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The 12th Congress of the International Plant Molecular Biology (IPMB) is a triennial meeting gathering 1000-1200 plant molecular biologists from all over the world since 1984. With the help of a BSPP travel grant I attended this conference and presented a poster to wider scientific circles. I found it a fantastic conference that covered a diverse range of topics that broadened my plant molecular biology knowledge. I also got opportunity to meet academics and researchers from different countries and make international contacts.
I am fascinated and excited by working in this Plant Molecular Biology field. The congress featured two keynote speakers, 15 plenary sessions organised by globally recognised plant scientists, and 50 concurrent sessions highlighting major recent discoveries from basic molecular biology to crop biotechnology. The sessions have demonstrated the importance of plant molecular biology to fulfil the need for the development of an ecologically intensive farming. The dedicated poster sessions made the congress the perfect venue for me to share my research and network with my peers (pictured opposite). The meeting was really a mind opening experience. The scientific programme has provided the chance to learn and listen to different points of view and learn new ideas and trends in this field, especially the sessions which connect to my projects. I have get to know new tools and skills which I cannot be taught in-house or online. The focused nature of learning at this conference allows me to dig deeper with the understanding of my topic of interest.
The keynote speaker Pamela Ronald presented an excellent example of how rice XA21 immune receptor confers resistance to Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae (Xoo) and how CRISPR Cas9 genome editing has been used to generate rice plants. He has explained that plant scientists would wish to seize opportunities to describe their research to non-scientists. Such conversations will ensure consumers are engaged in the important challenge of helping farmers produce nutritious food in a productive and ecologically-based manner. This is indeed such an important debate surrounding crop bioengineering. One of the most exciting talks was a talk by Prof. Wenbo Ma (University of California, Riverside) who enlightened us on the RNAi suppressors encoded by the pathogen Phytophthora. She has showed that RNAi as an antimicrobial mechanism targeting eukaryotic pathogens and establish a new paradigm of plantpathogen arms race including both defense and counter-defense components. Another really remarkable talk was presented by Xinnian Dong (Duke University). She presented how host cells may respond to pathogen infection and selectively synthesise defense-proteins to mount immune responses. The work has discovered a transcription factor (TBF1) control the growth to defense transition in plants. Her work would provide an effective new strategy for minimising fitness costs associated with broad-spectrum disease resistance and reducing the selective pressure for resistant pathogens.
The 50 concurrent sessions were executed very well. However, there were still a lot of exciting talks occurring at the same time. I wished I could attend the talks as many as I could because there are so many interesting talks and I wanted to learn as much as I could. I have learned a lot about the state of art of plant immune system (Hailing Jin, University of California; Yoji Kawano, Shanghai Center for Plant Stress Biology), mechanisms of biotic interactions (Jianming Zhou, Chinese Academy of Sciences; Bart Thomma, Wageningen University) and plant receptors (Thomas Kroj), Signaling in Plant Biotic Interactions (Jonathan Jones, The Sainsbury Laboratory), Protein Modification and Degradation (Ari Sadanandom, Durham University). I was glad I was able to converse with those researchers I have heard or read about to discuss the connections to my own research and to seek their career advice. It will be important for me to make connections and to further establish myself in my field of study. In the meantime, I also made some new friends in this conference that we shared the experience.
I would like to thank the British Society for Plant Pathology for giving me this opportunity to attend this conference! The seven day trip at 2018 IPMB has expended my horizon considerably, I met and talked with excellent researchers, and got feedback on my work from experts and influencers that would help me improve as a scientist.
Qin He, University of Dundee and James Hutton Institute
The International Plant Molecular Biology meeting is a triennial congress and was a very high-quality meeting, and not only for the first-rate catering services and the standards of the venue. It is true that it was very pleasant to attend presentations in the superb Corum conference centre, ideally refreshed despite the heat wave in Montpellier. But the most striking point of the conference has been the diversity and the quality of the presentations. The number of worldclass scientists from the Molecular Plant -Microbe Interactions field was impressive for a general molecular biology meeting. Bart Thomma, from Wageningen University, presented his research on Verticillium dahliae which causes wilt disease in olive tree and cotton. He used comparative genomics to investigate the differences between the defoliating and non-defoliating strains. His work notably enabled him to associate some genetic markers with host range of Verticillium strains. Xinnian Dong, from the Duke University, developed previous work on uORFs (open reading frames upstream of TBF1) to engineer resistant rice. Lei Li, from Max Plank Institute, characterised the nature of the interaction between RPP7 and the atypical Resistance-protein RPW8. It was known that some crosses between Arabidopsis accessions result in hybrid necrosis in F1 due to presence of incompatible allele of RPP7 and RPW8. He demonstrated physical interaction between RPW8 and RPP7 and within domains of RPP7, to propose a model were RPW8 triggers conformational changes in RPP7 leading to activation of immunity. Brian Staskawicz presented the new high throughput CRISPR platform he is establishing at UC Berkeley in collaboration with Jennifer Doudna.
Pamela Ronald, from UC Davis, was one of the key-note speakers of the meeting. She was originally scheduled for the opening plenary session of the meeting, but due to bad weather conditions in the USA, her flight was cancelled. We thought that she will cancel her presence at the meeting but luckily, she could take another flight and give her presentation two days after. She is a fantastic speaker as she integrates her molecular biology background into the global challenge of feeding the world population. I had the chance to attend one of her talks a few years ago at the John Innes Centre. For IPMB2018, she updated her presentation with recent work on XA21, a rice Resistance-protein to Xanthomonas oryzae pv. oryzae that she cloned in 1995. She presented the sulphated effector RaxX that mimics PSY peptides to promote Arabidopsis root growth and which can also be recognised by XA21, leading to activation of immunity.
Beyond Plant-Microbes Interactions, many topics were covered at this conference and I could attend presentations out of the boundaries of my PhD project. Rainer Hedrich, from Wuerzburg University, works on a very atypical plant: the Venus flytrap Dionaea muscipula. He explained to us that the presence of a fly on the trap of this carnivorous plant is detected by trigger hairs. These organs trigger osmotic potential upon mechanical excitation, leading to rapid closure of the trap. The most fascinating is that it needs two electrical impulses to close the trap and five to activate digestion: plant can count to five! Detlef Weigel took advantage of the absence of Pamela Ronald at the opening plenary session to discuss the recent ban of CRISPR-modified crops by the EU. As expected he regretted that the EU did not follow the voice of scientists but more importantly, he presented a new argument. Using wheat genomic dataset collected for several generations, he established that the number of naturally occurring mutations was higher than 1010 per field. Thus, mutagenesis is a natural and common phenomenon. Moreover, these mutations are random while CRISPR induced mutation are precise and targeted. During the discussion following his presentation, a petition was advertised and is still available (urlz. fr/8fCa).
Finally, I had the chance to attend this meeting to present unpublished data about NRG1, a helper NLR required for the activity of many Resistance proteins. I got the opportunity to discuss my results with world-class scientists. This was very helpful for a publication which was at that time under review. Thus, I feel very lucky to have attend this fantastic meeting and I thank BSPP for having financially supported my presence there.
Baptiste Castel The Sainsbury Laboratory