This is a conference report written by the beneficiaries of our travel fund.
Click here to read more about the fund and apply yourself
2nd International Workshop on Barley Leaf Diseases, Rabat, Morocco 5th – 7th April
In early April I attended the 2nd International Workshop on Barley leaf diseases, which was held at ICARDA (International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas) in Rabat. Around 60 people attended the conference, with delegates from Australia, India, North America, Ethiopia, Morocco and Europe. I am a PhD student based at the James Hutton Institute in Dundee, Scotland, and my research is on resistance to scald in barley. I was given the opportunity to present a poster and a 5 minute “Flash N Dash” talk.
I had not been to Morocco before, and was surprised to see how green it was. I was told this was because of the plentiful rainfall over the winter which has meant good prospective barley yields, but also more problems with pathogens! The conference began with a visit to ICARDA station Marchouch, a 2 hour bus ride away from Rabat. The station had ongoing field trials very similar to what we have here in Scotland, but due to the difference in climate in early April the barley is already at the grain ripening stage. Yield is highly reliant on the quite unreliable winter rainfall, as there is no irrigation. A highlight of the day was seeing over 2000 landraces growing for seed bulking which had been rescued from the ICARDA seed bank in Aleppo, Syria (which apparently amazingly is still running). We were also shown a farmer’s field and met the farmer. Unlike in the UK, barley breeding and seeds are produced by ICARDA in Morocco, and so breeding is done on a public basis, not by private companies.
I was interested to see that Scald was up there on the list of problematic barley diseases with Net blotch, Stripe rust, Leaf stripe and Spot Blotch. I always start my talks by saying that leaf scald is a problem in cool wet parts of the world, which I assumed did not include Morocco. However, as it turns out, as barley is grown over winter in Morocco, it provides an ideal incubation for many pathogens of barley, including scald. I spoke to Dr Zerihun Jalata, who works on barley resistance to leaf diseases in Ethiopia and he said the same problem also exists over there, where barley grown in the wet season in the highlands is very susceptible to scald.
The second day of the meeting was based around talks about host resistance and molecular pathogen interactions. The longevity, expense and difficulty of cloning barley R genes was highlighted, though new technologies such as genome sequencing, exome capture, high throughput genotyping and association mapping have definitely helped research in this area. A highlight of the day was hearing about QTL mapping of the virulence of the net blotch pathogen Pyrenophora teres. This was combined with genome sequencing of the pathogen and was used to find effectors and genes responsible for increased pathogen virulence. This was interesting because it was the first time I had heard of QTL mapping being used to map pathogen virulence, as normally it is used in mapping host resistance. In the evening we had an amazing dinner close to the beach and lighthouse in downtown Rabat. We ate traditional Moroccan food; various tagines, seafood, some pastries and couscous. Much of the food is surprisingly sweet, and the meal is always finished off with sweet Moroccan mint tea, which by the end of my stay I couldn’t get enough of!
On the third day of the meeting we heard talks about integrated management of barley disease and pathogen population evolution. There were also the Flash N dash short talks where I gave a summary of my poster. Overall I found the conference immensely enjoyable, and very helpful. It helped me to think about the wider context of my research, bring the realisation that Scald is not just a UK problem. It also stressed to me the importance of developing molecular markers for R genes, so that breeders can easily incorporate resistance by marker assisted selection. There seems to be a wide collection of ICARDA germplasm available, which combined with high throughput sequencing and genotyping could enable us to find more resistance against barley leaf diseases. It was also a great opportunity to visit Morocco, and see its vibrant culture and taste a real tagine!
Max Coulter James Hutton Institute