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Forming bridges in a changing world – The Society of Nematologists and Soil Ecology Society Conference – UVM David Centre, Burlington, Vermont – July 12-15, 2009
I was very pleased to receive financial support from the BSPP, PGRO and NIAB so that I could attend the Forming Bridges in a Changing World Conference in Burlington. Burlington is the smallest city in the USA but the largest in its state. It is situated on the eastern shore of Lake Champlain and lies between the Green Mountains of Vermont. The scenery of Vermont was influenced by ‘sheep fever’ in the 19th century, which led to environmental degradation and deforestation. However at the present, universities and government institutions are promoting sustainable agriculture to bring balance and opportunities to Vermont in the current era of economic crisis, and through local produce and environmental friendly agricultural practices they hope to restore the natural beauty of the region. Vermont’s history and agricultural shifts were explained in depth by the terrestrial ecologist, and author of The Myth of Progress: Toward a sustainable future, Professor Tom Wessels during a nature field hike trip to Mount Philo. I very much enjoyed this international meeting of nematologists and soil ecologists, held in the Davis Centre (which was built to leave the smallest environmental footprint possible). The main objective of this conference was to bring together researchers from the Society of Nematologists and the Soil Ecology Society to develop a platform or ‘Form Bridges’ allowing us all to integrate our findings in a changing and challenging future.
The conference was split into SON and SES sessions, though every morning there was a joint symposium for both societies and posters in the evening as well, which enabled me to meet interesting, extraordinary young scientists as well as famous and respected researchers. At lunchtime students had a chance to meet nematology legends such as Eric Davis, Diana Wall and Deborah Neher. The advice of experienced researchers was very valuable and ‘Lunch Legends’ enabled scientific collaboration and an organized environment for brainstorming.
A range of subjects were covered during the SON session; host-parasite interaction, comparative genomics of parasitic nematodes, resistance, management, biological control, entomopathogenic nematodes and ecology and behaviour. The SES symposium included talks on soil communities from diverse ecological niches and their interaction with plants. Joint lectures were focused on the soil ecosystem and the potential of using novel molecular techniques in assessing diversity of microbiota.
The Host Parasite Interaction lectures were of particular interest to me as I am fascinated by the potential of suppressing nematode multiplication by using resistant cultivars and biochemical and molecular techniques. Ernest Bernard’s (The University of Tennessee) talk described his work with Dysphania ambrosioide (epazote, wormweed), a native plant to Mexico, used as a preservative in traditional cooking. He observed a decreased volume of giant cells in roots of epazote infected with Meloidogyne incognita. Of interest is that infusions of epazote have been used for centuries in the Americas as an anthelmintic for controlling nematodes. Resistance is a very effective management tool against nematodes, however it requires the screening of large germplasm collection and can come at the cost of yield. PhD student Katherine Linsell is using molecular markers to identify quantitative trait loci (QTL) in wheat, which confer Pratylenchus spp. resistance. Several other presentations and posters showed the use of different molecular techniques in the evaluation of resistance to soybean cyst, root-knot or reniform nematodes.
The Comparative Genomics of Plant Parasites session emphasized the usefulness of nematode sequence collections in studying the evolution of parasitism and in identifying genes marked in biological processes. The full genomic sequence of Meloidogyne hapla was used as an example by Charles Opperman, Valerie Williamson, Jennifer Schaff and David Bird. Novel molecular procedures are helping to identify resistance genes in cultivars and elucidate genomes of parasitic nematodes, however there is still a $1 billion loss in agriculture worldwide. Therefore, identifying new management strategies to control parasitic nematodes is profitable, as highlighted in a session led by crop protection leaders. The discovery of fungal, microbial or natural plant products has resulted in many potential biocontrol agents. Some of these have already been introduced as bionematocides in the USA, for example Paecilomyces lilacinus strain 251 is a fungus used to control Meloidogyne incognita. Dr Chen Lijie and her colleagues screened thousands of fungal and bacterial isolates from China which resulted in the successful isolation of invasive microrganisms with potential to control M. incognita and H. glycines. Professor Richard Sikora discussed the potential of the endophyte Fusarium moniliforme Fe14 in suppressing Meloidogyne graminicola in rice.
I had the opportunity to present my work on Ditylenchus dipsaci in faba beans with a talk in the SON Student Session. I really enjoyed this session, as it was very competitive amongst the students and the best student presentation awards were chosen at the end. Christian Hillhütter won an award for his talk: “Interrelationships between Heterodera schachtii and Rhizoctonia solani on sugar-beet: disease discrimination by hyperspectral data analysis” and Katherine Linsell won an award for her poster: Biological and genetic characterisation of resistance to root lesion nematode Pratylenchus spp. in wheat.
Over four days, I learned more about new nematode species, explored the potential of robust molecular techniques, and came to understand the interactions between soil communities and plants in diverse ecological niches in the light of climate change. I would like to say thank you to the BSPP, PGRO and NIAB for supporting my attendance at ‘forming bridges in a changing world’. The conference was very valuable and contributed to my research by providing me with new ideas on how to achieve my aims.
Natalia Stawniak, National Institute of Agricultural Botany, University of Reading