Reports from ICAR 2013 – Sarah Harvey

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Published on: August 12, 2013

Sarah Harvey, from the Beynon Group at the University of Warwick, brings us our final report from ICAR 2013.

I am a final year PhD student working in Professor Jim Beynon’s group at the University of Warwick. Our group focuses on the interactions of Arabidopsis with the oomycete pathogen Hyaloperonospora arabidopsidis, a natural model system used for the molecular study of host-pathogen interactions. My project focuses on one effector protein identified from this pathogen and it’s molecular function within the host plant, including direct protein interactions and biochemical function, as well as transcriptional impacts on the host plant.

I was lucky enough to receive funding from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation through GARNet, and also from SEB and the Company of Biologists, which allowed me to attend The 24th International Conference on Arabidopsis Research (ICAR) in Sydney, June 2013. The conference is the world’s leading conference on Arabidopsis research and attracts many prominent researchers in the field as well as covering many areas of Arabidopsis research, for example biotic and abiotic stresses, epigenetics and hormones which were particularly interesting to me.

The conference was held at the Sydney Conference and Exhibition Centre with a stunning location at the waterfront of Darling harbour. The days consisted of a mixture of plenary and keynote lectures, as well as symposiums and workshops in which both invited speakers and those selected from abstracts presented their work. In addition to biotic interactions, one workshop that I particularly enjoyed was ‘translational biology’. Although not directly related to my own work, it was fascinating to hear of research such as that of Dr. Luis Herrera-Estrella, who has transformed plants with a bacterial gene, enabling them to metabolise phosphite. This provides an alternative to phosphate fertiliser, advantages being that it is less pH sensitive, already used as a fungicide and not metabolised by weeds, thus allowing crop plants to out-compete them. It was also interesting to hear that due to GM opposition, the field trials for this research needed to be carried out in Argentina!

I also attended a teaching session on plant science for early career scientists. During this session, Dr Gonzalo M. Estavillo presented about the novel strategy used in the course he is involved in teaching at Australian National University. This course is called ‘plant detectives’ and the students work in groups to design their own experiments, with the aim of identifying A. thaliana mutant seeds that they are provided with, along with wild type seeds. This sort of activity in the plant science community seems to me to be very important, as often students are often left uninterested in plant science at school and university, perhaps because of teaching approaches used or subject matter covered.

For me, the poster sessions were a definite highlight of the conference. Having never attended an international conference it was an invaluable experience, allowing me to both present my work and network with other researchers. My poster was positioned with others in the ‘biotic interactions’ category which meant that the atmosphere at these sessions was really great; I really enjoyed meeting researchers from all over the globe and being able to discuss scientific ideas and experiments, in addition to career progression and future plans. It was from these poster sessions that I made the most contacts and hopefully future friends and collaborators.

Thank you again to GARNet and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation for awarding me this grant and enabling me to attend this conference!

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