David Miller Travel Bursary recipient, Jack Rhodes, reports from China

26 February 2020

The David Miller Travel Bursary Award aims to give early career plant scientists or horticulturists the opportunity of overseas travel in connection with their horticultural careers. Jack Rhodes was awarded one of the 2019 David Miller Travel Bursaries to attend the International Symposium on Plant Receptor Kinases and the International Symposium on Plant Immunity which were both held in China and reports his experience here.

‘During my PhD at The Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich, I study the role of cell-surface receptors in enabling plants to recognise and respond to pathogens. I focus on variation in these receptors in Brassicaceous and Solanaceous crops and how these differences translate into disease resistance. The aim of my project is to use these findings to engineer enhanced disease resistance in tomatoes.

‘The support of the David Miller Travel Award enabled me to attend two highly relevant conferences: The International Symposium on Plant Receptor Kinases and Cell Signalling (Beijing, China) and The International Symposium on Plant Innate Immunity (Nanjing, China). Attending these conferences exposed me to the latest discoveries. The conferences provided valuable opportunity to network and foster international connections. I will take this occasion to outline some of my highlights.

‘Receptor kinases are a class of cell-surface localised receptors which are involved in diverse plant processes. These range from growth and development to reproduction and immunity. It was enlightening to learn cutting-edge ideas and results from scientists working on receptor kinases in different contexts.

‘One particularly interesting area was the role of Receptor Kinases in reproduction. During fertilisation the male pollen must be guided through the sigma to reach the ovules. Peptide signals are released from the female ovules. These peptides are recognised by pollen tube receptor kinases and guide pollen tubes to the ovule. Tetsuya Higashiyama (Nagoya University and the University of Tokyo, Japan) presented his group’s latest research on how pollen tubes use receptor kinases to successfully complete fertilisation. Moreover, Li-Jia Qu (Peking University, China) discussed how this system varied between species ensuring fertilisation by pollen from the correct species. It was fascinating to have such an insight into the mechanistic detail of such a fundamental process. A talk by Alberto Macho (Shanghai Centre for Plant Stress Biology, China) proved particularly relevant for me as he discussed how receptor kinases from soya bean could be used to enhance disease resistance in tomatoes.   

‘Following the meeting I travelled South from Beijing, the present-day capital, to the historical capital, Nanjing. There I attended the International Symposium on Plant Innate Immunity at Nanjing Agricultural University. This meeting covered a diverse range of topics in plant immunity from plant immune receptors to the understanding of mechanisms that enable pathogens to cause disease. I particularly enjoyed talks from Libo Shan (Texas A & M University, USA), Thorsten Nürnberger (University of Tübingen, Germany) and Yuanchao Wang (Nanjing Agricultural University, China).

‘At both meetings I was able to present my work and engage in constructive discussions which helped shape my research directions. Since the meeting I have exchanged materials with researchers I met at the conference - hopefully these will lead to significant advances. I also returned with a wealth of knowledge and ideas that I have been able to share with my colleagues in the UK. 

‘In addition to the scientific and professional element the experience was culturally valuable. Visiting China was fascinating: I learnt a huge amount about the culture, enjoyed the mouth-watering food and was awe-struck by the technological advances in this country. I am immensely grateful to the David Miller Travel Award for supporting the attendance of these meetings. I also really enjoyed the opportunity to present my findings to the Horticultural Group at SCI.’

Jack Rhodes
PhD student
The Sainsbury Laboratory & John Innes Centre, Norwich Research Park

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