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EPSO Conference 2013 Highlights - Day 2

Sessions 1 and 3

The control of the expression of genes has a large role in how the organism behaves, which was a theme during the second day of talks in sessions 1 and 3. 

The proteins that initiate gene expression are known as transcription factors (TFs), and where and when they switch genes on is critically important.  Therefore the images that Phil Benfey showed of patterns of fluorescently tagged TFs in plant roots were not only beautiful but told a very important story – how the plant regulates it genes in space and time.  This can help explain how the plant root develops and what genes are involved, and when.  He concluded by proposing that there is a novel carotenoid derived molecule helping to control oscillations of TFs in Arabidopsis.

The third session had a high component of epigenetics.  Marc de Block explained this term by analogy with computers – an organisms genome is the hardware, which is fixed and cannot be changed, whereas the epigenetics is the software which tells the hardware what to do, and can be edited.  By influencing this software the traits of a plant may be changed in the next generation.  For example canola was selected for higher energy efficiency and drought tolerance and selected tomato lines contain 50% more vitamin C.  So what is the genetic basis for these changes?  The high and low vigour canola plants have different methylomes – meaning the software has been edited in the high vigour plants, resulting in a different behaviour.  He then looked for the changes in the use of the hardware, by identfying genes which were expressed differently.  He found changes in stress resistance genes, transcription factors, and interestingly chromatin organization genes, which remodel the hardware.

 

Session 2

The second session „Plant response and adaptation to biotic stresses“ included four talks on plant cell death mechanisms, the transduction of salicylic acid signals in plant immunity and the Plant R gene allelic variation in defense activation. The second talk was given by Matthias Erb from the Max-Planck-Institute of Ecological chemistry. He presented the latest results of his group on signaling in plant-insect interactions. More precisely they tried to determine how larvaes of D. virgifera, a root worm, detect their host plants (maize) and how they decide at what part of the root to feed.

These worms are particularly attracted by already infested plants which show an alternated defense response. D.virgifera is guided by plant volatiles over a distance of 10cm to the roots. In vitro and in vivo approaches with maize mutants showed a clear attraction of E-b-caryophyllene inducing lines. After reaching the plant the herbivore has to decide between: crown roots, more nutritious with a higher content of 1,3-benzoxazin-4-ones (a key defense in maize roots) or: primary roots containing less nutrients and BXD blends. On wildtype plants the herbivore prefers crown roots, which leads to strong damages on the field since the plant loses water and stability. Tests with bx-deficient mutants under field conditions showed no significant differences between the attraction of both root types anymore.

Session 4

“Science policy: Plant science and agriculture” chaired by Karin Metzlaff and Eckhard George completed the day. Five talks highlighted and explained various fields of science policy, drawing a broad picture of what was done, what should be done and what are the current perspectives and possibilities for scientists. Willem Gruissem, President of the Global Plant Council as well as Heribert Hirt, President of EPSO illustrated the main topics that have to be tackled: World Hunger, Malnutrition, climate change, environmental protection, water availability, bioenergy, health and well-being. Therefore it will be necessary to further increase the awareness of the central importance of plant and crop science. Organizations such as the Global Plant Council and EPSO, and several more on all continents, work on the increase of the awareness of this fact and try to support scientists by interacting with political authorities. Activities like the Fascination of Plants Day with worldwide success are important tools to draw the public attention to plants. Programmes like Horizon2020 connect European and international scientists by providing the financial support for research in plant sciences – from basic to applied research in agriculture, horticulture and biotechnology.  In connection with this, representatives from DG AGRI, DG Research and Innovation and the European Research Council (ERC) explained the structure and possibilities of Horizon2020, the new framework program of the European Commission.

 


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EPSO is an independent academic organisation currently representing 61 institutional members bringing together more than 204 research institutes, departments and universities from 29 countries in Europe and beyond.