Musings on a meeting of Australasian plant pathologists

In November 2019 I was excited to attend the Australasian Plant Pathology Society’s biennial conference in Melbourne. A big drawcard for me were the fantastic plenaries and keynotes spread across all three days of the conference. To start off Brett Summerell, the APPS President, showed us how we can effectively communicate scientific findings in a ‘post-truth, post-trust, post-expert world’ where facts are outweighed by opinion. Sophien Kamoun gave the EMBO Keynote lecture where he stressed the importance of sequencing and releasing the genomes of emerging plant pathogens, the new modes we have for releasing information and the impact that worldwide collaboration and free flow of information can have on a disease outbreak. There were also amazing plenaries by Carolee Bull on translational taxonomy, George Sundin on the fire blight pathogen, Thierry Candresse on viral detection with high throughput sequencing, Hailing Jin on small RNAs in plant-pathogen interactions and Neena Mitter on the development of an RNA spray for crop protection. I could go on and on!

There were so many interesting sounding talks across the five parallel sessions – I really wanted to have a Hogwarts time-turner so I could manage to be in multiple places at once! In the end I decided to concentrate my attention on the Biocontrol, Plant-Microbe Interactions and Pathogenomics sessions. These topics complement my PhD work where I’m using a genome-wide methodology to identify plant colonisation genes of a biocontrol bacteria. There were so many fascinating talks – some of the highlights that pushed me to the edge of my knowledge were on fungal genome sequencing, small RNAs and fungal effectors.

The three poster sessions were really busy! I enjoyed seeing a broad cross-section of plant science and meeting so many great scientists. The poster sessions gave me a peek into research areas where I didn’t get to see presentations and gave me lots of fantastic ideas for poster designs and the ways people use posters to communicate their science. It was wonderful to see both early career researchers and more senior members of the community presenting posters. I haven’t seen this broad range of career stages presenting posters at other conferences. This was a really great way to approach more senior scientists.

As well as attending the main conference I really enjoyed participating in two of the satellite sessions. The 4th Australian Pathogen Bioinformatic Symposium (APBS) was held at Agribio, La Trobe University the day before the main conference. I presented my work on transposon insertion sequencing in a plant-associated bacteria and had some great interactions with the researchers in the audience. It was a low-key, collegial start to the conference which meant I already knew a few people when I got to the much bigger main conference. Afterwards I enjoyed the Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions joint session with the Australian Society of Plant Scientists, again at AgriBio. There were some really engaging presentations on topics as diverse as engineering the root microbiome with plant root exudates, detecting compounds on the surface of pathogenic fungi, and the transport of iron in Rhizobia-legume symbiosis.

To round out a wonderful conference experience there were two fabulous social events. The welcome reception was held the evening before the first full day of the conference and was a superb way to meet new people (plus the food was amazing!). The gala dinner was a more formal affair held in the stunning Mural Hall. I met a wonderful range of researchers over dinner and was introduced to some people I wouldn’t have met otherwise.

I’m very grateful for the support of APPS which allowed me to attend the conference, present my PhD research and meet so many fantastic scientists. Thank-you as well to the organising committee for supporting gender equality and making sure that there was gender balance in the presenters at every level.