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The 12th International Wheat Genetics Symposium, Yokohama, Japan 7th – 14th September 2013.
The 12th IWGS took place in the beautiful city of Yokohama in Japan. The city’s business and entertainment district known as Minato Mirai 21 surrounding the symposium venue is very modern, filled to the limit with shiny skyscrapers including the Landmark Tower, the tallest building in Japan. What amazed me the most about this area is its extensive network of pedestrian walkways, with the three city axes serving as the main corridors. The Queen Axis is equipped with moving walkways (the type you see in large airports) and links Sakuragicho Train Station with the Pacifico Yokohama convention center, the symposium venue. I enjoyed walking this pedestrian path from my hotel every morning along with hundreds of hurrying business people wearing stark white shirts. The skyline of this business area at night is really breath-taking, with a beautiful shimmering sea of lights amid the darkness and a giant Ferris wheel, Cosmo Clock 21, as its centrepiece.
The IWGS, held once every 5 years, is a moderately large forum for wheat geneticists and wheat breeders with around 400 participants across the world. With changing global climate and agricultural practices, and the fragility of global food security, improvement of wheat, the world’s number 2 crop, is a major research priority. Resistance to various, primarily fungal diseases, was very high on the symposium agenda.
The plant pathology related topics were discussed in two plenary sessions ‘Biotic Stress’ and ‘Classical and Molecular Breeding’, a OECD-CRP Session ‘Wheat Research for Sustainable Food Chain’, and a Satellite Workshop ‘Application of Genetic and Genomic Studies on Disease Resistance to Wheat Improvement’.
Within this workshop I presented our work on characterisation of wheat- Mycosphaerella graminicola interaction.
In addition, more than 50 posters on disease resistance were presented. Amongst the most highly featured diseases in the presentations were various wheat rusts: stem rust, stripe rust (also known as yellow rust) and leaf rust.
Such a bias can be explained on one hand due to the global importance of rusts and especially in the developing countries, and on the other hand due to a recent major multimillion US dollars investments into the international cooperative projects such as the Borlaug Global Rust Initiative (BGRI) and the Durable Rust Resistance in Wheat (DRRW), which initially addressed the threat of Ug99 stem rust and more recently focussed on research on other wheat rusts as well. There was a number of really interesting, entertaining and educational talks on this subject by world leading geneticists, breeders and plants pathologists. These included Thomas Lumpkin (Director General of CIMMYT, Mexico), Jeff Ellis (Plant Industry, CSIRO, Australia), Matthew Rouse (USDA-ARS Cereal Disease Laboratory, USA), Ravi Singh (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre, Mexico), Colin Heibert (Agriculture and Angi- Food, Canada) and others. The second most highly discussed disease at the symposium was Fusarium head blight (FHB) with, in my opinion, some of the most interesting presentations by Herman Büerstmayr (IFA-Tulln, Austria) and Zhenqgiang Ma (Nanjing Agricultural University, China). Other diseases and wheat pathogens covered in oral and poster presentations were Septoria leaf blotch, powdery mildew, tan spot, bunt, and the emerging disease wheat blast.
For me it was very interesting to hear the breeders’ and applied wheat geneticists’ point of view on disease resistance. It appears that the task of combining resistance to multiple diseases whilst maintaining high yield represents one of the greatest technical challenges.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, several speakers suggested a GM approach may be an additional and efficient solution to solve this problem. But one of the conventional ways to combine disease resistance (R) genes in an elite variety is gene pyramiding. However, a major drawback of using ‘classical’ R genes is that their efficacy is often short lived and their deployment may be associated with fitness costs to the plants. With this in mind several laboratories around the globe embarked on a search for unconventional R genes, so called APR (Adult Plant Resistance) genes, which are more durable, often provide race non-specific partial resistance, and sometimes also provide the effective control of more than one pathogen species.
In particular I enjoyed a talk by Evans Lagudah (CSIRO, Australia) who explained the progress in positional cloning and characterisation of APRtype genes including Lr46 and Lr67 that control leaf rust, stripe rust, stem rust, powdery mildew and leaf tip necrosis.
Lr67 gene has now been identified and encodes a monosaccharide transporter, highlighting the important role of sugar regulation/signalling in multi-pathogen resistance. Another talk that I found very interesting was by Beat Keller (University of Zurich, Switzerland) on genomic approaches, including GM approaches, towards durable fungal resistance in wheat. Various strategies were suggested in this talk on improving and modifying cloned R genes based on molecular knowledge, which includes over-expression of R genes, pyramiding of R genes with different specificities and transfer of R genes from wild relatives or heterologous species. For instance, evidence has been provided that Lr34, the wheat multi-pathogen APR resistance gene, provides resistance to powdery mildew and other pathogens even at the seedling stage. Beat Keller also discussed an exciting new GM disease resistance strategy based on silencing fungal effector proteins in a procedure known as HIGS (hostinduced gene silencing).
This symposium was also a great networking opportunity and I had the good fortune to discuss my research with many international experts in the field.
All in all it was a great experience and I look forward to being able to return to Yokohama one day because it was such a fantastic venue. I am very grateful to BSPP for enabling me to attend the 12th IWGS and the opportunity to present my research.
Kostya Kanyuka Rothamsted Research.