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Saskatchewan is a famously agricultural province of Canada, containing nearly 25 million hectares of farm land. Its capital, Saskatoon, is therefore an apt location to host the 1st International Wheat Congress (IWC). The conference was attended by around 900 delegates from 50 countries, making it the largest wheat conference organised to date. We were welcomed to Saskatoon on Sunday with an evening reception, including local food and drinks.
The congress commenced in earnest on Monday morning, when the scientific program began. The standard of the talks presented were very high and encompassed the diversity of wheat research being conducted. Some of the most interesting talks to me were discussing pathology in wheat and this topic was well represented during the congress.
Justin Faris (USDA, USA) talked about his group’s work on host sensitivity genes that enables Parastagonospora nodorum to colonise wheat. He teased that his group had found a host sensitivity gene with a surprising functional domain but would not elaborate upon what ‘domain X’ does until publication.
Another particularly interesting talk was by Maria Buerstmayr (IFA-Tulln, Austria), who presented recent work on fine mapping two Fusarium head blight resistance quantitative trait loci (QTL), involved in resisting initial infection.
Resistance contributed by these QTL were associated with increased anther extrusion and were particularly challenging to study, being located close to the centromere. The latest version of the wheat genome assembly (IWGSC Refseq v2. 0) was also announced and early access to the data were made available during the conference.
There were two poster sessions over the course of the conference, which were very well organised and facilitated scientific discussions. Presenting my own poster prompted a number of constructive conversations with other scientists about my work on mapping a Fusarium head blight susceptibility factor.
I was able to view the other posters during the second poster session and was impressed by the number of posters about wheat diseases. Fusarium head blight was particularly well represented among the posters.
The Remai Modern art gallery, overlooking the South Saskatchewan river, was an excellent location for a networking evening. We were welcome to explore the impressive and diverse collection of art exhibits. The conference dinner was highlight on Thursday evening and the entertainment demonstrated the musical and dance traditions of the First Nations.
The IWC was a very rewarding and enjoyable congress and I am very grateful for the financial support of the BSPP that enabled me to attend.
Ben Hales John Innes Centre