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New CONNECTIONS Conference Highlights

The New CONNECTIONS online conference ran from 28-30 June 2022, and brought together plant pathologists and entomologists from all over the world to consider the research needed to tackle vector-borne plant viruses.

We were delighted to see so many researchers from such a broad range of disciplines coming together.

The 329 registrations were from people based in more than 50 countries, and almost three quarters were Early Career Researchers.

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We had an excellent range of speakers, approximately half male and half female, from 9 countries (Benin, Germany, Kenya, Nigeria, Poland, Spain, UK, USA, South Africa).

Huge thanks to the British Society for Plant Pathology (BSPP) for their sponsorship of this event. 


Opening address

Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng

There was an inspirational opening address from Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng,Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

The work of plant pathologists and entomologists has never been more important – Prof Phakeng encouraged us to “be bold in suggesting deliberate strategic and proactive ways to develop solutions to the pressing immediate problem of hunger”. She added that “True partnerships between researchers from different parts of the world must be founded on the principle of equitability.” and “Global problems require all of us to help find global solutions.”

Talks highlights

Dr Stephan Winter, Leibniz Institute DSMZ, Germany
Stephan talked about phytosanitary work and the movement of plant material between farms, regions, countries: “If you don’t bring in the disease, it won’t come.” This should be displayed on the office wall of every organisation working in plant health!

Prof Toby Bruce, Insect Chemical Ecology, Keele University, UK
Toby’s presentation included a quote from the well-known book by Rachel Carson – Silent Spring. In this book, Carson recognises that biological solutions are required – “Specialists representing various areas of the vast field of biology are contributing – entomologists, pathologists, geneticists, physiologists, biochemists, ecologists – all pouring their knowledge and their creative inspirations into the formation of a new science of biotic controls.”

Toby summarised his talk by saying that we have a double challenge – improving food security whilst also conserving biodiversity. We need to find ways of achieving both. It is a very exciting time to be working in this area. 

Dr Adrian Valli, Principal Investigator, Spanish National Center for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC), Spain
There was animated discussion following Adrian’s excellent presentation on the role of the Ham 1 protein in plants and viruses, and where his findings could lead. We could have spent the rest of the day discussing this. 

Anthony Mabele, Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology (MMUST), Kenya
Anthony reported an alarming finding in his work on Phasey bean mild yellow virus. In Kenya, this virus has recently been identified in groundnut including Bambara groundnut, a variety known for its resistance to many plant viruses. Groundnut is widely grown in Sub-Saharan Africa, and more work is needed to understand the implications of this new finding. 

Networking and Workshops

We have been working with Nay Dia, formerly at ETH Zurich, to explore setting up an ECR peer support network. In collaboration with CreativeConnection, we created a visual representation of what an early career researcher peer support network could look like.  We thank the delegates for their input in these discussions and will provide more information on this shortly. 

And Finally…

conference group shot

This conference was about bringing plant pathologists, entomologists and other researchers together to solve the problems of vector-borne plant diseases and to chart the road ahead.

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We also thank our conference facilitator and Chair, Dr Sylvester Dickson Baguma, Director of Research, Bulindi Zonal Agricultural Research and Development Institute, National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO).

As Dr Stephan Winter said: “An impact factor is a measure of how much food is on the table.”

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I’ve heard some great talks and met some great researchers. Thanks for setting this up. Look forward to more of this in the future. 

– Conference delegate