These conference reports are written by the beneficiaries of our travel fund.
Click here to read more about the fund and apply yourself
The 2019 APPS conference marked an important milestone – it was the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Australasian Plant Pathology Society. The meeting had the theme of ‘Strong Foundations, Future Innovations’ and was attended by about 500 delegates. There was a superb line-up of plenary speakers from all parts of the world.
The EMBO keynote address was given by Sophien Kamoun (Sainsbury laboratory, UK). Using examples of wheat blast and ash dieback, he stressed the urgency of developing a rapid and effisensitivecient global surveillance system for plant diseases that should incorporate genomics and make use of crowdsourced community initiatives. He also stressed the importance of using preprint and open science platforms for rapid data sharing.
Two standout talks directly addressed the ‘Strong Foundations, Future Innovations’ conference theme by looking at novel approaches for disease control.
Jan Leach (Colorado) spoke about ‘Pursuing durable, broad-spectrum disease resistance in plants’. In the context of bacterial and fungal diseases of rice, Jan spoke about the importance of having a platform of basal resistance involving quantitative trait loci (QTLs) that underpins major R gene resistance.
She outlined new methods to screen for QTLs, one of which was based on differences in the level and timing of expression of induced defence response genes between resistant and susceptible interactions.
She described the discovery of promoter elements, termed cis regulatory modules (CRMs), that are associated with early and strong activation of defence genes and which have the potential to be used as QTL markers. In another outstanding presentation, Hailing Jin (UC Riverside) told us the inspiring story of the discovery of cross kingdom exchange of RNAi between plants and fungal pathogens and the development of gene-targeting RNAs as a potential new generation of fungicides.
Recent discoveries about the abilities of different types of pathogens to take up gene-targeting RNA molecules were presented, and the promising applications of clay nanosheets as delivery vehicles for RNA were discussed.
Amongst the Plant-Microbe Interactions and Pathogenomics sessions, dissection of pathogen effector function, effector targets and extracellular vesicles and their contents (including small RNAs) were strong themes. Among many excellent talks, Megan Outram (ANU Canberra) outlined why it can be important to include pro domains of fungal effectors for efficient expression and purification, Catherine Jacott (John Innes Centre) addressed the question of whether the barley host susceptibility factor MLO might have a supporting role for arbuscular mycorrhiza and Peter Solomon (ANU Canberra) explained advances in our understanding of how the Stagonospora nodorum Tox3 effector interacts with the wheat PR1 protein to induce a defence response that facilitates necrotrophic disease development.
The APPS president Brett Summerell stressed the importance of communicating our science to the public, quoting “Nothing in science has any value to society if it is not communicated” (Anne Roe, 1953). This is even more pertinent in these days of ‘fake news’, public distrust of science and the need for public acceptance of new technologies that are being developed to combat serious plant health problems.
I thank the BSPP for providing funding that enabled me to attend this superb conference, to present and discuss my research on fungal and oomycete forest pathogens and to learn more about novel and new approaches to tackle difficult plant diseases.
Rosie Bradshaw Massey University, New Zealand