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All over the world, a virus is dominating the headlines…

19th March 2020

This week, all over the world, a virus is dominating the headlines. We are relying on virologists and disease modellers to answer questions on the way in which this virus and viruses like it infect their host, spread and survive. Armed with this knowledge we can predict the action of this disease. Observing its spread, we can model its future travel throughout the population. Throughout the developing viral epidemic, scientists have been providing answers to the government on policy, guidance to the NHS on strategy and statistics to the media to inform the public.

The science of this viral disease, or pathology, is aiding all attempts to combat the problem. Like any pathology issue, studying both the host (in this case humans) and the pathogen (in this case a Coronavirus) facilitates understanding and empowers us with knowledge to overcome the disease. Plant pathologists need to understand the basis of plant health in order to define the ways in which plant diseases undermine that health.

In the same way that a good balance of nutrition, a healthy environment and reduced exposure to disease are important to us, these elements are fundamental to plant health.  Water supply, minerals, structure, pH and microbial balance in the soil facilitate strong root growth. This in turn helps plants to transport water efficiently from ground to leaves which keeps them strong and ensures water uptake from roots to pores in the leaves and green stems. Plants that are under water stress are less able to resist infection. Plants deficient in essential minerals are unable to produce vital elements of the plant immune system or sustain fresh growth. Plants growing in an unbalanced environment may have a reduced ability to absorb nutrients because there may be less beneficial micro-organisms around their roots and inside the roots, stems and leaves.

In the UN International Year of Plant Health , 2020 is highlighted as the year in which Plant health would be promoted across the world. Conferences, tree-planting, gardening shows and school interaction events were planned to celebrate the way in which plants are vital to our survival. In April 2020, BSPP were going to celebrate International Plant Science at the ‘Our Plants, Our Future’ conference in London. We were also hosting a ‘Write Now’ workshop for plant pathologists to communicate through words and images. In May we were going to be part of the RHS Chelsea Flower Show. All of these events combined were to highlight plant pathology in science, fields, forests and gardens.

While the events are not being held this spring now, the message is still integral to everyone on the planet. Plants are fundamental to our health – they are the source of the air we breathe and provide most of the food we eat. As we follow new guidance to exercise outdoors in parks, gardens and the countryside around us, plants will be providing the backdrop. Photosynthesising in the sunshine and releasing Oxygen and water. Building shade as spring develops and summer arrives. Providing food from tubers under the ground to edible leaves, stems, fruits and flowers. Forming an ecosystem of many different types of organisms from every kingdom; viruses, bacteria, fungi, animals and more…