Plant pathology, entomology and the road ahead

28 – 30 June 2022

This conference brought together plant pathologists, entomologists and agricultural innovators. It was a virtual event aiming to build new connections between disciplines and researchers, zoning in on the most crucial areas of interdisciplinary research needed to improve global food security.

The conference included scientific talks and poster sessions, plenaries from world-class leaders in plant vector-borne disease, workshops to explore priority research questions, opportunities and challenges, plus emerging community needs – all expertly facilitated.

Speakers included:

  • Dr Adrian Fox, Principal Plant Virologist at Fera, United Kingdom
  • Dr Adrian Valli, Principal Investigator, Spanish National Center for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC), Spain
  • Dr Joseph Daron, Science Manager in International Climate Services at the Met Office and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, UK
  • Dr Kolade Olufisayo, Yam Disease Phenotyping Specialist, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), Ibadan, Nigeria
  • Dr. Oluwatosin Aregbesola, formerly of Wesley University, Ondo, Nigeria
  • Prof. Shirley Luckhart, Co-Director of Institute for Health in the Human Ecosystem, University of Idaho, USA
  • Dr Taro Takahashi, Senior Lecturer in Sustainable Livestock Systems and Food Security, and Joint Food Security Theme Research Lead at Cabot Institute for the Environment, University of Bristol, United Kingdom
  • Prof. Toby Bruce, Professor of Insect Chemical Ecology, Keele University, United Kingdom

There was also professional networking, plus twenty places available on a Scriptoria grant-writing workshop in the lead-up to the conference.

The conference encompassed:

  • Current and emerging issues and questions in plant vector-borne disease research
  • Innovation and translation of plant vector-borne disease research outputs into technologies/solutions/applications
  • Interdisciplinarity in plant vector-borne disease – and the future collaborations needed

In addition to CONNECTED Network Members, we extended invitations to all members of the British Society for Plant Pathology (BSPP) and the Royal Entomological Society (RES). Bringing these three research communities together enabled us to share knowledge, to connect and to collaborate.

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

There was an inspirational opening address from Prof Mamokgethi Phakeng, who encouraged researchers 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.” 

Presentations included:

CALIBER – Using interdisciplinary approaches to assess the risk of vector borne plant pathogens
Dr Adrian Fox, Principal Plant Virologist at Fera, UK

The paradigm of viral infections in plants of the Euphorbiaceae family
Dr Adrian Valli, Principal Investigator, Spanish National Center for Biotechnology (CNB-CSIC), Spain

Food security challenges in a changing climate: role of climate services
Dr Joseph Daron, Science Manager in International Climate Services at the Met Office and a Senior Research Fellow at the University of Bristol, UK

The potential impact of climate change on the behavior and physiology of whiteflies
Dr. Oluwatosin Aregbesola, formerly of Wesley University, Nigeria

Direct biological connections among plant, animal and human health as opportunities for innovative, sustainable solutions in complex ecosystems
Prof. Shirley Luckhart, Co-Director of Institute for Health in the Human Ecosystem, University of Idaho, USA

How to reduce insect pests in crops 
Prof. Toby Bruce, Professor of Insect Chemical Ecology, Keele University, UK

Recordings of all conference talks will be edited and made available as lasting resources for CONNECTED members.

Conference highlights

Dr Stephan Winter, Leibniz Institute DSMZ, Germany 
Stephan talked about phytosanitary work and the movement of plant material between farms, regions and countries: “If you don’t bring in the disease, it won’t come.”  

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.  

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.  

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 been found in groundnut including Bambara groundnut, a variety known for its resistance to many plant viruses. Groundnut is widely grown in Sub-Saharan African and more work is needed to address this new finding.  

Networking and workshops 

Daily networking sessions brought researchers together and Mural was used as a tool for collecting ideas. Highlights include work with Nay Dia, formerly at ETH Zurich, to explore setting up an ECR peer support network, supported by the Cabot Institute for the Environment. In collaboration with CreativeConnection, we created a visual representation of what an early career researcher peer support network could look like.   

Networking also focused on interdisciplinary challenges – using real-life examples from speaker Prof Shirley Luckhart’s excellent presentation. 

Our first workshop focused on innovations in plant vector-borne disease, led by Dr Saliou Niassy, Head of the Agricultural Technology Transfer Unit at the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) in Kenya. He talked about scaling up and technology transfer at ICIPE, stressing the need for scientists to understand the requirements of end-users. Examples of projects they are working on include the extension of push pull technology from maize to other crops such as potato, tomato and cabbage.  

Also involved were Dr Andy Evans and Dr Jemma Taylor of Crop Health and Protection Limited (CHAP) UK. They explained CHAP activities, the facilities they use and opportunities they offer. An example of their work is their collaboration with the CABI plantwise programme to develop the International Pest Horizon Scanning capability, which uses tablet computers to bridge the gap between agricultural research and pest management in the field. 

 Our second workshop looked at current and emerging issues in plant vector-borne disease, with facilitation by Dr Vicky Jones of the Cabot Institute. It involved break out room discussions on control strategies, vector biology, new diseases, vector-virus interactions, diagnostics, surveillance and forecasting.  

Scientific posters 

Nine scientific posters were accepted for the online poster session, which was held on Slack throughout the conference. There were plenty of questions asked and answered, with an average of 56 people joining each poster channel.  

Who registered for the conference?

Of the 329 people who registered for the New CONNECTIONS online conference, the majority were Early Career Researchers (73%). They were based in around 50 countries, with most hailing from the UK, Nigeria, India, Kenya, South Africa and Pakistan. 43% were women and 57% were men.  
conference logo+text

What did participants gain?

Feedback from participants who completed our survey has been overwhelmingly positive – 94% rated the conference very good or excellent. 

Many attendees said they gained a broader knowledge of plant pathology and entomology, and made good connections with other researchers and experts.

Above: Word cloud of responses to the survey question “Please tell us about any new connections you made (or will make) as a result of this conference.”

Participants said:

“It was very helpful hearing about similar diseases and how each country is dealing with the detection and protection” 

“I really got great information regarding plant viruses especially from Dr. Stephen Winter” 

“I gained a renewed understanding around the different areas of research to do with vector-borne plant diseases” 

“It gave me opportunity to interact with international researchers from different fields” 

“Everything was Super and loaded with new knowledge session after session” 

This event was kindly sponsored by the British Society for Plant Pathology.

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