This is a conference report written by the beneficiaries of our travel fund.
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2016, Melbourne, Australia 3rd – 7th October 2016
Our trip ‘down under’ was extremely profitable, both professionally and personally. We both left London on 25th September; at Singapore, Bruce and Henrik took flights to Perth and Brisbane, respectively. Bruce visited Murdoch and UWA universities in Perth and gave a seminar on ‘Arable crop disease control, climate challenge and food security’. Henrik was invited to the University of Queensland, where he met Dr Brett Ferguson and long-term acquaintance Prof Peter Gresshoff, both esteemed symbiotic researchers. Dr Alice Hayward presented her research on small RNAs. Discussions with Prof Peer Schenk challenged concepts about PAMP-triggered immunity. Henrik also met Dr Shriganesh Srihari and was invited to write a paper for a special issue of the journal Methods. Henrik gave a seminar on ‘Bioinformatic and molecular approaches for understanding of resistance against extracellular pathogens’. Bruce then went to Sydney Western University’s Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment where he saw the multimillion dollar investment in facilities for studying impacts of climate change (e.g. FACE: free-air CO2 enrichment, rain-out and whole tree chambers) and discussed joint PhD projects between our universities.
These visits were followed by weekend trips to the Great Barrier Reef (Henrik) and the Blue Mountains west of Sydney (Bruce). Henrik learned about the reef ecosystem, including the generation of the reef floor, turtle cleaning stations and the symbiotic relationship between black noddies and pisonia trees on Lady Musgrave Island. Bruce retraced the route taken by Charles Darwin in the Blue Mountains when the Beagle landed in Australia.
Brassica 2016 was an excellent conference with some 260 delegates from across the world. It successfully combined brassica genetics/genomics with application to address potential problems facing the oilseed rape industry, with a range of presentations from fundamental to applied. There was a strong emphasis on application of the latest genomic/genetic information to control diseases, especially phoma stem canker/blackleg – the field tour on Friday showed how serious a problem this disease is in Australia this season (pictured). There is considerable international collaboration to exploit our latest understanding of genomics of both the host (Brassica napus) and pathogens (primarily Leptosphaeria maculans but also L. biglobosa) in the search for durable resistance, whether by combining major R gene and quantitative resistance or by developing strategies for strategic deployment of different R genes in time and space.
The meeting was concluded with a special session on phoma stem canker, bringing together microbiologists and brassica experts to discuss the nomenclature of R genes and work together on common sets of cultivars and pathogen isolates. There were also presentations about clubroot, which has become a serious problem in parts of Canada, and sclerotinia stem rot, which is a serious and sporadic problem in countries including China and Australia.
We are very grateful to the British Society for Plant Pathology for contributing to the cost of our attendance at Brassica 2016.
Bruce Fitt and Henrik Stotz University of Hertfordshire