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Everything was looking fine in spring when I booked flights and accommodation to attend the 2010 Annual Meeting of the American Phytopathological Society in Nashville (Tennessee). I only paid little attention when the news reported in May that there was some severe rainfall in Tennessee with parts of Nashville flooded… subsequently it turned out that the conference hotel suffered some severe damage and was unable to host the meeting. The organisers were able to relocate the whole conference to Char lot te (Nor th Carol ina), an impressive achievement given the vast number of delegates and exhibitors. Luckily, rebooking of flights and hotel were not too difficult although I had to stay in a place a few miles away from the conference centre.
As this was my first time at an APS meeting, I attended the First Timer’s Orientation session and was pleasantly surprised to see a few familiar faces from Cornell University and from the UK. A very nice coincidence was the recognition of Melanie Tuffen whom I had met at the BSPP Presidential Meeting in Oxford last year. It not only turned out that we stayed in the same hotel but we also shared the same hobby of geocaching… and were able to log a few caches together once the scientific sessions had finished!
I went to the meeting to present my own work in the form of a poster (“A cucumber mosaic virus mutant that induces resistance to its aphid vector in tobacco”). I was surprised by the sheer numbers of poster in the exhibition hall; it was quite easy to get lost! My abstract was also selected for a “flash and dash” session, giving me the opportunity to summarise the poster content on a few slides within five minutes. Both sessions were quite successful and generated interesting questions and good feedback.
However, I was also involved in representing the BSPP at this meeting. Chris Rideout has already written about our plans of collaboration with the APS in this publication so I will not repeat everything here. We both manned the BSPP booth in the exhibition hall and were able to talk to many people who were unaware of our society and the great benefits that we offer to our members. It was a great networking opportunity and I had great fun handing out carrot bugs and membership information leaflets. The BSPP booth was well received and I discovered a few photographs on the APS meeting fanpage on Facebook!
But there were also scientific sessions I was able to attend; mainly the plant virus sessions were of personal interest. The sessions were ranging from emerging viral diseases over plant virus evolution to novel detection methods. One very interesting paper was presented by Stafford et al. They found that infection of plants with tomato spotted wilt virus altered the feeding behaviour of thrips, its insect vector. Viruliferous males were making more feeding and exploratory probes than non-viruliferous males. This behaviour was very similar to the behaviour of female thrips, which was unaltered by viral infection. Impressive were the video sequences showing the thrips’ feeding behaviour in conjunction with electrical penetration graphs.
Another very interesting session dealt with the emerging technologies used to discover emerging viral diseases. Claude Fauquet used the example of “ViroChips”, a microarray designed to detect virus sequences from every branch of the plant virus taxonomic tree. He proposed that this technology could not only be used for detection and identification but also for (re) classification of known or unknown emerging plant viruses, not at least through automated throughput and computerised interpretation of data. Neil Boonham’s group at the Food and Environment Research Agency in York described a different approach: next- generation sequencing. His group was driven by the need of quick, cheap and sensitive detection methods for pathogens that might be imported into the UK through global trade of plant and seed material. By sequencing nucleic acids derived from plant material infected with an unknown pathogen they were able to describe a new cucumovirus that infected ornamental plants. Although this method still appears to be relatively expensive, Neil Boonham predicted that next-generation sequencing would allow processing a high throughput of samples in the future thus decreasing overall costs.
Overall, the trip was great on many levels: a stimulating scientific conference, great networking opportunities, the advertisement of the BSPP and meeting new and old friends.
Julius Kuehn Institute, Germany