Applications of plant pathology: from field to clinic- preview

In conjunction with the British Society for Plant Pathology, this meeting will cover rapid responses to emerging pathogens, both plant and clinical.

It will also focus on the plant microbiome and its importance for plant and human health, detection of viral pathogens and the soil resistome. Here’s a peek of some of the speakers and their abstracts.


Saskia Van WeesSaskia van Wees, Utrecht University, The Netherlands.

Saskia is leader of the ‘Hormonal regulation of plant immunity’ group at Utrecht University. In her PhD research she investigated the role of plant hormones in disease resistance induced by beneficial rhizobacteria.

During her post-doc period at Syngenta in San Diego (USA), she applied genomics studies to investigate plant defence signalling induced by microbial pathogens.

She was awarded the Dutch Innovative research VENI and VIDI grants with which she joined the University of Amsterdam and subsequently Utrecht University, to study how different hormone-induced signalling pathways are integrated to fine-tune defences against microbes and insects.

Insight in phytohormone-induced gene regulatory networks reveals unknown defence controllers

In nature, plants are subject to attack by a broad range of harmful pests and pathogens. To survive, plants have evolved sophisticated immune signalling networks that enable them to mount an effective defence response upon recognition of invaders. Plant hormones, especially salicylic acid (SA) and jasmonic acid (JA), emerged as core players in the orchestration of the signalling networks that underlie activation of plant defence responses.

The SA and JA pathways cross-communicate, providing plants with a highly flexible regulatory capacity to finely tune their defence responses against the attacker at hand. Moreover, a previous encounter with an attacker or with a beneficial microbe can prime plants to activate a faster and stronger SA- or JA-dependent defence response.

We take a systems approach to advance our understanding of the regulation of SA- and JA-induced defence responses. We performed high-resolution RNA-Seq time series of SA- and JA-treated Arabidopsis to build dynamic gene regulatory network models. This allowed us to uncover novel regulators of the individual hormone-induced responses. Soon, we will work on identifying regulators of hormone signal integration and of defence priming.

The significance of these novel regulatory components is validated by molecular and genetic analyses and by bioassays using pathogens and insects. Understanding how plants shape their hormone-induced pathways to effectively defend themselves against different harmful organisms will identify strategies for breeding agricultural crops with a cost-efficient resistance to improve yield and reduce the need for pesticides.



Eric Boa, University of Aberdeen, Scotland

I did my PhD in Leeds then went to work overseas for ten years, first in Bangladesh and then Indonesia, as part of ODA (now DFID) projects on bamboo and clove diseases respectively.

After a short spell at the Natural Resources Institute, I joined CABI and developed a strong interest in plant health services and extension more generally. I’ve worked in Africa, Asia, Latin America and more recently in Europe and Central Asia and have a catholic curiosity in many different crops and their plant health problems.

When at CABI I helped to establish the Global Plant Clinic (now Plantwise) at CABI, and set up a global network of community-based plant health clinics. I’ve also worked for a major cocoa producer in East Africa for some years and have a professional and consuming interest in trading of wild edible mushrooms. Since 2013 I’ve been an honorary research fellow at Aberdeen and an independent consultant.

The view from the sick bed: what plant health clinics tell us about diagnostics and
healthcare delivery

Plant, animal and human health sectors have many common features and face similar
challenges, from accurately and quickly diagnosing diseases to delivering effective
healthcare. Yet scientists and health practitioners working across these sectors have limited opportunities to share knowledge and evidence of what works best.

Diagnosis of pathogens is an obvious area for cross-sectoral collaborations, but there are
other topics to consider. My talk will draw upon personal experiences, and those of
colleagues, in establishing a global network of plant health clinics and strengthening plant health systems in mostly low-income countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
I will discuss how those of us working in agriculture have attempted to learn from humanhealth, and how our results might in turn provide insights for improving healthcare delivery inother sectors. I will illustrate my talk with examples of diseases affecting banana, cocoa,maize and other key crops and discuss surveillance and rapid responses to new diseaseoutbreaks.

The rise of zoonoses has encouraged collaboration between animal and human health
through weighty initiatives such as One Health and EcoHealth. The minimal ostensible risksposed by plant diseases to human and animal health have done little so far to foster anysignificant involvement by plant health professionals. Yet the human and animal impact ofplant losses and reduced quality of produce are huge. I will explore how we can foster closercollaborations between all health sectors and reap the wider benefits of “positive crossinfection”.


John Draper and a cabbageJohn Draper, Aberystwyth University, Wales

John has worked extensively at the interface between biology, analytical chemistry and computer science.  Over the past 15 years he has supervised a range of projects exploring metabolic interactions associated with nutrition in humans, domestic animals and biotrophic pathogens of plants.


After moving to Aberystwyth, John collaborated with colleagues to drive development of a metabolomics technology research platform, initially for food compositional analysis. The project was funded by the UK Foods Standards Agency, based on mass spectrometry and machine learning.

He currently heads the High Resolution Metabolomics Laboratory (HRML) which provides core support for advanced analytical chemistry including High Performance Computing resources for complex data processing, automated mining (using machine learning methods) and metabolite identification in mass spectrometry data.

Current projects include understanding decline syndromes in Oak in collaboration with Forest Research and funded by Woodland Heritage and developing methods to monitor dietary exposure in human populations funded by EIT-Health.

Plant metabolomics & pathogen interactions

The field of plant metabolomics is the study of all metabolites that make up the plant
metabolome. With the metabolome forming the interface between a plants genes expressionand the environment, it can be indicative of the underlying molecular changes occurringduring stress conditions such as pathogen interactions. The application of both fingerprintingand profiling mass spectrometry techniques can provide wide overview of the plant metabolome.

Laboratory based, integrative omics experiments of the model annual grass species
Brachypodium distachyon and its interaction with rice blast fungus Magnaporthe oryzae
have provided insight into the substantial system wide reprogramming that occurs during thepre-symptomatic infection phases in both susceptible and resistant interactions.

The utility of metabolomics for woody perennial species in the field are also being shown bycurrent investigations into oak decline syndromes such as Acute Oak Decline (AOD). This requires further considerations for sample collection such as tissue type as well as spatial and temporal variability to ensure reproducibility.

Decline syndromes are complex disease phenotypes to which a number of biotic and
predisposing abiotic factors contribute. There is the potential for the application of
metabolomics to these problems, not only as tool for investigating the molecular
perturbations that occur in perennial species during pathogen interactions, but also to
provide future diagnostic tools to monitor health status and even as a predictive tool for longterm management strategies.

Applications of plant pathology: from field to clinic is on 18 April 2018 at Charles Darwin House, 12 Roger Street London WC1N 2JU.

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