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20th Triennial Conference of the European Association for Potato Research (EAPR): Potato Facing Global Challenges, Versailles, France 9th – 14th July 2017
Potatoes are the third most important food crop worldwide. The EAPR aims to foster their sustainable production by promoting the exchange of information on potato breeding, production, protection and use. In the EAPR’s 60th anniversary year, its 20th Triennial Conference was held in Versailles attended by about 430 delegates from over 50 countries. The initial challenge was to reach the Congress Centre; travel across Paris on the arrival day was complicated by a railway line closure, but it was worth the three-hour struggle! The venue, with a fine view of the Palace, was splendid and we were welcomed by the EAPR President, Michel Martin, ARVALIS.
Among the keynote lectures, I found those focussing on potato production in developing countries particularly interesting. Hans Dreyer described the FAO’s role in sustainable potato production in Africa, partnering with family farms, Elmar Schulte-Gelderman discussed CIP (International Potato Center) research in Africa and Teresa Mosquera (National University of Colombia) gave an inspiring presentation on her work using a participatory breeding approach to develop cultivars rapidly adopted by farmers which provide enhanced nutritional benefits. As a tuber crop, potatoes provide more food per unit area than grains and are more water efficient. They are higher in protein than other root and tuber crops, are an important source of vitamin C and help to supply deficient micronutrients (iron, zinc), combating malnutrition. Access to good quality seed potatoes is a major limiting factor: in many developing countries formal seed production systems are weak or non-existent, but technical support can improve informal systems avoiding use of unhealthy seed and inadvertent spread of pests and diseases. Delegates were told, however, that there is a need for greater co-ordination of projects between CIP, FAO and NGOs.
In a session on emerging bacterial diseases, we heard that the complex taxonomy of the genera Pectobacterium and Dickeya, which cause blackleg and soft rot, is being gradually unravelled. Khaoula Chawki (INRA, France) reported that at least five Pectobacterium species and sub-species are responsible for blackleg in France (whereas in Scotland blackleg is almost all caused by P. atrosepticum, as noted by Ian Toth, James Hutton Institute in a later paper on developing an IPM toolbox for blackleg). P. carotovorum ssp. brasiliense is increasing in importance worldwide; studies in France and Turkey indicate variability within this organism. Lucy Moleki (University of Pretoria, South Africa) showed that its success may be due to its ability to inhibit other bacteria within potato tubers. Another threat is ‘Candidatus Liberibacter solanacearum‘, a psyllid-transmitted bacterium which causes zebra chip in the Americas and New Zealand. Neither the bacterial haplotypes nor the psyllid vector associated with zebra chip occur in Europe, but other haplotypes have been found in plants of the Apiaceae (including carrots and parsley). Studies reported by Anne- Claire Le Roux (INRA) indicate a low risk of transmission to potatoes by current European psyllid vectors, but if the zebra chip vector (Bactericera cockerelli) were introduced to Europe that could change.
Potato late blight is the subject of a new European project IPMBlight 2. 0, which started in 2016 and aims to use pathogen population information to improve control ultimately by including it in DSS. Didier Andrivon (INRA, France) presented first findings from this project. He pointed out that, although it is not possible to predict where and when the next significant new Phytophthora infestans genotype will emerge, epidemiological vigilance flags up new dangers at an early stage e.g. monitoring has already detected the appearance of the new genotype 37_A2 associated with reduced sensitivity to the fungicide fluazinam. This project, which developed from the European late blight network, EuroBlight, demonstrates the value of such international networks. This was also the theme of my poster on AsiaBlight (a late blight network for Asia), which I am helping to coordinate, working with Greg Forbes, CIP (I retired from the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute in 2015, but hold an honorary position in the Queen’s University, Belfast). I reported progress in our initial project, developing a coarse-scale map of P. infestans in Asia, using some of the same monitoring techniques to genotype the pathogen population.
On the middle day of the conference, delegates had a choice of excursions. My group visited the ARVALIS experimental centre about 80 km south of Versailles. I was particularly interested to see their late blight fungicide trial: infection in fluazinam-treated plots was very severe compared with the other treatments. The trial had been inoculated with 2017 P. infestans isolates, not yet genotyped: I wondered if this was an example of infection by 37_A2. After an excellent lunch at the ARVALIS Institute (impressively this was produced by their regular canteen staff using local produce!), we visited Parmentine, a modern, highly-automated potato packing facility, owned by growers. Finally in Chartres I was delighted to see the cathedral, which I’d visited more than 20 years ago when attending the 12th EAPR Triennial in Paris, has been splendidly cleaned and restored and looks wonderful.
The conference also marked the launch of the new and greatly improved EAPR website, see www. eapr. net. I would encourage any BSPP member with an interest in potatoes to consider joining: although a European organisation, members are drawn from across the world united by their dedication to that fascinating crop, the potato. Benefits include access to the EAPR’s journal Potato Research and the American Journal of Potato Research (there’s a reciprocal arrangement with the Potato Association of America) and meetings of the five Sections, including Pathology & Pests, which occur between Triennial Conferences. The EAPR helps to support young researchers and provided grants to 24 student attendees from 18 countries to assist their participation in this Triennial. I am very grateful to the BSPP for their financial support towards my attendance, which helped me inform my fellow delegates about AsiaBlight.
Louise Cooke Queen’s University, Belfast