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The second Grand Challenges in Plant Pathology Interdisciplinary Study Group took place at Chicheley Hall from 25th – 28th September 2018. The meeting was attended by 30 graduate and post graduate researchers and 9 champions from 25 universities, research institutes, non-profit organisations and industry. The meeting started with a relaxing, informal dinner giving participants the chance to meet each other and to enjoy Chicheley Hall and its surrounding gar dens. At the beginning of each of the following two days the early career re searchers had the opportunity to introduce themselves and their research before breaking into working groups focusing on a particular challenge brought forward by the champions. On the first day Keith Norman from Velcourt Ltd, Lauren Chappell from University of Oxford / Elsoms Seeds Ltd., Claire Beverley from CABI and Jeff Bentley an independent agricultural anthropologist were the champions introducing the opening challenge “Adopting innovations in agriculture”. Each champion focused on a different aspect of the challenge, for example, Keith Norman delivered a technology packed overview on the use of precision farming and remote sensing approaches for the control of insects and plant pathogens, but also weeds and crop nutrition. Jeff Bentley used an anthropocentric case study from Bolivia “Managing alfatoxins in groundnuts during drying and storage” to demonstrate how information can be meaning fully communicated to farmers and Lauren Chappel highlighted the challenges faced by seed companies. The second challenge of the day “Emerging diseases in Europe” was introduced by Steve Woodward and Eric Boa, both from the University of Aberdeen. Steve Wood ward and Eric Boa enthusiastically covered multiple emerging diseases including the Dutch Elm Disease, Hymenoscyphus fraxineus, Phytophthora ramorum and Xylella fastidiosa. Following a presentation by Vardis Ntoukakis from Warwick Integrative Synthetic Biology Centre on state-of the art plant synthetic biology the groups presented their perspectives on how best to ad dress the challenges ranging from using a one-stop-shop app for tracking Xylella infections at nurseries and managing its outbreaks to multi-spectral imaging for systemic disease detection on seeds. The second day had a similar format but two different challenges. Jeff Bentley, Wilmarié Kriel from Starke Ayres Seeds, and Murray Grant from the University of Warwick introduced the challenge “Plant diseases and food security”. Wilmarié Kriel highlighted the impact of seed movement on the spread of disease and Murray Grant gave an inspiring talk on diseases threatening banana and ensete. That was followed up by a challenge urging for a prompt solution to various “Post-Brexit challenges in plant health” introduced by Gerry Saddler the Chief Plant Health Officer for Scotland and head of SASA and Steve Woodward. Gerry Saddler gave us an inside view of the EU Plant Health Regime and the Scottish Government’s preparations of new policies for a Post-Brexit UK. One team suggested the development of a virtual toolkit for banana farmers and another to manage seed borne tomato diseases using an online platform for farmers to track infectious diseases. The day concluded with a brilliant team presentation detailing possible solutions for Plant Health related challenges for all possible outcomes of Brexit. On the final day of the Study Group all groups were given the challenge of producing fact sheets, photosheets and other meaningful material for collecting information regarding disease incidents and monitoring disease outbreaks, but also for communicating disease control methods with the farmers. Olivia, a post-graduate student attending the Study Group shared her experience: “As an early career researcher, I found attending this Study Group to be an invaluable experience. We so often get asked to think about how our research relates to the wider world, or how it might confer something beneficial to our day-to-day lives. To see that by moving beyond our own relatively tiny, scientific niches we can apply the knowledge that we share as an academic community to solve much bigger problems was really inspiring. I think we were all able to contribute something individually to our respective teams’ proposals, and ultimately found solutions that were better than what any one of the participants could have individually thought of. Additionally, there were just so many opportunities to talk to the champions, all people who are doing really exciting things for the field of plant pathology in completely different ways, not just about their work, or our research, but informally too. It also didn’t hurt that the group was held at the beautiful Chicheley Hall, and we had three days of glorious sun shine. If you are an early career re searcher with an interest in broader issues facing food security, or if you want to see how your expertise could be transferable to other careers in plant pathology then I can’t recommend at tending Grand Challenges strongly enough.” The Study Group highlighted the major plant pathogens threatening food security both in the UK and internationally and provided the attendees with a useful toolkit of skills for tackling them. It also identified new approaches addressing important challenges in plant pathology research and inspired graduate students and postgraduate scientists to pursue them. Furthermore, it provided networking opportunities with industry for early career researchers and established a cohort of scientists who will continue to interact and develop collaborative links as they develop their careers within the UK and the internationally. As an organiser, I was pleased with the overall success of the event, which was reflected in the positive feed back received by the participants and the champions. The second Grand Challenges in Plant Pathology Interdisciplinary Study Group was funded by BSPP and a BBSRC grant awarded to Vardis Ntoukakis the deputy director of the Midland Integrative Bio sciences Training Partnership, Gail Pres ton the Co-Director of the Oxford Inter disciplinary Bioscience Doctoral Training Partnership and Daniel Bebber the Agriculture and Environment Theme Champion for the SWBio DTP. A big thank you to our Champions Claire Beverley, Gerry Saddler, Jeff Bentley, Keith Nor man, Lauren Chappell, Steve Wood ward, Wilmarié Kriel and Murray Grant for generously donating their time and for their enthusiastic and inspiring talks and a special thank you to the co organiser of this Study Group, Eric Boa.
Olivia Nippe and Vardis Ntoukakis University of Warwick