BSPP News Autumn 2000 - Online Edition

The Newsletter of the British Society for Plant Pathology
Number 37, Autumn 2000 

Contents of BSPP Newsletter 37

BSPP's President in 2000 - a Plant Pathologist with a Cellular Streak

This year's President, John Mansfield, was first attracted to plant pathology during a year out between school and university.  He was fortunate to work with Plant Protection (ICI) Ltd some years pre-Zeneca, as a field trials assistant.  Most trials were with aphicides on sugarbeet in France, an experience which confirmed a lack of interest in insects but a quest for the virus diseases they were supposed to spread and the leaf spots which ruined the trials!  As an undergraduate at Bangor, pathological and mycological interests were kindled by Bob Whitbread and Dave Shaw.  It is surprising how final year projects make their mark as John's were on bean halo-blight (a subject of current research) and somatic recombination in Sodaria brevicollis (it did not work by the way).  In fact Bob Whitbread still owes John ten shillings (it was a long time ago) for a bet placed on ability to infect unifoliate bean leaves - Pseudomonas won of course.

In the golden age of physiological plant pathology John was fortunate to study for his PhD in the Botany Department at Imperial College under the supervision of Brian Deverall.  In a hotbed of phytoalexins, pectinases and obligate parasites he was able to work alongside such luminaries as Michele Heath, Nigel Hardwick, Peter Mercer, John Bailey, Gary Lyon and Richard Cooper.  The latter being a member of the same football team which graced Kensington Gardens and Wormwood Scrubs (playing fields).  His project was an investigation of mechanisms of resistance to Botrytis in faba bean.  The host specificity of Botrytis fabae was linked to its tolerance to the bean phytoalexin identified as wyerone acid.

After a year as a demonstrator at I.C. he moved directly to a lectureship at Stirling University in 1972.  Lecturing without post-doctoral experience was not particularly unusual in those days.  The expansion of the new university at Stirling meant that he joined a group of 20 new lecturers on a short "teachers' training" course - things have changed.  Research at Stirling focussed on phytoalexins and Botrytis and John was particularly fortunate to have excellent research students at the early stage of his career.  The number of phytoalexins from bean rapidly increased in John Hargreaves' hands from one to eight.  The value of electron microscopy (EM) to establish the structural framework for plant-pathogen interactions was demonstrated in collaboration with Roy Sexton.  Field pathology was not ignored as narcissus smoulder offered the opportunity of a move from bean to bulb with Tim O'Neill.  It always seems surprising that south of Aberdeen is an important daffodil growing area.

John moved south to Wye College to replace George Pegg as Lecturer in Plant Pathology.  It is somewhat ironic that wyerone was discovered at Wye (as, "Wye compound one") by Louis Wain's group in the ARC Unit.  The phytoalexin was initially thought to be a preformed inhibitor.  The move to Wye in 1981 prompted a change in research direction with emphasis on gene-for-gene interactions; resistance in lettuce to Bremia and Phaseolus bean to Pseudomonas syringae pv. phaseolicola.  Wye already had a good EM unit run by Shelagh Reardon and with Ian Brown's assistance microscopical activities have continued.  The hop research department at Wye also offered opportunities for work on resistance to powdery mildew.  There seemed to be so many more diseases in Kent than Stirlingshire!  Samples for practicals, in particular an excellent range of rusts and oomycetes could simply be picked from the allotments next to the College.  John's garden remains a paradise for apple scab and Sclerotinia laxa.  The emerging power of molecular genetics to unravel pathogenicity, and gene-for-gene resistance was brought home by discussions with Mike Daniels in the 80s and with help from Mike, Alan Vivian, John Taylor and not least Eve Billing, projects on cloning avirulence and virulence genes were established.  Research is now addressing the modes of action of virulence factors produced by P. syringae.  Phytoalexins are, however, not forgotten as Mark Bennett at Wye continues to recover previously unknown but biologically active secondary metabolites from a wide range of vegetables. The attraction of Wye to overseas students has also allowed projects to develop on a range of diseases from millet smut and cashew mildew in Africa , to Sclerotinia on cauliflowers in Nepal.

The "moving finger writes etc...." but instead of moving on seems to return to the starting sentence.  Having followed wyerone to Wye, John will be returning to Imperial as the two Colleges merge in July.  Wye will no longer be independent and will be known as "Imperial College at Wye".  The merger offers further opportunities for collaborative research and teaching.  The blend of molecular biologists and crop protection specialists at Imperial mirrors the mixture of scientists we have in BSPP.  Synergistic interactions between different groups will be essential for the Society as well as IC in years to come.  Integration between the spectrum of specialists that make up BSPP is seen as an important theme for John's Presidential year.  In order to encourage molecular biologists into the BSPP fold the theme for the December meeting will be the basic science that underpins our understanding of plant-pathogen interactions.


A green and pleasant land, but for how much longer?

It is dispiriting to read, in several articles in this issue of BSPP News, that many arable farmers are 'leaving the industry', a euphemism for a situation that ranges from deciding to quit while the debts can still be repaid through to total bankruptcy. The crisis has expanded from livestock and fishing to include pigs, eggs, dairying and now cereals. It is a over hundred years since farming faced such turmoil. Then, fields were abandoned, landscape reverted to scrub and Britain relied on imports. The same fate confronts us today.

The irony in the present situation is that there is strong public demand for better management of the environment. In the British context, that should mean management by farmers, as almost every important wildlife habitat is the creation of agriculture. New Labour's plans for the environment have been slow to appear, but we cannot be especially optimistic that they will be genuinely beneficial. The attitude of the government to the countryside is exemplified by its handling of animal welfare. One government body requires the use of some of the highest (and most expensive) welfare standards in the world, an approach which is supported by almost all livestock farmers. A second body, however, prohibits shops from labelling food as being produced in Britain, so consumers cannot know when meat has been produced to these high standards. A third body is attempting, merely for its own administrative convenience, to close down small, rural slaughterhouses, so condemning beasts reared in these high welfare conditions to a last journey of up to 200 km, suffering from fear, thirst and the risk of injury from slipping on filthy lorry floors. No wonder farmers are in despair.

If our environment is to flourish, we need a healthy agricultural industry, in which farmers can produce the food we need in a way that supports wildlife diversity and public enjoyment of the countryside. The example of animal welfare must raise fears that the government will take a negative approach to environmental protection, with contradictory regulations, lacking scientific validity. This would only worsen the countryside crisis and would therefore be wholly counter-productive. Instead, farmers should have positive incentives to manage the environment effectively, with the support of sound scientific guidance. Far too often, public opinion supposes that farmers are hostile to wildlife. Not so: good farming should include - and historically has included - good management of the farm environment.

James  Brown

From the Membership Secretary

Journal Subscriptions

It's been a busy year on the membership secretary front with more problems along the way than usual. Some of these have had an effect on the quality of service to the membership, so I would like to take this opportunity to explain the problems that some members have encountered.

The single biggest change was, of course, the launch of Molecular Plant Pathology and the attendant variations in the membership subscription. To make things easier, I agreed with Blackwell that the default option would be a subscription to Plant Pathology, and that I need only inform them of variations to that.  Things seemed to have gone according to plan until I got a call from Nigel Hardwick in February to say that his copy of Plant Pathology had not arrived. Subsequent enquiries revealed that this was the tip of an iceberg; the only members who had received Plant Pathology were those whom I had informed Blackwell had changed their subscription option to include Molecular Plant Pathology or Synergy as well. As this included myself, I had been unaware of the problem.

An unfortunate case of wires getting crossed somewhere along the line (the usual procedure is that I inform Blackwell of members who won't be renewing and they continue to send out Plant Pathology until told otherwise)  leading to what was not my best day as membership secretary.  Fortunately, Nigel's prompt warning meant that the situation could be dealt with quickly and members received their missing copies around 3 weeks late.  I alerted fellow BSPP Board members at the time, so that they could deal with enquiries from colleagues, but would like to take this opportunity to apologise to the wider membership for the inconvenience caused.

Membership database

On a more positive note, I have been concentrating my efforts on upgrading and changing the membership database. Next year will be my last as membership secretary and my intention is to pass on to my successor a system that cuts out a great deal of the more tedious work, with automated generation of reports and so on. I will write more on the new system for the next newsletter.
Meanwhile the on-line version of the database will also be updated, following its imminent change of server to one at HRI Wellesbourne. This should bring it right up to date and make it a much more useful resource. It is intended that, as part of the general overhaul, it should be fully updated every 6 months or so. Members will still be able to update their own entries in the meantime.

In the next newsletter I will use the new database to provide some statistical information about the membership and also give a full account of what the job entails including, believe it or not, its many bright spots. One of my intentions is to give potential successors an idea of what the job entails. If you have any queries that you would like answered and which you think would be of more general interest, let me know and I will answer them in the article. However please don't ask me why it is that banks suddenly cancel direct debits at random and without warning. There are some mysteries that we mere humans are not meant to know.

Kevin O'Donnell, Membership Secretary. E-mail:

BSPP Undergraduate Vacation Bursaries

BSPP awarded Undergraduate Vacation Bursaries to the following students to work in the lab of a BSPP member over the summer of 2000. Reports by the students on their projects will appear in the Spring 2001 issue (no. 38) of BSPP News. Details of how to apply for a BSPP Undergraduate Vacation Bursary for summer 2001 can be found in the BSPP web pages.

Elizabeth Byron, University of Hertfordshire and University of Wisonson-Eau Claire, to work with Avice Hall, University of Hertfordshire, on fungicide resistance in Diplocarpon rosae.

David Chilton, Brunel University, to work with Dr B Fitt at the Institute of Arable Crops Research Rothamsted, on resistance of Mycosphaerella linicola to MBC fungicides.

Charlotte Hogg, Strathclyde University & Scottish Agricultural College, to work with Peter Scott, CAB International, on information required for quarantine pest risk analysis.

Joanne Perkins, University of Birmingham, to work with Jonathan Green on development of appressoria of the bean anthracnose fungus Colletotrichum lindemuthianum.

Marianne White, University of Glasgow, to work with Tony Reglinski, HortResearch, New Zealand, on combining systemic acquired resistance and induced systemic resistance to enhance disease resistance of hydroponically-grown glasshouse tomatoes.

Helen Wicks, University of Nottingham, to work with Neal Evans, IACR-Rothamsted, on cultural and molecular analysis of the UK Leptosphaeria maculans (stem canker) population.

aMaizing Plant Disease Game

Whether or not you attended ICPP '98 in Edinburgh you can have a chance to experience this computer game, which was developed by Ian Finlayson (CLUES, University of Aberdeen) for the event.

Test your wits with this entertaining, role playing quickie! Your task is to grow your crop, beat the fungus and make a profit. The programme guides you to firstly choose a variety. You get descriptions of the varieties, such as expected yield and level of disease resistance and of course price. You then choose a fertiliser - yet more difficult decisions to make! You then decide on your fungicide programme. Six times throughout the growing season, you can select from 'no fungicide' or three fungicides with varying efficiency.  They all have their good and bad points, and you can watch your crop grow (disease shows up as bright yellow on the plants). Once the season is over, your score is announced, and a breakdown of costs, sale price and profit is displayed. Plant pathologists can test their understanding of the costs and benefits of disease control. Applying fungicide too late allows too much disease to develop, so you lose money. Apply it too early means that you don't control late-season infections - so you lose money. Just when is the right time?

This is an enjoyable and simple game to use, which is bound to give anyone some sympathy for the crop grower! Try it !

Monica Maksymiak, University of Hertfordshire
For more information contact Dr Avice Hall, University of Hertfordshire. E-mail:

Letter to the Editor

Dear Editor,

As a consumer, I have become increasingly disturbed at the confusing reports concerning Genetically Engineered Foods that occasionally appear in the press. Due to the growing number of consumer groups and religious organizations that are calling for a ban on GE foods, I feel that the only safe choice is to completely boycott all products which contain such ingredients and convert to buying organic.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) of this country [USA - ed.] is currently been taken to court by its own scientists who are claiming that their findings into this new science are being ignored. They have filed a lawsuit that will compel the FDA to withdraw these new products from American shelves as (according to FDA's Life scientists and Biologists) they produce new forms of proteins that may be harmful to humans to consume, as their studies have shown on laboratory animals.

I think it is about time the American public was adequately informed about these new foods that are being forced down our throats. As almost all processed foods that appear on the shelves now contain a mixture of many of  these artificially produced foods, we have a right as consumers to know what foods contain these ingredients and which do not.

It is our right as consumers to know what we are eating and we can only make an informed choice through adequate labeling on food products. As the rest of the world is now in the process of banning such Frankenstein ingredients, even the European parliament refuses to serve GE foods to ministers, and Monsanto's own cafeteria does not serve GE foods to its staff!!

It will not be possible to make an informed choice about the food myself and my family consume until the FDA, at the very least, rules in favor of compulsory labeling of foodstuffs that contain Genetically Engineered ingredients. I feel, for this to take place, there must be a concerted effort of concerned consumers urging the FDA to legislate for the labeling of ALL products that contain such ingredients.

I sympathize with the plight of farmers today, who see their livelihoods threatened by consumers refusing to buy such hybrids. The only environmentally and ethically safe option is to farm organically. I hope the farmers see the error of following the financial motives of America's agribusiness.

For further details of the FDA's current court case, please see the following: "The Alliance for Bio-Integrity"

Yours Concerned,
Jennifer Smith, Chicago