A workshop to help develop collaborations in agricultural biotechnology between scientists in Mexico and the UK will help ensure that resulting research has an impact in Central and South America.
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, and early career researchers in Mexico and the UK are keen on sharing knowledge and establishing links to find ways forward.
The workshop “Genomics Research on Plant-Parasite Interactions” was co-ordinated by Dr Jorunn Bos of the James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee and Dr Alejandra Rougon-Cardoso at ENES-UNAM Mexico, with support from the British Council Researcher Links scheme and Mexico’s National Council for Science and Technology (Conacyt).
During the meeting, scientists discussed topics such as 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.
In the context of the 2015 UK-Mexico year, the workshop also promoted the establishment of links between scientists from different cultures and backgrounds to enable them to progress their careers and build networks and collaborations. 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 and the James Hutton Institute.
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.
“Agricultural biotechnology has great potential to improve crop productivity, nutritional value, and durability in harvesting and transit, as well as improving resistance to pests and diseases. To ensure global food security, it is essential that this research is relevant to the needs of farmers and conditions in developing and newly-industrialised countries, where these concerns are most pressing. This workshop will help develop collaborations in agricultural biotechnology between scientists in Mexico and the UK, and help ensure the resulting research has impact in Central and South America.”
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.