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Protecting our woodlands: tackling tree pests and diseases University of Reading, 16th – 17th September 2013
In the light in increased findings and interest in tree diseases across the UK, this BSPP organised meeting was timely, and offered some great insight into the world of woodland pathology and the pivotal work that is being undertaken by some of the UK and EU’s scientists to alleviate the problem of tree disease. Over the two days, there were opportunities to hear about and discuss most of the key diseases that are currently being fought and the major threats on the horizon.
Steve Woodward opened the conference with an extremely interesting world overview of threats from alien invasive pathogens from which he presented his wealth of knowledge of tree diseases from some wild and wonderful locations around the world and showed how climate change, and increase in trade is effectively extending their geographical distribution. His photographs displaying some beautiful worldwide woodland scenes were a reminder of what would be lost if left to succumb to tree diseases, a key take home message of this conference.
We then focussed our attention on the oomycetes which started with a talk by invited speaker, David Studholme, on comparative genomics of emerging Phytophthora species. Further talks complemented this by demonstrating how this recent molecular knowledge of Phytophthoras has helped in the identification and detection of lineages and new species, as well as successes (and failures) in the battle against these plant destroyers. True fungi and bacteria were not left out, with many angles on our response to Chalara ash dieback, including a very informative talk by invited speaker Jan Stenlid on this pathogen that has recently hit UK shores. Two talks by Nik Cunniffe and Stephen Parnell on how epidemics can be expertly modelled using latest technologies were well received by the audience.
Another invited speaker, Daniel Rigling ensured viruses were not left out with some exciting studies on biological control with mycovirus infected isolates of Cryphonectria parasitica inducing hypovirulence to sweet chestnut blight (a current and real threat to the UK).
Bacterial disease were well covered by colleagues from Forest Research with a talk on work undertaken on Pseudomonas syringae pv. aesculi looking at its acquisition of virulence and its divergence from its Indian evolutionary ancestor by invited speaker Sarah Green and her colleagues. This prompted lively discussion and interesting thoughts on the topic and many ideas to think about when approaching newly emerging pathogens. The profiles of bacteria on oak trees were demonstrated by Sandra Denman who gave an interesting talk on acute oak decline.
Recent improvements in diagnostics in the lab and field were covered via a number of talks, and both Jenny Tomlinson and Paul Beales (Fera) were privileged in being asked to present from both laboratory and field perspectives.
The newly emerging mainstream use of LAMP for the detection of pathogens was well presented by Jenny and a visit from sponsors Optigene showed the product that they had developed in action to a crowd of intrigued onlookers.
The programme was concluded with a further talk on Fera’s recent outreach activities that aim to involve a wider demographic of the UK in the pursuit of tree diseases.
Sarah James, winner of the student poster competition sponsored by Optigene, commented: “For me the highlights of the conference were Britt Koskella’s work on Pseudomonas syringae and bacteriophages and Daniel Rigling’s excellent talk on the biological control of Chestnut Blight in Europe. Britt’s work added a completely different take on the problem of tree disease and biological control of the disease. Her work focuses on the bacterial and bacteriophage populations living within the tree and the levels of local adaptation that they display, adding rationale and considerations for the development for phage bio-control agents. Daniel’s work showed that successful biological control could be achieved using a virus to target the chestnut blight fungus Cryphonectria. ” Paul Beales was equally enthusiastic about the meeting: “The mix of epidemiology, pathogenicity, molecular biology, modelling, research, diagnostics, control and delivery and the presence of Optigene demonstrating some of the new field diagnostics kits ensured this meeting was well rounded and touched on most pathogenic bases, something for everyone (interested in tree diseases that is!). Personally it was great to meet up again with recent and past friends and colleagues, and as always, meetings such as these enable great networking and collaborative opportunities”.
Paul Beales, Sarah James and Elizabeth Orton