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Taming Plant Viruses – Fundamental Biology to Bionanotechnology, Pitlochry, UK 8th – 10th November 2016
This meeting was devoted to fundamental and applied studies of plant viruses, particularly focusing on potential and actual biotechnological uses that plant viruses can be put to. Plant virus particles are natural nanoparticles and in recent years they have been manipulated experimentally to produce novel amended molecules that can be produced in large quantities in plants and other heterologous systems.
The objectives of this workshop were to discuss the most up-to-date research into the structural, physical and genetic properties of plant viruses that underpin virus self-assembly, replication and accumulation in plants. Having a greater understanding of these processes is vital if we wish to exploit plant viruses for biotechnology in fields such as biomedicine (for therapy and diagnostics), bioengineering and electronics in a more rational and directed way.
The workshop was cross-disciplinary bringing together virologists, biophysicists, informaticists and nanotechnologists to share new perspectives and concepts at the cutting edge of virus molecular and cellular biology. There were five sessions of oral presentations with accompanying poster sessions.
The first 3 sessions of the meeting concentrated on the topics of (1) Virus genome replication and movement, (2) Overcoming host defence, (3) Host immunity/ RNA Silencing. These were followed by two related sessions concentrating on (4) Nanobiotechnology – virus delivery, and (5) Nanobiotechnology – applications.
Highlights of the meeting were presentations by Dr Isabelle Jupin (Pasteur Institute, Paris) Viral deubiquitinases (DUBs): new players in the regulation of plant viral infections; by Professor Steve Lommel (North Carolina State University) Plant virus capsids as facile medical and agricultural nanoparticles; and by Professor Christina Wege (University of Stuttgart) Redesigning TMV: RNA-directed growth of smart nano-objects advancing biohybrid technology.
This meeting was attended by 55 delegates from 12 countries (44% each from the UK and Europe, with the remainder from the US and Canada). Sixteen talks were given by invited speakers and 14 talks were given by speakers selected from the remainder of conference participants. Twenty two posters were also presented at the meeting.
Social events included a reception attended by the Provost of Perth and Kinross Council and a Conference Dinner.
These events provided an unstructured opportunity for delegates to discuss their research with one another and identify where future collaborations would be appropriate.
Organisers: Lesley Torrance, Michael Taliansky and Stuart MacFarlane (The James Hutton Institute, United Kingdom) and Jens Tilsner (University of St Andrews, United Kingdom) Michelmore Lab Collaborative Meeting, California, USA July 2016 Lettuce has the unenviable position of being eaten raw and having a short shelf life. This is made worse by the various diseases that can cause significant losses both pre- and postharvest.
Chief among these are the necrotrophic fungal pathogens Botrytis cinerea and Sclerotinia sclerotiorum, two closely related ascomycetes which are a persistent problem in lettuce agriculture worldwide. In our BBSRC HAPI funded research project, we are attempting to identify markers for disease resistance in lettuce to both Botrytis and Sclerotinia, to be used in UK breeding programs. One of the key elements to successful breeding is the use of robust, well developed genetic resources such as mapping populations, genetic markers and a complete genome sequence. In addition, research can be aided by techniques such as the construction of genetically modified plants and more recently, direct genome editing using CRISPR/Cas9.
While not as characterised as a model organism, the resources available for lettuce genetics have been growing steadily, largely thanks to the work by Richard Michelmore and his research group at UC Davis. The group there pioneered sequencing of the lettuce genome and many of the genetic resources that are now used worldwide when studying this leafy vegetable.
They have sequenced the genome of both Lactuca sativa (cultivated lettuce) and the close relative Lactuca serriola as well as generating several mapping populations and developing many molecular techniques. In July 2016, I used a BSPP travel grant to visit the Michelmore lab in UC Davis to learn about the latest developments in lettuce genomics and bring some of that experience back to the UK to use in our research.
The lettuce genome is an ongoing project which is now on its 8th iteration. Increasingly, sequencing contigs are being linked together and assembled into larger pseudomolecules, increasing the average read length and accuracy of the genome. Of particular interest is the use of the new Dovetail Genomics Hi-C technique and PacBio sequencing to link together many shorter, well characterised fragments into chromosome sized contigs, essentially providing a total scaffold genome to use in analysis.
Furthermore, gene models are being added and improved all the time, partly facilitated by our own RNA-Seq data which we have contributed.
Many mapping populations have been developed at UC Davis, including several highly developed RIL populations. Some of these have proven to be useful for our research, so we were keen to understand how these resources have been used in other projects (can we identify overlapping QTL for example) and the genetic information available on these populations. Maria Truco and the rest of the Michelmore lab were very forthcoming in sharing their highdensity molecular marker based map, which has enabled us to perform accurate QTL mapping in our project.
Furthermore, use of genotyping-bysequencing has enabled high density molecular maps to be generated, massively facilitating the discovery of informative QTLs. CRISPR/Cas9 is quickly gaining momentum as a research tool in a wide range of sectors, including plant breeding. In the Michelmore lab, Lien Bertier has been successful in editing the lettuce genome using this system.
We hope to take this procedure and use it for testing candidate genes that we believe to be important for disease resistance. Finally, David Tricoli at UC Davis has established a robust plant transformation pipeline for lettuce.
While there I visited David and spoke to him about the various protocols and techniques that they use in order to obtain the highest efficiency. We are now using the techniques he (and his group) developed to transform our own lettuce back in the UK. In addition, the links we have made mean we are now able to send constructs to the Davis transformation facility for generating transformed lettuce.
Overall the trip was a success; I learnt many new techniques and made many connections within the lettuce research community. The outcomes will benefit lettuce researchers both in Davis and back in the UK.
Adam Talbot University of York