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4th – 8th July 2022
Long ago in early 2020, I registered for the EAPR Triennial, due to take place in Warsaw that July and the BSPP kindly awarded me a travel grant for which I’m very grateful. I was looking forward to my first visit to Poland, to hearing about the latest developments in potato research, meeting potato friends and telling them about the progress of AsiaBlight (late blight network for Asia for which I’m adviser). Then Covid-19 brought everything to an abrupt halt. Two years later, after three postponements, the meeting finally went ahead this July in Kraków and Jadwiga Śliwka (Polish Plant Breeding and Acclimatization Institute), first woman President of the EAPR, was able to welcome over 200 delegates from 36 countries; a splendid achievement!
Ian Barker’s opening keynote lecture on the International Potato Center (CIP) potato program: ‘successes, challenges and the way forward’ was of particular interest to me because CIP co-ordinates the AsiaBlight network. Ian highlighted the increasing importance of potatoes in Asia, now responsible for c. 40% of world production with potatoes grown at an average altitude of 300 m. To reduce water usage, it is now Chinese Government policy to increase potato production and reduce rice. CIP varieties with drought tolerance and disease resistance are helping in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals: in the Global South, 20% of the potato-growing area is occupied by CIP varieties. Potatoes have much more bio-available iron than spinach: yellow-fleshed CIP varieties could cover 50% of iron deficiency in women.
Francine Govers keynote lecture ‘The mission of Phytophthora: explore, invade and manipulate’ brought to life the extraordinary ways in which Phytophthora interacts with its host. Tracking individual zoospores shows them exploring their environment, swimming, tumbling and responding to the attraction of glutamic acid. Having located its host, the Phytophthora zoospore invades by slicing its way in with its sharp hyphal tip (a sophisticated approach very different from that of appressoria of fungi which use brute force to enter host cells). Once in the host cell, Phytophthora haustoria deliver effectors which manipulate host defences: the effectors are very dynamic so those recognised by the host can be deleted. If R-gene stacking within potato cultivars is to be used to confer sustainable blight resistance then monitoring the corresponding RXLR effectors in the field P. infestans population is essential.
A poster from Jadwiga Sliwka’s group (Ludwiczewska et al.) showed just how the information highlighted by Francine is being obtained using high throughput next generation sequencing and selective gene sequencing. DivGene is a co-operative project between Norway and Poland: one objective is to diagnose the occurrence of resistance genes and analyse their diversity in potato cultivars. Results of PCR detection of 12 Rpi genes in 223 potato genotypes were presented. Published information about the specific resistance genes present in potato cultivars is limited so it’s great to see this being tackled. Another early output from this project, which I’ve already found useful, is a review published earlier this year on late blight resistance genes in potato breeding (Paluchowska, Śliwka & Yin, 2022, Planta 255, article 127). A second objective is diversity analysis of the genes encoding late blight effectors in P. infestans populations in Poland and Norway. I look forward to seeing more outputs from this project.
The conference dinner was memorably held far underground in a vast cavern in the Wieliczka Salt Mine! I shared a table with Raquel Marquinez from Spain and Manuela Hermeziu from Romania who both spent time in my lab many years ago. At that dinner, I was delighted to see Mike Storey, former EAPR Vice President, whose career has been dedicated to driving research and innovation in the British potato industry, awarded Honorary EAPR Membership.
Queen’s University, Belfast
Jadwiga Śliwka, EAPR President, with her poster
Jadwiga Śliwka, EAPR President, discussing her poster with me
Conference dinner in the Wieliczka Salt Mine
Jadwiga Śliwka (Poland), outgoing EAPR President, hands over the Presidential hat to Arne Hermansen (Norway), incoming EAPR President: traditional EAPR ceremony at the close of the Triennial Conference!