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The 4th International Bacterial Wilt Symposium (IBWS), held at the Lakeside Conference Centre, Central Science Laboratory (CSL), drew together all aspects of research into plant disease caused by Ralstonia solanacearum. The York meeting attracted 95 delegates from 24 counties, numbers holding up well from the previous symposia hosted in such far flung locations as Taiwan, Guadeloupe and South Africa. The scientific programme was subdivided into a number of sessions; Genome Analysis, Characterisation & Diagnostics, Breeding & Host Resistance, Pathogenicity & Genetics, Ecology & Management and Disease Modelling & Socioeconomic Aspects. In addition, a day was devoted to the related (in terms of epidemiology and management) emerging disease of Banana Xanthomonas Wilt, caused by Xanthomonas campestris pv. musacearum, and an evening workshop was held on Quarantine and Biosecurity issues. In all, there were 56 oral and 35 poster presentations.
Delegates were welcomed by Mike Roberts, Chief Executive at CSL, and the scientific programme opened by Philippe Prior, INRA-CIRAD, La Reunion. Philippe made the point, and it was one that we returned to throughout the Symposium, that despite considerable international research, bacterial wilt remains a major limiting factor for the production of many food and industrial crops. Breeding as a source of resistance invariable achieves only a temporary or geographically limited respite, the main reason being that R. solanacearum is highly variable and adaptable, widely distributed with a large and expanding host range.
One of the strong selling points for IBWS is that it provides delegates with an almost unique forum in which researchers pursuing cutting edge, ‘pure’ science can mix with extension workers dealing with practical approaches to disease management. It is important that this avenue for communication is maintained and encouraged to ensure researchers are kept updated on how problems are evolving in the field and also so that practical applications, arising from research, can be implemented effectively. It was our hope, as organisers, that the 4th IBWS would provide just such an opportunity for communication.
Despite attempting to ground our science in the real world, many of us were struck by the description that Caitilyn Allen, University of Wisconsin- Madison, gave of the new security introduced into her lab post 9/11. In compliance with the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) rules for the possession, use, and transfer of select agents such as R. solanacearum, race 3, biovar 2, the cause of potato brown rot, entry to her lab is governed by a fingerprint scanner and the lab is under constant CCTV monitoring. I for one will never complain about UK Plant Health Licensing again!
Dealing with more immediate threats, my fellow organiser, Julian Smith, CSL, facilitated a day covering Banana Xanthomonas Wilt which is a growing threat to East African bananas. Banana is a staple food of 10 million Ugandans, and this fast-spreading disease threatens the livelihood of many more. Originally found in Ethiopia in the 1960’s, banana wilt spread to Uganda in 2001 before spreading to surrounding countries. Globally, cultivated banana has a very low level of genetic diversity, and there is no apparent resistance in Ugandan cultivars. At present this disease is limited to East Africa, however the threat to one of the World’s major staples is of growing concern. There is an urgent need to identify effective control strategies and it is hoped that the 4th IBWS played it’s part, however small, in building collaboration for the task ahead.
As with all good conferences a memorable conference dinner is essential. Ours was held at the UK’s National Railway Museum in York, where delegates were entertained with a display of Morris dancing thanks to CSL’s, David Stead (and post-dinner, musical accompaniment by Richard Thwaite.
In the four and half years since the 3rd IBWS many people have worked on the planning and organisation of the York meeting. Principally my thanks go to my fellow organisers, John Elphinstone and Julian Smith at CSL, without their support and hard work this Symposium would not have happened. Thanks also go to Carol Hill and the conference organising team at CSL, I would strongly recommend them if you are ever looking for a conference venue!
For those of you unfortunate enough not to be able to attend IBWS, abstracts are available on the conference website at http://www. ibws2006.org.uk/. Lastly, a special thank you must go to our sponsors, we gratefully acknowledge the financial support we have received from the British Society for Plant Pathology, Central Science Laboratory and Scottish Agricultural Science Agency. Roll on the 5th IBWS scheduled to take place in 2010 or 2011 in Wuhan, China.
Gerry Saddler, SASA, Edinburgh