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.

Open access: How much is enough?

Categories: Open Access
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Published on: June 4, 2013

Nearly everyone is behind Open Access as an idea, but when RCUK demanded that all papers published from RCUK-funded groups be published open access it became clear that widespread, truly open access publication is still an idea and not a deliverable. The problem is that while scientists see the moral case for open access, and it is to their advantage to have as wide an audience as possible for their research, open access publishing can be extremely expensive, especially when academic careers are so invested in publications in high-impact, traditionally high-profile journals.

Open Access publishing can be cheap – national journals can even be free, though according Eigenfactor, there are no UK-based free plant science journals. PloS and BMC are charging around £1200 per article. When I looked up the OA fee on the BMC website, a friendly message popped up saying that the University of Warwick would pay half the publication fee if I submitted an article to them; other institutions will have similar schemes to help with payment of publication costs. Plant Physiology charge £750 for OA publication, though this is on top of often much larger pre-existing fees for colour publication and other costs. These figures seem reasonably affordable with the planned block grants to provide funding for article processing charges.

Article processing charges (APC) funding will come into force in academic year 2013/14, and during this time research institutions are expected to make sure 45% of papers are published OA. In mid 2014 the funding mechanism will be reviewed. Over the next few years, it is expected that the proportion of OA articles will go up – the target for 2014/15 is 53% at the time of writing.

However, I have heard from several people that some journals are charging a very high fee for OA publishing – in excess of £10 000. The APC fund will not be able to cover fees as large as that. So it is good news then that in April of this year, RCUK revised the original announcement that OA publication means ‘gold’ – ‘green’ OA is acceptable. This means that you can publish your work in many journals without paying the OA fee, and self-publish the paper in a format and forum agreed to by the publisher. In most cases this means you can put a non-formatted version of the accepted article on your website and in your institutional repository.


While researching this post on Open Access (OA), I found these webpages which will be of use to anyone who is confused about the RCUK OA policy:

  • Sherpa is an online tool from RCUK that explains users’ options for complying with their policy in the majority of journals. For example, if you search for ‘New Phytologist’ it explains that you can pay $3000 for the gold open access option, OR archive your article in an open access repository.
  • A commentary from The Times about April’s revision to RCUK’s OA policy.
  • RCUK’s Policy on Open Access FAQs (PDF) – you might not get as must detail as you want about the future of the OA policy, but this is the first place you should check if you have questions.
  • Stephen Curry regularly blogs about open access, and is one of the reasons RCUK had to clarify their stance on the importance of impact factors as a result of their OA policy – well worth a read.
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