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The symposium was held in Traverse City, Michigan, USA. It was actually the 15th of a series of Fire Blight meetings that have been going on for over 40 years. It was attended by ~100 guests and included a great mix of growers, agricultural companies and scientists all enthusiastic about Fire Blight! It was organised by Professor George Sundin (Michigan State University) and sponsored by various companies including Certis USA, Michigan Apple Committee and Michigan Tree Fruit Commission. Fire Blight is a major bacterial disease of apple and other Rosaceaous species in the USA, Europe, New Zealand and more recently South Korea. This meant a diverse range of international guests were present and the symposium succeeded in bringing experts together to enable global collaboration on this disease.
The conference began with a tribute to Eve Billing who worked on Fire Blight in the UK for > 20 years at East Malling Research (now NIAB EMR, where I am based). Professor Sundin gave a heartfelt presentation about her contributions to both the field and to his and many other researchers career development.
It was inspiring to all and highlighted how even her original papers from the 1960s are motivating current students working on the disease.
The programme included an excellent mix of fundamental and more applied research. There were several talks on resistance breeding in apple genetics, including a nice talk by Sarah Kostick on their advancements at Washington State towards understanding the variation in fire blight susceptibility using multi-parental populations. There were also several talks on bacterial comparative genomics to understand the origins and track the movement of Erwinia, including one by Quan Zeng who pinpointed the precise origins in the USA.
Finally, there were some interesting talks on virulence regulation by Michigan State graduate students and alumni; Roshni Kharadi (cyclic-di-GMP) and Jingyu Peng and Jeff Schachterle (small RNAs). Erwinia amylovora is a fascinating bacterial species that has multiple stages to its pathogenicity, including infection of different plant tissues that require precise regulation of virulence.
On the applied side, Suzanne Slack gave an excellent overview of her research on Fire Blight epidemiology and bacterial population dynamics which has important implications for when to apply control measures. Her talk included data from overnight sampling, highlighting her dedication to her graduate studies! There were also various talks on novel biocontrol measures such as bacteriophages (which are viruses that kill bacteria) including a keynote by Antonet Svircev who leads a team in Ontario Canada working on phage biology and control.
The conference included an afternoon networking trip around the Old Mission peninsula on Lake Michigan. We visited several apple growers who gave their insights into the disease. The tour included a visit to a quaint American-style lighthouse and some Petoskey stone hunting on the lakes shores (which felt more like a sea). We visited and had a tour around Chateau Grand Traverse Winery, notably the first large-scale planting on Vitis vinifera in Michigan and sampled their wine with views Lake Michigan. We ended the tours at Tandem Cidery, owned by Dan Young and Nikki Rothwell who hosted us for the conference dinner. A fitting venue for a group of apple researchers!
I am extremely grateful to the BSPP for funding my travel to this conference.
The conference brought researchers from around the world and it was inspiring to hear them talk about their research.
The importance of collaborating was really clear from ending discussions, particularly in terms of sharing genome sequences and methodologies.
Attendance has allowed me to make new contacts and also learn about new techniques that can be used in future research of these important pathogens.
Dr Michelle Hulin NIAB-EMR, East Malling, Kent