Written by Amanda Garvey. This is the report from a 2020 BSPP Lockdown Bursary. Click here to read more/apply for one yourself.
I had planned to spend this summer gaining work experience in a scientific setting, hopefully with both lab and fieldwork elements. However, the covid-19 pandemic put paid to that plan. I was delighted, therefore, to find out about the BSPP lockdown studentship which would enable me to pursue a research project remotely. My studentship project was carried out in association with the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute (AFBI) and focused on two different areas of research.
The first research area involved examining historical data relating to statutory potato virus tests that had been carried out between 2009 and 2019. The objective was to analyse the dataset to identify any trends within the data, in potato varieties and the potato viruses found within them, with a mind to maintaining future seed crop health. The second research area related to Invasive Alien Species (IAS). Specifically, if plant health scientists consider their study organism as IAS, and whether IAS scientists consider plant pests and pathogens as IAS. It was hoped that by identifying how IAS and plant pathology researchers perceive each other’s research area it could facilitate more effective data sharing and collaboration.
As the potato virus data were in a large Excel spreadsheet, the first task was to save a copy into a more workable structure. The data were reviewed, and irrelevant records removed. The data set contained records of 7 different viruses, and results from 2,742 tests. Next, Excel pivot tables and charts were created to sort the data according to, for example, variety, year, and virus test results. The data were analysed to look for correlations, and identify if there was higher susceptibility to virus in specific potato varieties. The findings were compared with similar peer-reviewed studies which had been conducted in Scotland and Republic of Ireland.
The IAS research involved a Web of Science literature search, in fourteen journals, specifically related to IAS or plant health between the years 2000 and 2020. For the IAS search, topics such as pest, pathogen and virus were used whereas the plant health topics were invasive, alien, fungi etc. Following initial searches, it was identified that many articles used alternative terminology for IAS such as exotic and non-native, so the search terms used were expanded upon. The accumulated searches were exported into Excel which enabled the titles and abstracts to be filtered for each of the search terms. Overall, the dataset contains 3,708 records which will be examined further to identify trends in the use of terminology, and hopefully make some recommendations on standardisation in terminology to facilitate collaboration between plant health and invasive species researchers.
I wish to profoundly thank the BSPP for the opportunity to pursue this research project. The time spent this summer on plant pathology research has strengthened my interest in seeking further research opportunities in future years. Special gratitude goes to Dr Richard O’Hanlon from AFBI for his encouragement and support throughout the project.
Queen’s University Belfast