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13th International wheat genetics symposium, Tulln, Austria 24th – 28th April 2017
The 13th International Wheat Genetics Symposium took place in Tulln; a small town on the Danube river, approximately 30 km northwest of the Austrian capital, Vienna. The symposium was certainly an international affair, with approximately 500 participants attending from 64 countries! We were welcomed to the symposium with talks from representatives of both local and international organising committees and the Mayor of Tulln, with musical entertainment provided by the local middle school.
The opening lecture, by Professor Helmut Heberl, highlighted the value of wheat research by discussing his modelling work in feeding the world whilst avoiding deforestation. His insightful, if somewhat controversial, presentation discussed his calculations for achieving food security in 2050 under different assumptions. He highlighted the importance of reducing meat consumption to food security, as lower meat diets use crop resources more efficiently. However, he claimed that using only organic farming methods, even in their current form, could be sufficient in feeding the world; a statement that raised some discussion during questions.
The symposium programme provided a diverse coverage of wheat genetics research. There were talks discussing genetics underlying plant development characteristics, such as inflorescence architecture and pre-harvest sprouting. Utilising wheat relatives to increase genetic diversity and introgress useful traits to wheat was a common topic. There were also talks highlighting the genetic and genomic resources available to researchers, such as an update on the latest genome sequence assembly and how it was constructed. Plant pathology was a recurrent theme at the symposium, with a number of talks on mostly fungal diseases of wheat, such as rusts, Septoria tritici blotch and, the topic of my own research, Fusarium head blight.
My personal highlight of the symposium was the special session on the identification and characterisation of Fhb1; a QTL conferring the best-known resistance to Fusarium head blight in wheat. Four speakers discussed their research and, astonishingly, they have all identified different genes in the Fhb1 region which they believe to be Fhb1!These included a pore-forming toxinlike gene, a mutated histidine-rich calcium- binding protein and a mycotoxin detoxification gene. This prompted a lively panel Q&A session in which speakers agreed to share germplasm, in an effort to solve the Fhb1 mystery!
There was a strong student presence at the symposium, with two seminar sessions exclusively presented by PhD researchers. Many posters were also presented by students. More than 300 posters were displayed at the symposium. My own poster, on the topic of a Fusarium head blight susceptibility factor in wheat, prompted some fruitful conversations with both scientists and breeders.
Attending the 13th International Wheat Genetics Symposium was an invaluable experience. It enabled me to hear about some fascinating current wheat research and interact with researchers from outside the UK. The BSPP travel grant I received to attend was greatly appreciated.
Ben Hales John Innes Centre