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We left sunny England (26°C) and landed after a more than 30 h journey into rainy Christchurch (5°C). An impressive drive down to the snow dusted Queenstown, NZ (pictured below), took us the ‘Plant Microbe Interactions’ meeting. This international conference, convened and catalysed of Barry Scott (Massey) and Peter Solomon (ANU) attracted over 120 registrants, including 5 speakers from the UK – Diane Saunders (John Innes), Paul Birch (James Hutton), Gero Steinberg (Exeter), Sarah Gurr (Exeter) and Uta Paszkowski (Cambridge). The organisers acknowledged sponsorship from the BSPP, and in inviting a broad spectrum of UK speakers, the meeting provided a comprehensive insight into the diversity and depth of research on fungal pathogenicity in the UK. The programme was a superb blend of applied research and high-end science. This combination was exciting and bridged between “on the ground problem” and advanced molecular research on fungal pathogenicity.
Examples of these are (1) a report on the need to control Phymatotrichopsis root rot disease of alfalfa (given by Karen Young, Noble Research Institute, who talked about aerial imaging, showing data on spatial and temporal spread – likely by hyphal growth), (2) a presentation that highlighted the need for understanding infection strategies of Venturia inaequalis on apple and the need for apples with durable resistance against this fungus in NZ (Jo Bowen, NZ Institute for Plant and Food Research Ltd. , New Zealand, who reported impressive progress in a collaborative research project with Kim Plummer (La Trobe University, Australia) and Carl Mesarich (Massey University, New Zealand), in better understanding pathogenicity mechanisms in Venturia), or a talk about Ustilago effectors that allow establishment of the biotrophic phase of the corn smut fungus (Gunther Doehlemann, Cologne, Germany; showing that Pit2 is for pathogenicity and is processed by a plant papain-like cysteine protease, which is essential for its activity).
Visit to Marlborough Research Centre, Blenheim, NZ
Moving on to the north of NZ, we visited the Marlborough Research Centre. This independent Institute works with local industries to improve farming, winegrowing, horticulture, aquaculture and forestry. Our visit was hosted by Dr. Dion Mundy, who provided us with insight into research on wine pathogenic fungi. We presented our most recent research on emerging pathogens and fungicide development, which resulted in quite lively exchange of ideas. We also learned that our beloved Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough is in crisis, being a single clonal line deployed across Marlborough and now being very frequently sprayed with fungicide to stop relentless attack by powdery and downy mildew species. Brisbane, Australia, 26th – 28th Sept Finally, we moved on to Brisbane, Australia, where we attended the ‘Science Protecting Plant Health’ conference. Over 500 delegates, from over 30 countries, gathered at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre to hear about and to discuss the latest science, research and practice underpinning plant health. The various talks crossed the scales from molecular and cellular biology up to soil and satellite detection studies. Following Australian tradition, the meeting started with a blessing ceremony by an Aboriginal tribes singer, who represented the last native family still living in the area (pictured below).
President of APPS Dr Kim Plummer (LaTrobe, Australia) delivered an amusing address on “How to grow a next “gen” plant pathologist”. She highlighted the changes to the “traditional” plant pathologist’s toolbox, as compared with the 21st century “kit” available for budding plant pathologists, alongside the need for multi-disciplinary “task forces” to tackle plant disease problems. She also highlighted times during her career, when the internet was just introduced, making us aware of the rapid pace of time. . .
UK science was well represented at this international conference, with plenary and keynote presentations from Chris Gilligan (Cambridge, former BSPP President) on the epidemiology of tree diseases; Gero Steinberg (Exeter) on live cell imaging to unmask fungicide mode of action; Sarah Gurr (Exeter) on global movement of pathogens, and invited presentations and / or posters from Amanda Baizan-Edge (St Andrews and James Hutton) on rapid detection of plant viruses via next gen. sequencing; Eric Grist (Manchester and with Cambridge) on surveillance strategies for invasive plant pathogens; Agata Kaczmarek (Nottingham, with Rothamsted and sugar beet industry) looking at disease monitoring of foliar disease on sugar beet; Matevz Papp-Rupar (Nottingham, with Loughborough and salad industry) on Botrytis control in industrial horticulture; Jon West (Rothamsted) comparing air samplers for early detection of plant pathogens); Matthew Cromey (RHS Wisley) on the management of allium rust; Marimar Bravo-Cadena (Oxford) on biocide control of bacterial infection by nanoparticle delivery and Anna Avrova (James Hutton) on breeding elite barley varieties with durable disease resistance to Rhynchosporium infection.
The meeting brought to our attention the importance of banana growing in Queensland and the increasing fear of Fusarium oxysporum f. sp. cubense TR4 infection, challenging this valuable industry in Australia. This is of much interest to us and also the UK, as we are funded by BBSRC for work on banana wilt disease (main PI: Dan Bebber, Exeter; co-PIs: Sarah Gurr, Gero Steinberg). In summary, this was an interesting meeting, covering a diversity of topics, held in the heat of the early spring in the flourishing and vibrant city of Brisbane.
We are most grateful to BSPP for their travel grant which helped enable us to attend these Conferences. It proved to be a superb networking experience and an opportunity to learn of the needs of other countries in our perpetual quest to vanquish pest and pathogens and to preserve plant health.
Sarah Gurr (former BSPP President) Gero Steinberg (new BSPP member)