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6th conference of the European Foundation for Plant Pathology, 8 13 July 2002 Czech University of Agriculture, Prague
The 6th Conference of the European Foundation for Plant Pathology was focussed on reporting important developments in all aspect of plant disease resistance. Plant disease and hostpathogen interactions are two of the main components of my PhD research project, and the BSPP travel grant awarded for me to attend this meeting provided a great opportunity to see the latest advances in these topics. The conference was held at the Czech University of Agriculture in Prague and the organisers paid particular attention to bringing together scientists and plant pathologists from Western Europe and the former East Europe.
The conference opened officially on Sunday 8 July with delegate registration and a welcoming cocktail party, livened by the presence of a group playing traditional Czech music. The conference presentations began next day, continuing over for four intense days. The programme was arranged into four major themes: Plant Disease, Host-Pathogen Interaction, Resistance and Disease Management. Keynote speakers presented the latest results from of their research and a large number of short presentations were selected from attendees. This format created a thought-provoking atmosphere where scientists with diverse backgrounds and experiences (from group leaders to young PhD students) could present their work. Certainly, arrangement stimulated exciting and open discussion. And special attention was given to considering how new scientific understanding might contribute toward effective and sustainable disease management in practice.
The conference opened with a lecture presented by Prof. Kudela (Research Institute of Crop Production, Prague, Czech Republic), who reported a comprehensive summary of plant pathology (and plant pathologists) in the Czech republics. The session also contained a presentation from Dr Pink (Horticulture Research International, Warwick, UK) of plant resistance and strategies for breeding resistant varieties. He explained why the production of resistant varieties did not lead to a permanent means of controlling plant disease and suggested how we might improve our knowledge in this field. Furthermore, Prof. Martelli (Instituto di Virologia Vegetale, CNR Bari, Italy) gave a critical appraisal of non-conventional resistance to plant viruses. In addition to presenting recent progress in developing transgenic resistance to plant viruses and the success of virus-resistance cropping, he argued that in Europe there is still a widespread sentiment against agriculture biotechnologies, particularly the use of genetically modified plants. However, he explained that experimental evidence is accumulating, which shows the risks feared to be associated with genetic transformation are minimal, if not negligible, in many cases.
The programme was divided into twelve different sections, but none of them were in parallel, so delegates had the opportunity to attend all the presentations and discussions. From the many interesting and provoking presentations, I would like to report a short summary of a few that were for me especially outstanding.
Prof. Elstner (Lehrstuhl fur Phytopathologe, Techische Universitat Munichen, Germany) synthesised a model describing the sophisticated set of chemicals utilised by plants as defence signals. He explained how the complex interactions of reactive oxygen species (H2O2), hormones (ethylene), calcium fluxes, small effector molecules (salisylic acid, nitrogen oxide) and protein phosphorylaton cause yield defence responses such as phytoalexin- and PR-protein synthesis and wound sealing by callose and lignin. An excellent presentation was offered by Prof. Michelmore (Department of Vegetable Crops, University of California, USA) on the genomic approaches to natural and artificial evolution of plant disease resistance genes. Besides the introduction of an in vitro DNA shuffling to determine the functional consequences of genomic rearrangements, Prof. Michelmore also presented the birth-and-death model, which describes the evolution of defence genes, using data on the relative frequencies of genetic events in cluster of resistance genes in Arabidopsis, tomato and lettuce.
Finally, the last presentation I would like to mention was offered by Dr Holub (Horticulture Research International, Wellesbourne, UK) on genetics of disease resistance in Arabidopsis to crop pathogens. He presented very practical research focused on the identification of R-genes in Arabidopsis that are responsible for conferring resistance to brassica pathogens, and could therefore be used to proffer defence to the same pathogens in crop brassicas.
Delegates had the opportunity to observe and discuss more than one hundred posters. The research projects presented in the poster session summarised a very wide range of fields in plant pathology. The opportunity to discuss research results with scientists from across the world was very informative and stimulating.
Finally, I would like to remark on the open discussion that concluded the conference. Although only a minority of the delegates were present, a lively and interactive debate on genetically modified organisms took place. One conclusion from the discussion is that there is very divergent perception and opinion of GMO across the scientific community and general public. This is partly due to a number of events and communication mistakes that have caused the public to perceive scientific reports with suspicion.
Apart from improvement in scientific understanding of plant disease and host-pathogen interactions, a major challenge in the next few years, will therefore be to regain public trust and confidence in scientific research.