This is the report from a BSPP MSc/MRes Bursary.
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My journey through my MSc Plant Pathology was an intriguing one, though COVID sadly hampered practical elements of the course. However, I did gain much knowledge whilst undertaking the course, including PCR testing and other practical elements in laboratory situations. Perhaps the most enjoyable parts of what I learned was the use of these techniques and learning about technological aspects of pesticides due to my spraying certificates gained whilst at Rodbaston College and Harper Adams University. Further to me choosing to undertake a Master’s in plant pathology is I have a background in horticulture studying a first and national diploma in horticulture at Rodbaston college, Staffordshire, England.
My Master’s research project enabled me to undertake a passion I have of investigating alternative approaches to herbicide use to maintain weeds in a turf grass environment. The weed investigated was Taraxacum officinale commonly known as the dandelion found in a wide range of areas including commercial turf. Herbicide use has been linked to a variety of human health issues including potential links to diseases including Parkinson’s and other neurological disorders. Further to this there are also issues surrounding potential issues of the environment, such as seepage of pesticides into groundwater aquifers and contamination of non-target organisms.
Further to this the growing increase in resistance of herbicides used to manage pest species may see more alternative methods used and this is what I set out to do within my project. Taraxacum officinale is a weed native to the British Isles producing copious amounts of seeds and producing roots up to 18 inches in length, making it difficult to remove them by hand. Once Taraxacum officinale is in flower managing this pest species by herbicides is difficult due to growing resistance to them, therefore alternative methods need to be found. There are investigations of alternat methods to manage Taraxacum officinale including the use of Phoma herbarum and Sclerotinia minor, which have seen positive results.
The research project used different haplotypes of Scerotinia sclerotiorum (P6, L5, L6, CE11, R17, R28, C28, P7 EV9 and O92), which were kindly provided by Dr John Clarkson of Warwick University. Plants were grown from seed at home at varying dates to test application of the haplotypes to ascertain if there was potential significance in application and varying ages of plant growth. All practical elements were undertaken in laboratory conditions and initial experiment assessed virulence of the haplotypes on six-week-old leaf assays. A 6 mm mycelium plug was inserted on to the leaf’s midrib once leaves had been cut to lengths and placed in petri dishes with kinetin and tap water agar, before placing in a growth cabinet at 23oc and 15 hours daylight. It was found Haplotype C28 was least virulent, whilst haplotype L5 was the most virulent, whilst L6 was selected for producing medium sized lesions on leaves.
Final experiments using these three to enable comparisons to be made between weakest and most virulent strains on varying healthy leaf assays. However, it was ascertained that there was no significant damage to leaf assays using Sclerotinia isolates and leaf age (p=0.652), whilst results also showed there was no resistance of differing ages of leaf assays towards Sclerotinia sclerotiorum.
I would have liked to see my dissertation further developed in using whole plants and applying Sclerotinia haplotypes in a more natural environment to allow for knowledge to be gained in relation to timing of application and its effectiveness regarding application and environmental conditions, such as temperature. Overall, my dissertation gave a lot of satisfaction of working in glasshouses and laboratory conditions, it would have been pleasing if results had been more conclusive.
Figure 1 above: Inoculation of leaf assays of Sclerotinia haplotypes in laboratory conditions at Harper Adams University