This is a conference report written by the beneficiaries of our travel fund.
Click here to read more about the fund and apply yourself
APS-CPS Joint Meeting on Plant Health Connections, Minneapolis, USA 9th – 13th August 2014
This summer I was grateful to receive funding from BSPP to enable me to attend the APS-CPS Joint Meeting on Plant Health Connections in Minneapolis, USA. The conference was a large meeting with as many as 1500 participants from 45 countries and no shortage of interesting sessions!
The opening plenary session set the scene for the conference, bringing together the overall picture of food security, plant, soil and human health. Harold van Es (Cornell University) opened by highlighting the need to extend soil management not only to include the traditional chemical properties but to include physical properties such as compaction, and also biological properties taking into account the microbial communities which may be contributing to pathogen control. He then expressed how fortunate we are at this current time to have technology available for modelling and predicting pathogen spread and control in agriculture. The second speaker Jan Leach (Colorado State University) gave a broad overview of a central topic of the meeting, the plant microbiome.
Following the human microbiome project, plant pathologists are recognising that the phytobiome (all organisms in, on and near the plant) plays a key role in plant health. The APS has just established the Phytobiome Initiative, hoping to bring together scientists working in this area with the aim to improving understanding of the phytobiome at a systems level by 2025. We can no longer view pathogens or beneficial microbes in isolation; we need to start to understand their roles in light of the whole system and all interactions. The plenary session closed with an inspiring talk on GM crops for Africa, by the renowned speaker Jennifer Ann Thomson (University of Cape Town, South Africa). Her impressive research on resistance to maize streak virus and drought resistance, combined with her obvious passion for plant and human health as well as education for women and children would have moved even the most hardened GM cynic. Speaking to an audience of plant pathologists she received the longest and warmest applause of the entire conference!
The remainder of the program was divided into special sessions addressing topics and technical sessions addressing methods and results. The special sessions picked up on the theme of a systems approach in management of plant diseases. Many of the discussions focused on USA regulatory requirements (including talks from representatives of USDA APHIS) but the concepts were directly applicable to the UK and the rest of Europe. How is it possible to regulate and control movement and import of plant pathogens to ensure food security, and also to allow the movement of pathogenic material for research? Detection of pathogens, in particular latent or asymptomatic pathogens, on imported plants appears to be a weak point in the current system.
I presented a section of my PhD project (bacterial endophytes in wheat) in a technical session on bacteria-host interactions. This session followed on nicely from the special session ‘Understanding the Phytobiome to Improve Agricultural Productivity’. Julia Vorholt (ETH Zurich) gave a fascinating talk on the adaptations of microbes in the phyllosphere. She demonstrated that by using single cell isolation techniques they were able to culture more than 65% of bacterial cells isolated from the phyllosphere of clover. This is a far higher percentage of strains amenable to culture than the typical estimate of 5% culturable strains found in soil. Plant associated microbes may thus be easier to manipulate and apply in agriculture than soil microbes.
Another talk I found particularly interesting was ‘Separating the noise from the signal in host-microbial communities’ by Eric Triplett (University of Florida). We have a huge wealth of data from next generation sequencing, but the initial experimental design and the directed analysis of these data are vitally important if we are to find any biologically relevant results. Long term experiments, such as those currently running at Rothamsted Research can help to separate noise from signal in these studies.
I would like to thank the BSPP for providing the opportunity for me to attend this meeting and for the opportunity to present my work to such a wide international audience.
Rebekah Robinson Rothamsted Research