A Summary of the 2014 BSPP Presidential Conference

24 Sep 2014

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The BSPP Presidential Conference 2014 titled “Some Like it Hot” was opened by Prof. Sarah Gurr from The University of Exeter. Sarah gave a broad perspective on global distributions of disease-causing microorganisms, particularly the fungi and oomycetes, moving on to discuss the poleward spread of many of these plant disease causing agents. Sarah’s talk paid particular attention to the difficulties of modelling pathogen movements due to inconsistencies between countries’ pathogen reporting capabilities – a problem linked to factors such as differences in GDP and research funding.

The broad perspective was maintained through the first morning with Karen Garret discussing the need to address problems such as the integration of agricultural disease and pest management in climate change scenario analyses. Nicola Spence, UK chief plant scientist, gave a fascinating and pragmatic description of the UK’s work in protecting itself against emerging diseases. Jim Beynon brought focus to the conference, using a systems biology approach to study the gene regulatory networks mediating the plant response to (often multiple) environmental stresses. BSPP President Lesley Torrance (pictured, left) completed the morning by giving climate change a very practical slant using evidence on virus susceptibility in heat-stressed plants.

Laura Steven was awarded the PH Gregory prize for her presentation on the P. infestans: potato, AVR3a:R3a interaction – a prize won despite very strong competition with all students presenting their work in clear detail. Laura’s work generated vocal excitement at the conference when she was encouraged to skip dinner and get back to the lab bench to continue her exciting work with shuffled potato R genes!  The J Colhoun poster prize was eventually awarded to Douglas Pyott for his presentation of experiments on potyvirus infections - the high quality of all entrants to the competition had made the judges’ decision a long one. The first day finished with an evening ceilidh which was enjoyed by all.

The second day of the conference contained talks with very different outlooks. Ian Barker (Syngenta Foundation), Greg Forbes (International Potato Centre) and Michael Rutherford (Cab International) gave us fascinating looks at the ways in which plant pathology and logistics can be applied in short response times to help farmers in developing countries. Finally, Rick Bennett (pictured, right) of Arkansas University spoke to us as the American Phytopathological Society president. There are obvious parallels between the activities of the BSPP and the APS, but also interesting differences including the APS’s advocacy to politicians. Rick’s personal message to British phytopathologists was to take care of long-term collections; isolate collections are valuable and irreplaceable. The APS has secured resources to maintain isolate collections at risk from discontinuation. Anyone interested should contact the APS directly to find out what aid can be found.

The 2014 BSPP Presidential conference was a great success, it provided the stage for a global perspective and UK-specific focus and allowed for networking and discussion opportunities within an ever present friendly atmosphere.