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XVII International Congress on Molecular Plant- Microbe Interactions, Portland, Oregon 17th – 21st July 2017
The XVII International Congress on Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions (2016 IS-MPMI) was held in the friendly city of Portland, Oregon, USA, in the Oregon Convention Center. This was a large but extremely well organised meeting, with over 950 delegates from 40 countries worldwide. The Local Scientific Committee put together an excellent programme over the 5-day congress, with seven plenary sessions, twenty-four concurrent sessions and two evening poster sessions in which around 700 posters were displayed and discussed.
The range and depth of the research in the different areas of molecular plantmicrobe interactions was particularly evident, not only from the differing themes of each concurrent session, but also in the plenary sessions. These were intentionally not themed, but instead included in each a range of speakers working on plant-pathogen, plantsymbiont or microbiome interactions, giving delegates a chance to hear and learn more about other research areas and maybe whetting their appetites to find out more.
There were also eight special sessions which were held on the Sunday, before the official Opening Ceremony. These sessions, being more specifically focussed on individual research areas, were an excellent opportunity for researchers in the same field to network and catch up on the latest developments. As a plant pathologist working on cereal crops, it was great to see two monocot-focussed special sessions, one on Rice and Pathogen Interactions and a second on Molecular Dissection of Wheat Diseases. Other concurrent special sessions were held on Hunaglongbing (Citrus Greening Disease), Rust Fungi, Agrobacterium biology and Bioinformatics Training.
A range of networking and social events, including those to encourage the 70 young IS-MPMI travel awardees to build up their networks, and a selection of tours around Portland and its surrounding areas for those who wished to do so, meant that this was an extremely busy but rewarding conference to attend for researchers at different stages in their careers.
Sam Lee Rothamsted Research
The conference commenced with a welcoming address from the out-going President of the IS-MPMI who introduced the new President, Prof Dr Regine Kahmann of the Max Planck Institute. This was immediately followed by the opening presentation by IS-MPMI awardee Prof Sharon Long of Stanford University, who has done immense research on ‘Bacterial cell dynamics and molecular differentiation in symbiosis’. A welcome reception followed where we, the young researchers, had the chance to meet advanced, experienced researchers to connect for other opportunities in life either in the industry, academic or research fields.
Post-doctoral and PhD researchers had the chance to present posters throughout the conference for special sessions in the evenings. I had the chance to visit the Montnulma waterfalls and Gorge waterfalls in Portland-Oregon where nature was at its best. I have never had such an experience before in my life, and thank the BSPP for making this conference a dream come true. I had the chance to make friends and connections for the next stage in life as my PhD is about to end.
Kwasi Adusei-Fosu Nottingham University
This was the first time I attended the MPMI congress and for me it was a personal and academic learning experience. On the first day I was very keen to hear the special sessions on wheat and rust fungi, which are related to my PhD research. I liked Kim Hammond-Kosack’s talk about Fusarium head scab in wheat crops and how by transcriptomics it is possible to understand the asymptomatic phase of the infection. This and other talks about necrotrophic fungal infections make me think about the commonalities with different phases of biotrophic fungal infections. Another interesting talk was from Barbara Valent about the current difficulties with wheat blast and how conventional approaches do not help to control the disease.
A take home message from Sebastien Duplessis and Eva Stukenbrock talk’s was that through transcriptomics and population genomics is possible to understand the different stages of fungal infections and how effectors may have a function in the biology of infection rather than just for plant defence related responses. I really enjoyed Nick Talbot, Barbara Valent and Thomas Vincent talk’s using tools from cell biology to understand how the fungus colonise the plant, how it secretes effectors to the host and how the plant distinguishes between aphid cell-wall wounding and aphid phloem feeding.
Finally, the plenary talk from Sharon Long was very inspiring because she encourages following different research ideas but always with scientific criteria. This talk and the conference in general make me think about my role in the scientific community, how I can contribute in the cereal research field and what kind of skills I want to learn to improve as a scientist.
Veronica Roman-Reyna The Australian National University
As an undergraduate, I turned away from my passion for natural systems when I dropped my Ecology major for Molecular Biology. At my university, ecology was taught as a descriptive discipline but molecular biology was an exciting, investigative endeavour. At the congress the ecology of plantmicrobe interactions stepped into the limelight and once again caught my interest. Exciting studies in Paul Schulze -Lefert’s lab have established gnotobiotic microbial assemblies on Arabidopsis roots that resemble the natural microbiome. I was surprised by the effect microbial classes had on growth: sterile plants inoculated with only fungi and oomycetes died, even though the species were isolated from healthy, wild plants. Including the bacterial component in the inoculum rescued the plants. Schulze-Lefert and Simona Radutoiu collaborated to investigate the effect of nodulation on the rhizosphere of Lotus japonicus. There are distinct bacterial communities in nodules, roots and rhizosphere compartments. Mutants that are unable to form nodules have a community shift in the rhizosphere: more than ten bacterial orders were depleted, possibly due to a ‘bacterial traffic jam’ in the rhizosphere caused by mutation in nodulation signalling.
Linda Kinkel demonstrated that rhizosphere studies can help to characterise microbiome resources for novel antibiotics. Ecosystems with strong microbial competition harbour many microbes that produce effective antibiotics. Kinkel determined that microbial co-association is strongly influenced by the rhizosphere nutrient profile, which in turn is largely determined by plant genotype. The soil in monoculture crops has a greater niche overlap for microbes than the soil of polyculture crops, and as a result, there is more selection pressure on the microbial community to produce diverse antibiotics to kill competitors than to differentiate and occupy different niches. I left Portland with new perspective on the intricacies of the interaction between plants and their rhizosphere microbiota.
Zane Duxbury The Sainsbury Laboratory
One major change to the previous meetings were the special sessions held upfront of the opening ceremony. First, to discuss recent advances in the field, the Powdery Mildew community held an informal meeting organized by Mary Wildermuth and Shauna Somerville, University of California, Berkeley. Here, the researchers were able to present and discuss specific topics more deeply. All the sessions were booked out shortly after registration had opened and seem to have been a huge success, especially as this set-up allowed additional speakers to present their recent work. I actively contributed to the Powdery Mildew Symposium and the ‘Recognition in Plant Immunity’ session and attended most talks focusing on NLR biology.
Although many aspects were discussed, I personally had the feeling that a large proportion of the NLR society moves further towards understanding the structure/function relationship of NLR proteins in order to unravel the signalling mechanisms underlying effector-mediated NLR activation and downstream signalling. An excellent example for this was shown by by Jeff Dangl, University of North Carolina, with the title ‘Understanding NLR Function and Biology’. As the N-terminal domain of numerous NLRs seem to mediate cell death responses as measure of activation and resistance, a particular focus lays on the common NLR N-terminal domains compromising of TIR and CC structures. One example was the presentation of Simon Williams, describing the work in Bostjan Kobe and Peter Dodds’ groups on barley MLA, wheat MLA-like Sr33 and potato Rx CC domain structures. I would like to thank the BSPP for giving me the opportunity to attend this fantastic meeting compromised of diverse topics with presentations from PhD students, Postdocs and the ‘usual suspects’.
Isabel Saur Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research
As an early career scientist, attending IS-MPMI was extremely rewarding; not only were we exposed to exciting recent discoveries in the field, but also to timeless advice from more experienced scientists. I enjoyed listening to the diverse and fascinating developments in the concurrent sessions, specifically the updates in the sessions on recognition in plant immunity, manipulation of the host and apoplastic interactions, all of which have been beneficial and given me numerous ideas to develop my current research projects. It was also thought-provoking to hear about developments in fields outside my current research interests, for example, the talk by Ken Shirasu about the molecular mechanisms of parasitic plants was really interesting.
One personal highlight of the conference was listening to Sharon Long talk about her extensive career and about some of the most influential and prominent people along the way. Sharon shared a lot of valuable advice throughout her talk, in particular I found the way in which she postulates and designs experiments very useful. Causing me to reflect upon my own approach and think about applying her methods of ‘is it a yes/no question?’ This ensures the question is more testable. Also to ask, ‘whether knowing the answer to this question will change what you do next?’ If not, then it is not the right question. She also highlighted the need to do experiments blind to avoid bias from affecting your results and also advised not to narrow down your options too quickly and consider all possibilities. I would like to express my gratitude to the BSPP and to the GCRI Trust for the financial support I received to attend this worthwhile congress and enabling me to present a poster on my recent research on strawberry- Phytophthora cactorum interactions. I look forward to the next meeting in Glasgow in 2019.
Charlotte Nellist NIAB-East Malling Research
This was my first MPMI conference and I was fascinated to see how knowledge in science, plants and microbes brings us all together to participate in an event of such high quality. I have been really interested in the work of many researchers that attended, their publications have been motivational, and have inspired the focus of my career in molecular plant pathology. This diversity in topics at the congress has been such a positive and enriching experience, both personally and professionally.
To compliment the work I’m doing in my PhD I participated in the special session ‘Rice and pathogen interaction’ held before the main conference. Professor Nick Talbot from University of Exeter talked about all the molecular processes and the key cellular components involved in the formation of specialised infection structure, the appressorium, produced by the rice blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae. I was fascinated by the fantastic research work and the beautiful live-cell imaging of Magnaporthe infection in planta.
From the plenary sessions I would like to highlight the work of Dr Sally Miller from Ohio State University, and her impressive talk on the improvement of food security in developing countries. Her work in Tanzania showed how big the reduction of yield is on tomato plantations due to pests and diseases, lack of resistant cultivars, contaminated water, and the general lack of access to multiple resources. She expressed how important knowledge transfer is, and how it can have a huge impact in the development process.
From the concurrent session series I would like to highlight the work of Sarina Shulze from the ZMBP-Centre for Plant Molecular Biology, with her very important findings on BAK1 mediated activity. Two BAK1-interacting receptor like kinases were identified; BIR2 and BIR3, and showed how BIR3 plays two different roles in the regulation of BAK1 activity. In the same way the work on the recognition of AVR-Pik effector from M. oryzae by NLR immune receptor Pik in rice from Dr Mark Banfield of the John Innes Centre was also very interesting; specifically how recognition differs due to the allelic differences in the effectors and plant resistant proteins within the context of hostpathogen co-evolutionary interaction.
I’m very grateful to the society for the travel grant which let me participate in this conference and present my work, helping me as PhD student to follow the right course of my research.
The congress was an excellent environment in which to network with other researchers and provided exposure to a variety of new ideas and trends in molecular plant-microbe interactions. Although I attended many sessions, particularly, sessions on cell biology of microbe-host interactions, cell wall-mediated resistance, emerging systems and recognition of plant immunity were more interesting for me because some ideas presented in those sessions are applicable to my studies. Specifically, the talk by Dr Bethke was one of the most interesting talks about the critical role of GAE1 and GAE6 for pectin abundance, cell wall integrity and immunity in Arabidopsis thaliana, demonstrating that UDP-D-glucuronic acid is essential for pectin building blocks and that GAEs are involved in the production of pectin.
I was impressed with the Congress App, which allowed me to easily follow the program and attend the talks that I was interested in seeing. I also gained experience in poster presenting, showing my results to a large audience. The broad range of topics allowed me to place my work in the wider context of other pathogen systems. Additionally, as a final year PhD student, I caught a chance to meet with Principal Investigators who work to discuss my future career plans. Thus attending the congress, funded by a travel award, gave a massive benefit not only to building my academic career, but also in gaining new perspectives on plantmicrobe interactions.
Refik Bozbuga University of Leeds
One of the highlights of the Congress is the excellent line up of speakers. For the IS-MPMI Award Lecture, Sharon Long presented her group’s work on bacterial cell dynamics in symbiosis. Sharon shared her academic journey with the audience, which I found inspiring. She also gave us all a gentle reminder to sometime take a step back and reassess the experiments we are doing and why are we doing it.
My research interest lies in the tritrophic interaction between a plant virus, its host plant and its insect vector. I was fortunate to be invited to give an oral presentation during one of the concurrent sessions. In the same session, Clare Casteel (UC Davis) presented on how a plant virus can somehow ‘recognise’ the presence of its insect vector, the aphids, and respond actively to promote increased vector reproduction. NIa-Pro viral protein from Turnip mosaic virus responds to the presence of the aphid vector during infection by relocalising from the nucleus to the vacuole. Tom Vincent (John Innes Centre) showed video recordings of calcium bursts on GFPGCamP Arabidopsis caused by aphid stylet activities. Tom investigates the role of calcium signalling in aphid-plant interaction.
On the last day, Ken Shirashu (RIKEN) presented their work using Phtheirospermum japonicum, a facultative parasitic plant. Parasitic plants initiate haustoria formation upon the recognition of host roots. He showed captivating video recordings, following haustorium development in P. japonicum whereby local auxin biosynthesis is needed to facilitate this process.
I would like to thank BSPP for the travel award. I had thoroughly enjoyed the variety of talks on offer, ranging from microbial manipulation of host plants to translational research for the developing countries, as well as the chance to visit Portland! Lastly, it was also a mini reunion for us, previous lab members from John Carr’s group (University of Cambridge).
Trisna Tungadi University of Cambridge
I was lucky enough to be able to receive a travel grant from BSPP to attend the congress, giving me a great opportunity to get a broader understanding of the work being done all around the world on plant microbe interactions. It was great to be able to step back from the specifics of my PhD to look at the broader context of plant pathology and get new ideas and insights for my own work. There were a huge range of talks and some of those I found most interesting and intriguing were on topics completely unrelated to anything I have worked on so far, particularly talks on Xylella fastidiosa by Steve Lindow and a number of talks on Magnaporthe oryzae. Aside from the talks, I found the poster sessions very informative and I had good feedback on the poster I presented, as well as some useful advice on how I could improve in the future.
The travel award also enabled me to attend the satellite powdery mildew meeting. Here I had the opportunity to give a presentation of my work to the rest of the powdery mildew community, keep up with other developments in the field and contribute to discussions on the future of powdery mildew research.
Overall, I found attending the conference hugely beneficial, not only to my current research but also to my future career. I would not have been able to attend without the support of BSPP so thank you very much!
The congress highlighted the latest advances in fundamental research critical for advancements in agricultural science. The sessions included a good mix of established and young investigators working on pathogenic and symbiotic interactions using diverse biological systems. The whole meeting was brilliant, but of course there are always some talks which stand out. For me one such talk was by Dinesh- Kumar, who showed with elegant microscopy and movies how chloroplasts ‘communicate’, via stromules, with nuclei during innate immunity. Dinesh-Kumar went on to show how a chloroplast-localised defence protein NRIP1 accumulated in the nucleus during the immune response, possibly via chloroplast-tonuclear associations. Consistent with these findings, constitutive induction of stromules leads to an enhanced programmed cell death response.
One very highly attended talk ‘Finally: A biochemical function for the pathogenesis-related protein 1’ was given by Jordi Gamir from the University of Fribourg. Jordi showed that PR-proteins of tobacco and tomato can rescue the sterol export defect of a yeast mutant, suggesting that PR-1 binds sterols in the secretory pathway and mediate their export. Furthermore PR-1 proteins have an in vitro sterol binding activity, and the sterol binding capacity is the cause of the antimicrobial activity, as addition of sterols titrated the inhibitory activity. In summary, genetic and biochemical evidence for the capacity of PR-1 proteins to bind sterols was provided, and the sterol-binding activity was shown to be the mode of action of its antimicrobial activity.
Mari-Anne Newman University of Copenhagen, Denmark
This was my first visit to an MPMI conference and it was a great experience. I was not just able to catch up with a lot of friends and colleagues from my previous positions, I also had a chance to learn a lot of new things and meet new interesting people. I was particularly impressed by some of the plenary speakers who went beyond the standard molecular plant-microbe approach. Particularly Sally Millers talk about translational Plant Pathology was inspiring.
A second highlight for me was my own presentation. I don’t want to say that the presentation itself was the best thing that could happen to MPMI. No, I particularly enjoyed the discussions I had with many people afterwards, generating new insights and thinking of possible new avenues of research. This kind of interactions and discussions are exactly what makes a conference good and worth attending. I am sure that I will be able to use many of these suggestions in my future research and if we’re lucky, we can even turn some of them in to larger collaborative projects. So, I am already looking forward to the next edition in Glasgow in 2019 to discuss the outcomes of all these new experiments.
This year’s MPMI congress was very well organised and had a good range of talks on offer. An important area of exciting research clearly highlighted at this meeting is the regulation of the plant immune system by microRNAs (miRNAs). A conserved role for miRNAs in gene regulation of NB-LRRs in Solanaceae which leads to pathogen resistance was talked about by Barbra Baker from UC Berkeley. She highlighted 22nt and 21nt miRNA families that regulate resistance in tobacco, tomato and potato using DCL4 dependant silencing. Another talk on miRNAs and phased, secondary small interfering (phasi)RNAs was by Qili Fei from the Chinese Academy of Science where he talked about the overexpression of miRNAs inducing phasiRNA production which may target NB-LRRs. He also described a lineage specific miRNA (miR1510) which is found in Legumes and may target over 100 NB-LRRs in soybean.
Another interesting talk was by Steven Lindow from University of California on the use of Burkholderia phytofirmans as a biocontrol agent for Pierce’s disease of grape which is caused by Xylella fastidiosa. X. fastidiosa is a xylem colonist which in high infection blocks the flow of fluid in the xylem. It also creates a biofilm which reduces its movement of the bacteria by increasing its adhesiveness. Signalling molecules which increase this adhesiveness are produced by B. phytofirmans therefore when B. phytofirmans and X. fastidiosa are applied in combination to grape plants there is a reduced infection by X. fastidiosa.
Susan Breen The Australian National University
I found the poster session very big – I think around 725 posters were displayed during the entire Congress! It gave me the opportunity to discuss my research and ideas with scientists from different research backgrounds all around the world. In addition, there was a training session on bioinformatics which was quite helpful for beginners.
This meeting offered a diverse programme that significantly broadening my knowledge base by exposing me to the very latest concepts and models in the respective fields. In addition, we were provided with a free pass of Portland’s MAX light rail which helped us to explore the city and made a convenient option to reach the convention centre. The closing event was in a ballroom, including the opportunity to sample wines from local wineries. Adding to the fun, there was a photo booth and live entertainment by Blue Wave band. This helps us to mix and mingle with congress attendees.
Importantly, it allowed plenty of time for networking, particularly at the poster session. The location of conference was huge and spectacular to facilitate discussions. The timetable of the conference very well organised. I would like to thanks the BSPP for providing the travel fund, which enable me to present my research at such an important international conference.
This year I attended my very first MPMI congress. It was a great experience overall, and I was happy to meet many fellow scientists, friends and colleagues to discuss science. The meeting features many great presentations, and I would like to highlight two in particular. Firstly, a truly fascinating plenary presentation by the Young Investigator Awardee Dr Dong Wang.
Dong Wang presented his recent work, published in the January issue of Nature Plants, on the role of alternative transcription in specialised secretion in plant-microbe symbiosis. He showed that the Medicago gene SYP132 undergoes alternative transcription resulting in two distinct membrane receptor isoforms. Both isoforms have different functions and are important in distinct processes, one of them being symbiosis. Another enthralling talk was delivered by Prof Steven Lindow.
Steven talked about his recent progress in understanding the pathology of the endophytic plant pathogen Xylella fastidiosa, causal agent of Pierce’s disease, and their efforts to reduce disease severity through the biological control agent Burkholderia phytofirmans. The latter greatly reduces disease severity through production of DSF-related compounds that induce biofilm formation in Xylella. It was a pleasure meeting Steven over a great dinner with many others at the Deschutes brewery Portland Public House. All in all, it was a great meeting, and many more highlights other than the two mentioned were part of this. I am very grateful to BSPP for supporting my visit to Portland allowing me to interact with many fellow scientists.
Ronnie de Jonge