AHDB Crop Research Conference: Knowing your enemy

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Published on: October 9, 2013

GARNet Research and Engagement Officer Lisa Martin reports on the AHDB Crop Research Conference.

On 25 September, I hopped on the train down to London to attend the Agriculture and Horticulture Development Board (AHDB)’s Crop Research Conference. This event set out to bring together researchers and the agricultural industry “to take the latest research out of the laboratory and into the field”. The theme for the day was “Knowing your enemy – the future of crop protection” and speakers were divided into three categories.

In ‘Advances in Genomics’ we heard from Lin Field from Rothamsted Research, who spoke about her work in insect genomics. Paul Birch from the James Hutton Institute also provided insights into Phytophthera pathogenomics and disease resistance, while Rick Mumford from the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) spoke on the subject of advances in plant diagnostics.

In particular, Dr Mumford highlighted the recent development of Loop-mediated isothermal AMPlification (LAMP) technology; a rapid, field-based diagnostic method of DNA amplification that has the ability to produce conclusive test results in as little as 10–15 minutes, and provides improvements over traditional PCR methods. He also spoke about how next generation sequencing (NGS) is being used to identify new plant viruses, especially a recent breakthrough in identifying a novel virus responsible for internal carrot browning.

On to ‘Population and Evolutionary Biology’. In this section, John Lucas from Rothamsted Research gave an update on the evolution of fungicide resistance, while Paul Nicholson from the John Innes Centre spoke on the subject of wheat resistance to Fusarium head blight. Rothamsted’s Stephen Parnell also gave a very interesting talk on how mathematical modelling can help predict the spread of pests and diseases through early warning surveillance.

Also in this section was a presentation by Paul Neve from the University of Warwick’s Crop Centre, which was on the subject of herbicide resistance in weeds. Dr Neve explained that low rate herbicide application allows for the selection of hereditary resistance traits in weeds, and once that resistance is endemic, it can have devastating effects. To this end, Dr Neve’s work mostly focuses on understanding the evolutionary processes that lead to resistance, as this, he believes, is the key to combating the outcomes of resistance.

L-R: Allan Downie, Jurriaan Ton, Alison Karley and panel Chair Keith Norman from Velcourt Ltd. Photo by Lisa Martin.

Lastly, after lunch, it was time for some ‘Lessons from Ecology’ and here presentations were given by Alison Karley, an agroecologist from the James Hutton Institute who works on optimising biocontrol; Jurriaan Ton from the University of Sheffield who brought us up to speed with recent advances in understanding and manipulating plant immunity; and finally Allan Downie from the John Innes Centre and co-ordinator of the Nornex consortium of scientists working on Ash Dieback disease.

A champion of open access, Professor Downie declared that “open access data will revolutionise science” and highlighted the ways in which crowdsourcing and citizen science are being used to understand Ash Dieback. These methods include the Facebook game Fraxinus that has allowed members of the public to help increase understanding of the Hymenoscyphus pseudoalbidus (a.k.a. Chalara fraxinea) genome, and the open access website OpenAshDieback, to which scientists are being encouraged to contribute data analysis and knowledge in the hope of, ultimately, limiting the impact of Ash Dieback.

To end on a high note over wine and canapés, the Science Minister David Willetts had been invited to present awards to the winners of a PhD student poster competition. The deserving winner was Rachel Goddard from John Innes Centre whose work on finding alternative semi-dwarfing genes that confer yield benefits to crop plants without compromising plant immunity caught the judges’ eyes. Congratulations, Rachel!

I live-tweeted throughout the conference, so please check out @GARNetweets for more insights, or search Twitter for #AHDBconf. You can also find the poster and speaker abstracts, and the speaker presentations, on the HGCA website here, and photos of the event are here.

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