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School of Biosciences Inaugural Lecture: Professor Matt Dickinson

Thu, 20 Sep, 2012 18:00 - 19:00

Venue: A33 (LR9) Food Science Building

From citrus stubborn to coconut wilts – a journey through diseases of plants

Plant pathogens (fungi, bacteria and viruses) cause significant crop losses annually in both the developed and the developing World, estimated to be around 10-15% of potential agricultural yield. Much of my early work focussed on the rust fungal pathogens of wheat, and involved both studies into the infection process of these organisms, and into population studies and the development of molecular markers and DNA fingerprinting techniques.

More recently, our research has focussed on the development and applications of advanced molecular diagnostic for a broader range of pathogens, and in particular for diseases caused by phytoplasmas and viruses. Phytoplasmas themselves are intriguing organisms - bacteria that lack cell walls, replicate in both plants and the insect vectors that carry them between plants, and have amongst the smallest genomes of any selfreplicating organisms. They are particularly significant in crops in developing countries such as rice and sugarcane in Asia and coconuts in sub-Saharan Africa, where they cause a devastating lethal disease.

Our work, much of it in collaboration with Fera (Food and Environment Research Agency, York) has involved developing real-time PCR diagnostic methods, and more recently, the Loop mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) technique. A significant major impact of this research is the development of novel rapid field-based disease diagnostic systems. This work is being piloted in Ghana for phytoplasma diagnostics in coconut, using LAMP together with some rapid DNA extraction methods, which mean we can detect the presence of the phytoplasma in infected plants within 30 mins of sampling. These, and a range of other diagnostic methods are also being developed for a number of other plant pathogens including
viruses and fungi.
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