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European Plant Science Conference 2016, Prague, Czech Republic 26th – 30th June 2016
The EPSO/FESPB Congress covered a broad range of plant science. Sessions covered a range of topics from abiotic to biotic stress tolerance to breakthroughs in plant sequencing techniques to the influence of climate change on our ecosystems. I am very grateful to the BSPP for enabling me to attend this conference; it allowed me to network with researchers from a variety of fields whom I may never have encountered otherwise.
With the decreased cost of NGS sequencing as well as many research groups now using genome-editing techniques such as CRISPR this has facilitated rapid progress in the plant science field. Researchers such as Judith Burstin of INRA outlined the steps needed to sequence the genomes of economically important crop plants such as pea (Pisum sativum L. ). This talk was fascinating to me, as I don’t think I quite appreciated the effort needed to sequence and annotate a full genome of that scale from scratch. I work on the model Arabidopsis, which by the time I entered the field was fully sequenced and many resources are available to facilitate my research.
Progress has not only been made in terms of research on plant science but also the outreach carried out by plant scientists around the world. EPSO hosted a session on communicating plant science to the public to increase awareness of the importance of the work we do. EPSO is a great organisation to host such a session given their involvement with projects such as the Fascination of Plants Day (FoPD). Trine Hvoslef-Eide told the story of the FoPD which took place in Norway. Trine encouraged university students to engage with plants and the public by growing and then selling their plants on the FoPD. To do this, students essentially needed to calculate the most profitable plant to grow in their allocated space. Proceeds from plant sales went to a charitable cause. By engaging in projects such as this plant scientists can easily integrate public engagement into their teaching loads.
This session ended with a talk advising scientists of the benefits of Twitter and how best to use it to increase awareness of their research in their fields and with the public.
The poster session hosted by EPSO where I presented my poster on the influence of the circadian clock on plant defence against Botrytis cinerea allowed me to network with researchers who specialise in topics unrelated to plant defence. These researchers not only inspired me to look at my data in a different way but also to pursue future careers in the whole of plant science rather than only plant pathology.
This conference came at an especially interesting time for British Scientists, as the Brexit result was still fresh in our minds. Many British and EU researchers expressed their upset at the decision during their talks and when networking during the poster sessions and the conference dinner. It was therefore a large relief when the conference ended with the president of EPSO, Jose PiÃ¬o BeltraÃ¬n, emphasising that although Britain is leaving the EU, the European plant science community still views us as one of their members.
Claire Stoker University of Warwick Visit to Dr Sue Crosthwaite on the study of molecular basis of circadian clocks Dr Sue Crosthwaite is a lecturer and researcher at the Faculty of Life Sciences of Manchester University. Her research interests focus on the study of molecular basis of circadian rhythmicity in the filamentous fungus Neurospora crassa. Circadian rhythms provide organisms the ability to anticipate major fluctuations in their environment, allowing biological processes to take place in a specific moment of the day. Circadian systems are found in nearly all levels of eukaryotic life; N. crassa has been considered the fungal model of clock genetics for over half a decade. When a rhythm occurs in the absence of external cues, it is known that an endogenous clock controls it. Circadian clocks are determined by their continuous rhythmicity in constant conditions, the temperature compensation of their period, and their ability to be entrained by external cues such as light and temperature.
Regardless of the broad knowledge of circadian clocks gained thorough model organism N. crassa, little is known about the existence of circadian clocks in other fungi.
The core clock of N. crassa has been well identified. The oscillator is built as a transcription-translation feedback loop involving a complex of five main proteins that control rhythmic gene expression. One of these core genes, frequency, considered the central clock gene, oscillates in a time of the day dependent manner. Over the years the identification of circadianly expressed genes has been the key experiment to describe and understand circadian clocks.
My project focuses on the characterisation of the circadian clock in Verticillium dahliae and its potential effect on pathogenicity.
V. dahliae is an economically important plant pathogen that affects many valuable crops such as strawberries, tomatoes and potatoes. V. dahliae is phylogenetically related to N. crassa, and we have identified homologs for all the main clock genes in V. dahliae. Furthermore, the main domains present in the core proteins are highly conserved.
These findings imply the existence of a functional time keeping mechanism in the soil-borne pathogen. In order to determine the presence of a circadian clock, genetic screens of rhythmic expression are required.
The visit was a highly valuable opportunity, as I learned indispensable techniques to perform time-scale gene expression analysis such as the Northern Blot system. As most fungal clocks research is done in N. crassa, it was greatly valuable to discuss how such methodologies could be translated to my own research in V. dahliae. I had the opportunity to work in the lab together with one of the most renowned researchers in the area of chronobiology and get a set of tips for a better experimental procedure. It was a fantastic experience as I was able to share ideas that could greatly influence my project.
It was also beneficial to network with scientists of the same field, such as Dr Christian Heintzen, who advised me on looking for an important promoter motif in the promoters of the main oscillator genes of V. dahliae, as well as performing a RNA-Seq experiment to identify if genes involved in pathogenicity are circadianly expressed.
I would like to thank Dr Sue Crosthwaite’s lab for hosting me and the BSPP for providing funding that enabled me to receive training to continue my research project. I hope to use my skills and information gained through this visit to improve our understanding of the molecular basis of growth and pathogenicity of V. dahliae, that could ultimately lead to better pest control and crop management in the future.
Emma Cascant Lopez NIAB-EMR and Reading University