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The 22nd Biennial APPS Conference 2019 was held in the beautiful city of Melbourne (pictured below). Throughout Australia, Melbourne has long been known as the garden city with a broad ranging mix of exotic plants and Australian natives. Laid out by some of Melbourne’s earliest European settlers these historic gardens are also home to mature examples of numerous European species. The APPS Conference is one of the most important venues for the appraisal of recent developments in Plant Pathology. Although the Society is concentrated in the Australasian and Indo Pacific regions the work of APPS members is of international importance and significance. The conference was the culminating event of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the APPS and has covered all current aspects of plant pathology and virology.
For four days about 500 scientists, researchers, PhD students, postgraduate and graduate students from around the world came together to discuss recent research advances and emerging threats to plant and environmental health. The conference focused on various applied aspects of Plant Pathology such as Disease Surveys and Monitoring, Community & Industry Engagement, and Surveillance and Incursion Response as well as on basic research including Taxonomy & Phylogeny, Pathogenomics, Agricultural Microbiomes and Plant-Microbe Interactions. The conference featured 10 plenary speakers whose presentations described recent discoveries which drive both basic and applied plant pathology.
Prof Sophien Kamoun (Norwich, UK) discussed mechanisms of the interaction between pathogen effectors and host proteins and their consequences for pathogenesis and immunity. Such knowledge, along with related mechanistic and evolutionary studies, will guide the retooling of the plant immune system towards breeding disease resistance in crops. Prof Roger Innes (Bloomington, Indiana, USA) presented recent results on the role of extracellular vesicles (EV) as key mediators of plant-microbe interactions.
Such EVs are highly enriched in proteins involved in biotic and abiotic stress responses, miRNAs and siRNAs and contain single stranded RNAs of 10-15 nucleotides in length, which have been named ‘Tiny RNAs’ (tyRNAs). These tyRNAs are derived from diverse sources and appear to be degradation products of longer RNA molecules.
These findings suggest that EVs represent an important component of the plant immune system. Prof Hailing Jin (Riverside, California, USA) presented excellent overview on cross kingdom RNA interference between plants and fungal pathogens which opens up new avenue for plant protection from fungi. Dr Thierry Candresse (Bordeaux, France) presented new approaches for using high-throughput sequencing for virus detection and diagnosis. Jan Leach (Fort Collins, Colorado, USA) in his lecture presented a new interesting strategy for developing durable, broad-spectrum disease resistance (BSR) in plants. To guide improvement of BSR in rice, his group used novel genetic resources, such as Multi-parent Advanced Generation Inter-Cross populations.
Prof Neena Mitter (St Lucia, Australia) presented innovative technology called BioClay, which is eco-friendly, non-GM, biodegradable crop protection platform that delivers pest targeting RNA interference (induced by exogeneous treatment with dsRNAs) as a topical application using clay nanoparticles.
My presentation addressed molecular mechanisms of systemic spread of viruses and focused on the involvement of subnuclear compartments, Cajal bodies, and their scaffolding protein, coilin, in the life cycle of tobacco rattle virus (TRV). Our findings suggest that coilin is an activator of a hitherto unrecognised mechanism of plant defence, involving the interaction of the TRV 16K protein with coilin, which is associated with coilin redistribution to the nucleolus and subsequent activation of salicylic acid – dependent defence pathways. Mechanistic implications of these results for defining and manipulating host systems involved in controlling responses to other biotic and abiotic stresses were also presented.
In addition to the main conference, several workshops and field tours took place on the days either before or after the conference provided a great opportunity for focussed topic sessions, training, networking, and seeing agricultural and horticultural production regions in Victoria, Australia. Some of the workshops included: dsRNA Applications for Disease Control, Grapevine Viruses and Molecular Plant- Microbe Interactions. The field tours were organised to visit potato production facility at Toolangi and the Grampians region for grains pathology.
In conclusion I would like to thank BSPP for the travel grant giving me the opportunity to attend the APPS conference 2019.
Michael Taliansky The James Hutton Institute I was incredibly pleased to receive a travel bursary award from the BSPP to attend the conference. The talks started on Tuesday morning after a beautiful welcome speech by Uncle Ian Hunter from the Wurundjeri clan of the Kulin Nation and exceptional didgeridoo performance by Gnarnayarrahe Waitair””a highly memorable welcome to the country.
The presidential address from Dr Brett Summerall considered the importance of science communication in a ‘fake news’ world. This important message was well delivered – it resonated with me and inspired me to be more engaged in science communication. A month later, when the opportunity arose to take part in a documentary to talk about gene-editing and plant disease, I remembered this conference talk and was motivated to participate.
Many great talks followed at the conference. I enjoyed the diversity of topics covered in both the plenary and the concurrent sessions from molecular plant pathology to disease surveillance and management. As a molecular plant pathologist, I do not often attend seminars on the current state of disease thus, this was an excellent opportunity to get insights into new and emerging diseases and cutting-edge techniques for monitoring and diagnostics. Nevertheless, one of my highlights from the meeting was Prof. Roger Innes, who gave a great talk on his work on engineering disease resistance using a protease decoy system.
I was delighted to be chosen to present during the conference during a concurrent session on Plant-Microbe interactions. My talk was titled ‘Host susceptibility factor MLO supports fungal symbiosis and pathogenesis’. It was a great success, and I received interesting questions from Prof. Roger Innes (regarding the suppression of defense by MLO) and Prof. Karen Barry (regarding mycorrhizal-induced disease resistance/susceptibility). Presenting my research prompted introductions with other scientists working on MLO”” Dr Stefan Kusch and Dr Candace Elliot.
I enjoyed exchanging ideas about the evolution of MLO proteins and their potential ancestral roles during the following afternoon coffee break. I was honored to win the second prize for student talks. Furthermore, I had just submitted a manuscript from my PhD to bioRxiv, so my presentation was an excellent opportunity to get some publicity for the publication.
During the conference, I attended an informal lunch organised by Researchers in Agriculture for International Development (RAID) where experienced researchers (or ‘Gurus’) shared insight into their plant pathology careers. One valuable message from a ‘Guru’ was about measuring success during a career: some scientists’ main goal is the number of high-impact scientific publications, while others prefer to measure their overall contributions to the community.
Last but not least, we attended the conference 50th Anniversary Gala dinner at Mural Hall. Although I had attended the conference alone (without my lab group), members of Australia National University (ANU) welcomed me to sit with them over dinner. I was captivated by the research on effector biology presented by Dr Simon Williams and Prof. Peter Soloman and enjoyed chatting with them about their work.
The conference was a great networking opportunity I defended my PhD thesis two weeks before the conference and I was looking for a postdoc position in plant pathology with the opportunity to gain skills in protein biochemistry and structural biology. We arranged for me to visited ANU the week later to give a talk and I have now accepted a postdoc position at ANU.
Overall, the meeting was a fantastic opportunity to learn about current plant pathology research and network with international colleagues. My time at APPS 2019 was incredibly valuable and enjoyable it led to the communication of my research, exchange of ideas, and the creation of valuable connections. I also met new friends to explore Melbourne with. I would like to give an enormous thanks to the BSPP for the travel bursary to attend the meeting.
Catherine Jacott JIC