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30 Aug 2018

News: CRAG leads a scientific meeting at the interface of plant development and defence

International scientists will meet in Barcelona to discuss how the knowledge gained on plant and pathogen cell biology and genetics can be used to warranty food safety and security

 

To predict the types of diseases that will affect crops in order to choose those crop varieties that will be less affected by new pathogens; this is the goal that CRAG researchers Ignacio Rubio-Somoza, Nuria Sanchez Coll and Paloma Mas aim for. They have named this strategy as “Personalized Agriculture” and to analyse its possibilities they have put together an agenda of international scientist working in a myriad of topics such as plant-pathogen co-evolution and adaptation, hormone and signalling cascade, and genome dynamics, among others. The meeting, named When development meets stress: Understanding developmental reprogramming upon pathogenesis in plants, is co-organized by B-Debate, an initiative of Biocat and “La Caixa” Foundation, and will take place at the Cosmocaixa Museum in Barcelona on the 3rd and the 4th of September.

 

The research efforts are aimed at elucidating the defence mechanisms naturally occurring in plants and understanding their genetic determinants. By combining this information with that of the genetic profile of pathogens that plants have encountered during evolution, researchers expect to find crop varieties that are resistant to future pest. This approach could help in reducing devastating episodes such as the Great Irish Famine, produced by a fungus that infected potato, which was central on the Irish people diet. That dramatic episode resulted in mass starvation, disease, and emigration in Ireland in the middle of the XIX century.

 

Most of this research is currently being done with the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, but the researchers hope that some plants that are widely used in agriculture such as tomato plant, wheat or corn could benefit relatively quickly from these advances. 

 

Towards a greener agriculture

 

These new technologies, based on plant and pathogen cell biology and genomic information, would also boost a cleaner and more efficient agriculture, since they should allow for a reduction in pesticide use. “In the best scenario, there would be no need to treat the crops with pesticides because we would use customized varieties in which we introduce naturally occurring alleles by traditional breeding”, explains Ignacio Rubio-Somoza.

 

This new field of research could not develop without the current democratization of the high-throughput sequencing technologies. The researchers can now recover ancient DNA from archaeological sites and other sources and study the evolutionary history of the plants and their pathogens. “The pathogens might appear in cycles as it has been suggested in viruses-states Rubio-Somoza-. Recovering ancient DNA is like opening a tomb”.

 

All these will be discussed during the two days of the B-debate meeting in Barcelona with the participation of researchers such as Hernan Burbano, researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology who focuses on the use of ancient DNA to study the co-evolution of plant and pathogens, Clara Sanchez-Rodriguez, professor at ETH Zurich and expert in plant innate immunity, and Detlef Weigel, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology where he studies plant and pathogen adaptation to a changing environment.

 

The meeting programme is available at the B-debate website.