These conference reports are written by the beneficiaries of our travel fund.
Click here to read more about the fund and apply yourself
Rhizosphere 5 was the fifth in a series of conferences, occurring every four years, with a focus on all things influencing or under the influence of roots. Following on from a successful event in Maastricht, the Netherlands in 2015 this year’s programme of talks, posters and discussions drew root scientists from around the world to the city of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan, Canada. The interdisciplinary focus of the conference insured a broad range of topics ranging through modelling of root -soil kinetics, cutting edge imaging techniques and specifics of plant pathogen interactions. Many of the talks, although not directly related to plant pathology, showcased promising research and methods which will no doubt become common tools for plant pathologists attempting to understand the complex world of the root microbiome in the future.
The conference was opened with a prayer, music and dancing from Saskatchewan first nations representatives.
This was a tough act to follow however the keynote speaker of the evening, Professor Leon Kochian, managed it, discussing the broad range of work being carried out by the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan. Of particular interest to me was his description of the Saskatoon Synchrotron and how it is being incorporated into root research. I had an opportunity to visit the synchrotron over the course of my visit to Saskatoon and many of the talks mentioned how it was being used to improve root imaging techniques.
The Synchrotron sits in the middle of a room easily large enough to house two commercial airliners. It works based on the acceleration of electrons in a magnetic field to close to the speed of light and the manipulation of these to produce radiation at specific wavelengths.
This radiation can be used to analyse plant roots with hard or soft x-rays enabling live imaging and phenotyping in three-dimensions with an amazing degree of resolution. My immediate question was what was the largest object they could image. We were led to a room in which a stage had been set up to perform 3D x-ray scans of “large animals” – this included cows and horses.
As we were led away my thoughts turned to how such a scan could be used to record the progression of a plant pathogen through an entire small tree. The technicians in charge of the synchrotron seemed eager for collaboration and suggestions of new ways for them to make the most of their machine.
On day two of the conference I was particularly eager to attend the session focusing on root exudates. The highlight of these talks for me was Dr Eva Oburger from the University of Vienne.
She presented the common pitfalls of exudate collection and analysis and several novel techniques for collecting.
A point she stressed – and which would become a common theme running through much of the conference – was the temporal variability of exudate production.
Keeping with this theme Dr Yakov Kuzyakov opened day three as keynote with a talk on “Hot moments” in the rhizosphere. These are moments at which conditions combine to favour microbial processes leading to hotspots of activity. This served as an excellent introduction for my own presentation, which focused on the measurement of root – bacterial dynamics on the rhizoplane.
This day rounded off with the conference meal and music from a local band – Soul Search, comically renamed Soil Search by the attendees. With my presentation done this was the perfect opportunity to chat with some of the speakers who I had admired over the previous two days.
The highlight of final day of the conference was the keynote presentation from Professor Michelle Watt of the Jüelich Research Institute. Once more the dynamic rhizosphere was the topic of discussion with Professor Watt detailing how her group uses a range of techniques including x-ray CT, PET scanning and gel-based growth systems in order to phenotype root systems over time.
The day, and the conference, concluded with a prize giving and throwing of Rhizo5 t-shirts into the audience. I certainty came away with a number of new ideas of how to approach my research as well as the names of a number of lab groups and individuals to keep my eye on in the future.
Daire Carroll The University of Warwick and The James Hutton Institute