac in the centre of Québec City, overlooking the St Lawrence river. Events in the US five days prior to the start of the conference resulted in a few anxious days for attendees and organisers alike, with airports closed and many flights cancelled, and unfortunately some of the registered participants were unable to attend. The start of the conference was delayed for one day to allow for travel, and, to the relief of the organisers, a good number of participants from thirteen countries began arriving at the Chateau Frontenac, albeit staggering somewhat, during the 16th and 17th. The ice was broken as jet-lagged attendees exchanged stories of their adventures. These included numerous attempts to catch flights on successive days, interminable hours spent in airport lounges, two and a half days grounded in Goose Bay, Labrador, and, for some, zig-zagging across the US and Canada using various modes of transportation. I write this to illustrate the determination shown by these forest pathologists to attend this meeting. I think all of us would agree that the efforts involved in travelling to Québec were well rewarded.

The conference kicked off on the 17th with an evening session, involving some stoic performances by those who had just rolled off their planes. Due to a number of cancelled papers, the planned sessions on phylogeny and taxonomy, and ecology and biodiversity of root and butt rotting fungi were combined. As with all sessions, the two major diseases to dominate the presentations were Armillaria and Heterobasidion annosum. Presentations included a discussion of the phylogenetic reconstruction of North American and European Armillaria species based on ITS rDNA sequences and described the role of the different intersterility groups of H. annosum, and their patterns of colonisation, as causal agents of tree mortality in Europe. Also included was a demonstration of the use of molecular tools to study the epidemiology of Inonotus tomentosus in Québec spruce stands, and the interaction between waterlogging and Collybia fusipes contributing to oak dieback in France. 

The following day, participants were generally less bleary eyed, and the morning topics focused on the more practical aspects of control of H. annosum, using improved stump treatment application methods, stump removal, and application of the biocontrol agent Phlebiopsis gigantea. This is particularly relevant to the UK forest industry as there is a need to re-examine stump treatment regimes in different parts of the country, and an interest in expanding the current use of P. gigantea to control H. annosum biologically. In the afternoon, things got molecular again during a session on genetics and population dynamics. A paper by M. Garbelotto from the University of California generated much debate by providing evidence for induced hybridization between the S and P intersterility groups of H. annosum in North America as a result of logging and fire management practices. In the evening, a banquet was held at the Manoir Montmorency, just outside Québec City and we had a chance to view the waterfalls before dinner complemented by plenty of red wine.

The final day of the conference focused on pathogenicity, resistance and etiology. Papers covered topics such as isolation and sequencing of a laccase gene produced by H. annosum, the possibility of breeding Norway spruce for resistance to H. annosum, and the importance of infection levels in previous rotations of Norway spruce in determining the incidence of H. annosum in the current rotation. Tropical forestry also had a look-in with a paper describing fungi associated with decay in Newtonia buchananii trees in Tanzania. The day wrapped up with the final poster session and a chance for participants to explore the souvenir shops which characterise the old city.

The meeting was rounded off with a two day field tour which took us close to the Quebec/Ontario border. Generally, everyone was recovered, relaxed and out to have fun and it was a great opportunity to chat to my fellow participants and make important contacts. Accommodation was provided in log cabins surrounding a lake deep in the heart of the Laurentian forest, bright with the Fall colours. For me, being new to forest pathology, this was the best part of the conference and we saw examples of H. annosum, I. tomentosus, Armillaria and white pine blister rust on a number of conifer species. There was also an opportunity to diagnose the cause of a mysterious case of larch dieback. Fungal fruiting bodies were collected and identified with great enthusiasm and laid out for our perusal after supper. On the final evening we walked a carefully laid-out mycological trail through the woods and then jumped into canoes to explore the lake. Unfortunately I jumped a bit too hard and was involved in a slight accident on the water. However, I have since been told that this is in keeping with a fine tradition of boating incidents involving UK participants at root and butt rot meetings. The meeting ended in good style with a performance of traditional Quebecois music and songs, and the playing of wooden spoons. During this, I was whisked away by my Canadian mother-in-law to finish up my trip to Canada with a restful weekend at my in-law's nearby lakeside cottage to practice my canoeing techniques. 

I would like to thank the BSPP for providing this travel fund which enabled me to attend this meeting, meet fellow forest pathologists from around the world and learn the latest developments in understanding and control of the worlds most important tree rot diseases.

Sarah Green
Forest Research, Northern Research Station, Roslin