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Sep 12
A Recap of the 2017 APS Annual Meeting

This year’s Annual Meeting of The American Phytopathological Society was held in San Antonio, TX, on August 5–9.

As someone whose research program is based primarily on studying molecular plant-microbe interactions, I have always found that the science presented at the APS Annual Meeting is more focused on the applied aspects of plant pathology and that the basic research kind of takes a backseat. However, there were many MPMI-focused talks and sessions, including a Special Session on “New Insights into NLR on Plant Immunity.” I have included some of the meeting highlights, including APS awards to four IS-MPMI members.

The meeting began with an Opening Plenary Session led by Jack Bobo, senior vice president and chief communications officer for Intrexon (subsidiaries include Arctic apple, AquAdvantage salmon, Oxitec sterile mosquitoes). His talk, entitled “Can Agriculture Save the Planet Before It Destroys It?,” started with a live tweet of the audience cheering “Go plant health!” He followed with a discussion of global trends in food and agriculture, with a take-home message that we need to get to year 2050 without destroying the environment through agriculture (deforestation, draining aquifers). After this date, population growth will slow dramatically and productivity gains will allow us to reduce the global footprint of agriculture. Beyond 2050, he predicts that “for the first time in human history, we will not need more food.” He concluded his talk with something that stuck in my mind: “The next 35 years are not just the most important 35 years there have ever been in the history of agriculture, they’re the most important 35 years there will ever be in the history of agriculture.”

A mid-meeting Plenary Session, entitled “Changing Landscapes in Plant Pathology,” featured three early career scientists using new technologies that impact our science. This session included presenters Greg Heck, science strategy operations manager at Monsanto, who spoke on “RNA-Based Applications for Agricultural Productivity”; Erica Goss, University of Florida, who spoke on “Global Movement, Local Consequences: Using Population Genomics to Understand the Changing Landscape of Plant Pathogens”; and Lav Khot, from Washington State University, who spoke on “State-of-the-Art on Sensing Technologies for Plant Disease Detection.” Recordings of Bobo and the other plenary speakers are available online.

The Closing Session speaker was Jeff Hurt, executive vice president of Velvet Chainsaw Consulting, with a talk entitled “Making the Science of Plant Pathology Work for You: What Now? What’s Next?” His talk was focused on tools and resources to help us summarize our meeting experience and identify actionable items that we can use to impact our own research.

One of the most welcome trends I saw at the meeting was a focus on communicating our science with the public. A networking event led by the APS Office of Public Relations and Outreach trained attendees on developing their own Pitch120—a 120-second summary of their research projects that could be understood by both scientists and nonscientists. Jim Bradeen, University of Minnesota, led a session entitled “Science as Story and Story as Science: Telling Plant Pathology Research Stories.” Another session, entitled “Navigating Contentious Conversations,” was led by Paul Vincelli, University of Kentucky, and focused on engaging the public on controversial topics (GMOs, fungicide usage).

Many of the presentations at the meeting were recorded and can be purchased and viewed online.

APS members are looking forward to next year’s International Congress of Plant Pathology: Plant Health in a Global Economy, which will be held in Boston, MA, from July 29 to August 3, 2018. More information and a preliminary list of plenary and keynote talks is available at the meeting website.

Four IS-MPMI members were recognized at the meeting for their outstanding contributions to the study of plant-pathogen interactions. Thomas Baum, Iowa State University; Andrew Bent, University of Wisconsin-Madison; and Yong-Hwan Lee, Seoul National University, were named APS Fellows. APS Fellow recognition is based on significant contributions in one or more of the following areas: original research, teaching, administration, professional and public service, and/or extension and outreach.

Hailing Jin, University of California-Riverside, was given the Ruth Allen Award, which honors individuals who have made an outstanding, innovative research contribution that has changed, or has the potential to change, the direction of research in any field of plant pathology.

Each of the awardees was asked to provide their perspective on their award and provide insights/advice for aspiring young scientists. Read the interviews in this issue of Interactions.
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