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9th Australasian Soilborne Disease Symposium, Christchurch, New Zealand 14th – 17th November 2016
The 9th ASDS was probably one of the most eventful conferences I have been to so far, not just in terms of the interesting content and variety of the presentations and posters, but also in the unusual turn of events experienced on the morning of the conference. As many will have witnessed in the media, a 7. 8 magnitude earthquake occurred at 12. 02 am on the 14th November, the morning of the conference. This caused significant damage to the south island around Kaikoura and further afield, whilst also causing the main road to the conference venue in Hanmer springs to be blocked by landslides. However, despite this challenge I was impressed with the speed at which Professor Richard Falloon and his organising committee were able to reorganise and relocate the conference, so that by 9 am arrangements had been made to relocate the conference to the University of Lincoln’s campus, with accommodation provided on site or nearby. It was also interesting to hear the accounts of other conference delegates. Some like myself had felt the earthquake whilst staying in Christchurch, whilst others had flights which had to be held in a holding pattern until it was safe to land. Some were also stranded for a few days in Hanmer Springs itself.
The conference was opened that evening by Professor Richard Falloon and his organising committee over some light refreshments. Whilst much of the room was comprised of plant pathologists, there were also others interested in related fields such as agronomy, biometrics, ecology and conservation. Similarly, the countries represented were also diverse, with delegates from Europe, South Africa, China and the USA besides the main groups of New Zealanders, Australians and South East Asian countries. This melting pot of different specialisms and country-specific experiences made for some interesting conversations and sharing of ideas both within the presentations and outside of the conference venue.
The presentations ran over three and a half days divided into subject areas covering; soil health, pathogen distribution and disease epidemiology, disease management, biological control, biosecurity, host resistance and new technologies for pathogen detection and diagnosis; a comprehensive array of topics! Each session began with an invited speaker and many of these made a great introduction to the session highlighting new and current work within that field. Following on from this, individual presenters gave shorter presentations on their work and areas of study with many of these presenting interesting results and outcomes.
Of particular note to me were several of the talks, which I shall aim to cover in brief. The first was the invited speaker Prof Jos Raaijmakers, from the Netherlands Institute of Ecology, who discussed the microbiology and chemistry at the plant-soil interface.
Here he discussed how species of Proteobacteria were able to protect plants from soilborne pathogens through the production of specific volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which also affected plant growth and health. He also provided an interesting overview of the current research into the area and how this maybe used in the future. I was also impressed by a similar talk by Prof Gabriele Berg, Graz University of Technology, on the plant microbiome and how this might be used to explore novel biocontrol options. She presented some interesting work suggesting that a large proportion of the microbiome was present within the plants seed with the rest recruited from the soil during germination. This helped to confer a range of benefits to the plant including protection from soilborne diseases, an aspect which she explored by culturing specific members of the community to use in biocontrol of Verticillium dahliae and Rhizoctonia solani.
The following two talks were particularly interesting as they covered the role of biosecurity and also new technologies in protecting native plants and habitats.
The first, given by associate Prof Treena Burgess, Murdoch Univeristy, used high throughput sequencing to monitor the distribution of Phytophthora spp. within the natural vegetation of Australia. Her results showed that there was a diverse array of Phytophthora spp. with many being newly described and witnessed within the regions sampled. She concluded by describing how this technology might be used to sample a large number of sites effectively and be used as a base line for future research.
A similar study was presented by Dr Nick Waipara of Auckland Council, who highlighted the plight of the Kauri tree (Agathis australis), an important ecological species and cultural plant to the native Maori. In particular, he highlighted how much of the native forests were in decline with many experiencing Kauri dieback caused by Pytophthora agathidicida. Of particular interest was the increasing public participation in preservation and restoration of native habitats, although these may also unwittingly lead to the spread of disease through the introduction of diseased nursery stock and increased spread of infected soils by human activity.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed the conference and would highly recommend it to those who study soilborne diseases. The smaller more focused group of delegates led to many interesting and stimulating conversations covering the whole field and also exposing me to new ideas, which I aim to use in my own future work. I wish to thank the British Society for Plant Pathology for providing me with the funding to attend this conference.
Alex McCormack Harper Adams University