Plant diseases cost the world enough food to feed at least half a billion people, equivalent to 100 times the population of Scotland, every year. The interaction between plants, microbes and insects is a key battleground in the global fight for food security and public health.
Jorunn Bos, a researcher at the Division of Plant Sciences and The James Hutton Institute, organised a workshop in Mexico “Genomics Research on Plant-Parasite Interactions” along with Dr Alejandra Rougon-Cardoso at ENES-UNAM Mexico, for early career researchers keen to share knowledge and establish international research links. The workshop was supported by the British Council Researcher Links scheme and Mexico’s National Council for Science and Technology (Conacyt). The event brought together researchers from several Mexican institutions with colleagues from Sainsbury Laboratory, John Innes Centre, Imperial College London, Rothamsted Research, University of East Anglia, Queen’s University Belfast, the University of Dundee, and the James Hutton Institute.
Topics discussed included the influence of the microbial environment of desert plants on crops grown in arid areas; how molecular interactions can aid breeding efforts to deliver more disease-resistant crops and control strategies; improved sampling strategies for detecting disease; and biocontrol methods to reduce reliance on pesticide treatments.
“This workshop will help early career researchers to develop collaborations in agricultural genomics and biotechnology between Mexico and the UK, and help ensure our research has impact in Central and South America where concerns about crop productivity, nutritional value, and improving resistance to pests and diseases, are pressing” said Dr. Bos.
Dr Leighton Pritchard, computational biologist at the Information and Computational Sciences group of the James Hutton Institute and keynote speaker at the event, said: “The world faces increasing pressures on food production: many do not have access to the food they need, and we must use cultivated areas sustainably while providing for growth in future population and calorie demand. We are also working against a background of global climate change, and threats due to crop pests and diseases that currently destroy enough food to feed at least half a billion people each year”.
As part of the cultural element of the workshop, researchers were invited to formal dinners by the Mayor of the city of Leon and by former Mexico president Vicente Fox (2000-2006), who also hosted a tour of facilities of Centro Fox - a not-for-profit institution that provides leadership training and education particularly to children from poor areas of the country.