Daniel McAlpine Memorial Lecture

Prof Barbara Howlett

Barbara Howlett has a B.Sc (Hons) in Biochemistry (University of Melbourne), M.Sc in Botany (ANU), and a Ph.D in Botany (University of Melbourne). She has worked in a diverse range of research areas including influenza, bacterial chemotaxis, pollen allergens, nitrogen fixation and plant diseases. During a sabbatical visit to Stanford University she studied genetics of the bread mould, Neurospora crassa: this laid the foundation for her subsequent research on blackleg disease of canola. Until 2015 Howlett led a national project monitoring virulence of blackleg fungal populations across Australia and developing disease management strategies for canola farmers. 

With French colleagues, Howlett’s team  sequenced the genome of the blackleg fungus. A key finding was that disease-related genes are often located in unstable parts of the genome, where gene loss and mutations readily occur. This explains how disease resistance can rapidly break down in the field. The practical applications of this discovery have had a significant impact on the profitability of the Australian canola industry.

Howlett is a Fellow of the American Society of Microbiology, the Australian Academy of Science and the Australasian Plant Pathology Society, as well as an Honorary Member of the American Mycological Society

Plenary Speakers

Prof Chris Gilligan

Professor Chris Gilligan holds a personal chair in Mathematical Biology in the Department of Plant Sciences at Cambridge, where he leads the Epidemiology and Modelling Group. His research is focused on the development and use of models to predict the spread of plant disease and to identify optimal strategies for the control of disease at scales ranging from on-farm to the landscape, regional and continental. Current applications involve models to inform the control of crop disease in the UK, US, Africa and India, as well as diseases of trees in natural vegetation in the USA and UK. His research group is contracted by the UK Government to provide emergency modelling support to respond to emerging epidemics of plant disease. Professor Gilligan also works at the interface between epidemiology and economics and on longer-term models to predict future demands for energy, land and water.

Professor Gilligan has served as Head (Dean) of Biological Sciences, one of six academic schools at Cambridge. He currently chairs the UK Joint Nature Conservation Committee (the public body that advises the UK Government and Devolved Administrations on UK-wide and international nature conservation). He also holds a Prime Ministerial appointment as Trustee of the Natural History Museum in London. He chaired the recent UK Government Taskforce on Tree Heath and Plant Biosecurity; he was chair of the Science Advisory Council for the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) (2011-14) and served two terms as a member of the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (2003-2009). He has chaired a number of other national reviews including UK research in crop science and animal health. He is a Fellow of the American Phytopathological Society, a Fellow of the Royal Statistical Society, a Professorial Fellow of King’s College Cambridge and a past President of the British Society for Plant Pathology.

Prof Roger Innes

Roger Innes is a Professor in the Department of Biology at Indiana University-Bloomington, and currently directs IUB’s Electron Microscopy Center. He received his Ph.D. in Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at the University of Colorado-Boulder, and completed Post-doctoral research at the University of California-Berkeley. He is an elected fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American Academy of Microbiology.

 Dr. Innes’ research focuses on the immune system in plants, with a particular interest in how plants detect pathogens and how detection is translated into an active immune response. His group was among the first to identify and clone plant disease resistance genes using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, and revealed that the great majority encode proteins containing nucleotide binding domains and leucine rich repeats (NLRs).  Most NLR proteins are now known to detect pathogen effector proteins indirectly, via detecting modification of effector targets. These insights are now leading to new approaches for engineering disease resistance in plants.

In a second area of research, the Innes laboratory has been investigating intracellular and intercellular signaling and cell biology of the plant immune system, including analysis of endomembrane trafficking in plant cells and production of extracellular vesicles. The release of extracellular vesicles is upregulated during pathogen infection and these vesicles carry numerous defense-related proteins, as well as microRNAs, suggesting an important role in immune responses

Prof Linda Kinkel

Linda Kinkel is a Professor in the Department of Plant Pathology at the University of Minnesota.  She received her M.S. and Ph.D. in Plant Pathology and M.S. in Biometry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed Post-doctoral research at the University of California-Berkeley.

 Dr. Kinkel’s research focuses on the ecology and evolutionary biology of plant-associated microbes in native and agricultural habitats.  She is especially interested in developing practical approaches for managing the ecological and evolutionary dynamics of antagonistic soil bacteria to enhance disease suppression.  Her current work integrates metagenomics analyses of soil and endophytic microbiomes in relation to pathogen suppression, plant host and plant community diversity, and soil carbon dynamics in agricultural and native prairie soils.  She is actively involved in the American Phytopathological Society’s Phytobiomes Initiative, and is an Associate Editor-in-Chief for the new Phytobiomes Journal.  

Dr Mark Hoddle

Mark Hoddle is an Extension Specialist in biological control and Director of the Center for Invasive Species Research at the University of California, Riverside. Hoddle received his BSc and MSc in Zoology from the University of Auckland in New Zealand and his Ph.D. in Entomology from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst in the USA. Hoddle's research focuses primarily on the classical biological control of invasive arthropod pests affecting agricultural, urban, and wilderness areas.

Dr Nancy Schellhorn

Dr Nancy Schellhorn obtained her PhD from University of Minnesota, USA. She conducted post-doctoral research at University of Wisconsin-Madison USA on interactions among multiple species of exotic and native arthropods, and at CSIRO Narrabri, NSW on parasitoids of Helicoverpa spp on cotton. In late 2000 she joined SARDI, where she led the National Diamondback Moth, and Revegetation by Design projects. In 2005, Dr Schellhorn joined CSIRO in Brisbane where she is a Principle Research Scientist. Nancy has lead the National Research & Development for Profit Project on ‘Area-wide management of QLD Fruit Fly: Guidelines for SIT’.

Nancy’s research uses ecological concepts to address pest management problems at multiple spatial scales in agricultural and urban landscapes. She and her collaborators have developed and advanced the concept of Pest Suppressive Landscapes, which is a way of measuring, designing and managing agricultural landscapes for productivity and biodiversity, including the control of exotic pests. Nancy is currently leading the development and trialling of RapidAIM, a real-time monitoring system for the presence and location of fruit flies.

Keynote Speakers

Prof Gavin Ash, University of Southern Queensland

Professor Gavin Ash is a Professor in Plant Pathology and the Director of the Centre for Crop Health in the University of Southern Queensland (USQ). He received his PhD from the University of New England after conducting fundamental research on yield loss and epidemiology of stripe rust of wheat. He has lectured and conducted research on microbiology, genetics and plant disease management at Charles Sturt University for over 20 years. Prior to taking the position at USQ he was the Head of the School of Agricultural and Wine Sciences at CSU and the associate Director of the Graham Centre for Agricultural Innovation. He has worked extensively on broadacre crops such as wheat, rice, canola, lupins and horticultural crops such as sweetpotato, coconuts, pistachios and macadamias.

Dr Ash’s current research focus is on the use of biological control organisms formulated as biopesticides. He has led teams researching biological control of invasive snails, fungal diseases of crops and insect pests. His team has used NextGen technologies to design more efficient systems of selection of biocontrol agents and the identification of genetic targets for the improvement of biopesticides.

Dr Ash serves as an editor of Scientific Reports, Gene, Plant Gene, Niugini Agrisaiens and Annals of Applied Biology.

Prof Christos Athanassiou, University of Thessaly

Dr. Christos Athanassiou is a Professor at the Department of Agriculture, Crop Production and Rural Environment at the University of Thessaly, Greece. The research and teaching activities of Christos are focused on agricultural, forest and, post-harvest entomology, emphasizing on integrated and biological control aspects. Dr. Athanassiou and his groups contributed significantly in the area of stored products protection, particularly, in the development of novel chemical and non-chemical methods for insect and mite control, such as diatomaceous earths and related nanomaterials. They have also developed several low-risk active ingredients and biotechnical methods, such as mating disruption and insecticide auto-dissemination. Prof. Athanassiou has established a global research network including USDA-ARS, Kansas State University, JKI, INRA and QDAF Australia.

Prof. Athanassiou has either led or participated as a key researcher in more than 70 national and international research programs (funded by organizations including EU, IAEA, FAO, ECPA, USDA and OECD).  He is currently serving as one of the three Editors in Chief of Journal of Stored Products Research and subject Editor for Journal of Pest Science and Journal of Insect Science. 

Dr Jenny Davidson, SARDI

Dr Jenny Davidson is the Science Leader in Plant Health and Biosecurity in Sustainable Systems at SARDI in the Plant Research Centre in Adelaide. She has over 20 years’ experience in plant pathology, focusing on foliar pathogens of broadacre crops, particularly pulses crops such as lentils, faba beans, chickpeas and field peas, and also canola. Industry funding provides for research of pathology, epidemiology, disease management and resistance breeding in collaboration with agronomists and plant breeding programs; much of this on ascochyta blight of pulse crops. Jenny also leads a national research project funded by Plant Biosecurity CRC investigating new tools for surveillance of pests and pathogens in the grains industry, incorporating modern technologies for target capture and identification.

Dr Akif Eskalen, University of California

Akif Eskalen is an Extension Specialist in plant pathology and microbiology at the University of California, Riverside. He received his B.Sc. in field crop and M.Sc. and Ph.D. in plant protection and mycology at the University Cukurova in Turkey. Dr. Eskalen completed a post-doctoral research and then worked as a project scientist at University of California, Davis.

Dr. Eskalen’s primary research interests include the identification, biology, epidemiology and control of fungal pathogens including insect vectored fungal diseases. Currently he is studying on biology, epidemiology and control of an invasive beetle-diseases complex, Fusarium Dieback and Shot hole borers (Euwallacea sp.) in California.

Dr Michael Goodin, University of Kentucky

Michael Goodin received a B.Sc in Biology/Chemistry (Brock University), M.Sc and Ph.D in Plant Pathology (The Pennsylvania State University), and his postdoctoral training at University of California-Berkeley. The Goodin laboratory at the University of Kentucky has been at the forefront in the application of live-cell microscopy to investigate the cellular biology of plant-adapted rhabdoviruses, and related negative-strand RNA viruses. His lab members have made many seminal contributions particularly regarding the mechanism of nuclear import of viral proteins, their modification of nuclear membranes and identification of host factors implicated in the cell-to-cell movement of these viruses. Numerous resources including a high-resolution yeast two-hybrid library of Nicotiana benthamiana, plant marker lines that express fluorescent markers targeted to a variety of subcellular loci, and many vectors for the transient or stable expression of fluorescent proteins in plant cells have been generated in the Goodin lab. Many of these have been distributed to laboratories worldwide in support of a variety of research efforts. Goodin has hosted several international visiting scientists, most recently from Australia and Brazil. Goodin serves on the Virology A Study Section of the National Institutes of Health (USA) and the editorial board of Annual Review of Virology.

Sponsored by: 

Dr Lee Hickey, QAAFI

Dr Lee Hickey leads a research team situated within the Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation at UQ, Brisbane, Australia. His lab conducts genetic studies on key foliar diseases that limit production of wheat and barley in Australia, and develops novel breeding tools and methodologies. Over the past nine years, Dr Lee Hickey has played a pivotal role in developing 'Speed Breeding': the rapid generation advance technology for spring wheat, to achieve an impressive six plant generations annually. His programme applies speed breeding in combination with novel high-throughput disease screening protocols to rapidly assemble novel germplasm incorporating multiple disease resistance.

Dr Hickey supervises 13 PhD students and collaborates with scientists around the world, including teams in the UK, Mexico, Germany, USA, Uruguay, Morocco and Russia. His impactful science is generating strong community, government and industry interest, and outcomes from his research have received wide media coverage. He loves to use social media to promote and communicate science to the public.

Check out the Hickey Lab website here

Follow him on Twitter: @DrHikov

Prof Neena Mitter, QAAFI

Professor Neena Mitter, at Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, the University of Queensland, is one of Queensland’s leading biotechnologists and has won prestigious awards like Women in Technology Queensland Biotechnologist Award and Queensland International Fellowship. She currently leads a team of 22 staff and students focussed on innovative solutions for management of crop and animal health to address the challenge of food security. She is credited with innovations creating change by research namely ' BioClay spray for crop protection’, ‘Nanovaccines for animal health’ and ‘Clonal propagation of avocado using plant stem cells.’ These are platform technologies impacting agricultural production, environmental sustainability and socio-economic dynamics of farming community. She is leading global consortia funded by Govt, Industry, Philanthropy and End Users to progress these innovations to reach farmers’ fields. With increased scrutiny on use of chemicals as crop and animal disease control agents; the focus is on developing clean technologies. The Ag-Nano innovations of BioClay and Nanovaccines are perfectly placed to mitigate these challenges.

Mr Trevor Nicholls, CABI

Trevor Nicholls has been Chief Executive Officer of CABI since 2005. He is also a non-executive director of three biotech companies – Avacta Group plc, Conidia Biosciences Ltd and hVivo plc. He has broad experience of initiating change and restructuring organisations. Trevor holds a BA and D.Phil in Biochemistry from the University of York and Diploma qualifications in Marketing (CIM) and Company Directorship (IoD).

Under Trevor’s leadership, CABI has defined its mission as the strengthening of global capacity to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. The organisation has developed a strategic focus on providing knowledge to enable poor rural farmers in the developing world to grow more, raise quality and increase income. CABI is leading Plantwise, a global initiative to increase global food security by reducing losses to pests and diseases. CABI delivers its projects in close partnership with national institutions and NGOs in all the countries where it works and has established a very successful joint lab with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture in China.

Dr Dean Paini, CSIRO

Dean Paini is a senior research scientist at CSIRO, Canberra. He completed his PhD in ecology at the University of Western Australia investigating the impact of the European honey bee on Australian native bees. He subsequently completed a postdoc at the University of Florida where he studied the ecology of thrips pests. Dean also completed a second postdoc at CSIRO, using self organising maps (SOM) to model invasive species threat based on associations with other invasive species.

Dean’s current research focuses on invasive species and risk assessment. Currently, he is interested in modelling the spread of pests and pathogens via natural and human mediated pathways. Dean is part of a team that had developed a web based tool to model dispersal by wind (TAPPAS). He has also worked on spread via a number of different networks, such as the global shipping network, informal trade networks, and human tourist movement networks.

Prof Gerhard Pietersen, University of Pretoria

Gerhard Pietersen is a Specialist Scientist of the Agricultural Research Council-Plant Protection Research Institute (ARC-PPRI) and Extra-Ordinary Professor at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. Gerhard completed his PhD at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg and has subsequently been employed the ARC-PPRI except for a five-year absence (2004 to 2009) when he was employed by Citrus Research International. His field of study is in plant virology and has been involved for a number of years in studying the epidemiology and control of the spread of grapevine leafroll disease, associated in South Africa with infection by mainly grapevine leafroll associated virus 3 (GLRaV-3). His research has led to an integrated strategy to near-eradicate GLRaV-3 from specific vineyards in South Africa and New Zealand. He has also conducted extensive research on the population structure of citrus tristeza virus genotypes and on Candidatus Liberibacter africanus which is associated with citrus greening disease, a disease similar to the devastating huanglongbing (HLB) of citrus. His research group are also currently studying maize lethal necrosis disease, which while not yet in South Africa is threatening a number of countries in East Africa, identification and seasonal persistence of a rhabdovirus of soybeans, thus far only reported from South Africa.

Sponsored by: 

Dr Mark Schutze, Biosecurity Queensland

Dr Mark Schutze is a Senior Entomologist with Biosecurity Queensland (DAF) and Senior Research Associate at Queensland University of Technology. His research focus is the field of integrative taxonomy, especially of tephritid fruit flies, on which he has taken a lead role in recent taxonomic revisions of key pests of the Oriental fruit fly species complex. Mark has extensive experience working with organisations in the area of international food security, such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, and undertaken a prestigious Queensland Government-Smithsonian Institution Fellowship based in Washington DC at the National Museum of Natural History and working on the taxonomy of American tephritids. Mark currently leads a PBCRC project on developing improved integrative systematics and diagnostics of regional fruit flies.

Dr Grant Smith, Plant & Food Research

Dr Grant Smith is a Plant Pathologist at Plant & Food Research, Lincoln and Program Leader, Effective Detection and Response in the Plant Biosecurity CRC.  Grant has 30 years’ experience in diagnostics and biosecurity in both Australia and New Zealand. He ran his first RT-PCR assays in the late 1980s and was one of the early publishers on PCR of dsRNA, duplex RT-PCR and bacterial ITS region diagnostics.  His current research interests include developing, improving and deploying new plant biosecurity diagnostic platforms and developing response tools based on understanding and exploiting pathogen genomes. He has published widely, including 12 invited book chapters, has two granted patents describing the Smartsett® tissue culture system and is a senior editor for Australasian Plant Pathology.

Dr Louise Thatcher, CSIRO Agriculture & Food

Dr Louise Thatcher is a Research Scientist and Team Leader of Break Crop Genomics and Diseases at CSIRO Agriculture and Food in Floreat, Perth. She obtained a BSc (with 1st class Honours, 1999) and PhD (2007) in molecular biology and microbiology from the University of Western Australia. Extending from her PhD studies on transcriptional regulation of plant defense responses and molecular plant-microbe interactions, Louise was awarded a CSIRO OCE Postdoctoral Fellowship (CSIRO Plant Industry, Brisbane, 2007-2011) to focus her research on Fusarium wilt, a disease of global significance caused by members of the F. oxysporum species complex. Using the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, Louise and her colleagues made step changes in our understanding of the molecular dialogue that takes place between pathogen and host. More recently in Perth, Dr Thatcher’s research focuses on Fusarium wilt of legumes, Fusarium crown rot of cereals, and novel biologicals-based strategies for the control of intractable fungal diseases on break crops such as canola. Along with other members of the team, recent research has focused on understanding the pathogenicity mechanisms of F. oxysporum and molecular aspects of host resistance or susceptibility. Combined, this research works towards reducing crop losses to necrotrophic fungal pathogens by improving host disease resistance and providing new disease management options.

Prof Peter Waterhouse, QUT

Peter Waterhouse is an ARC Laureate Fellow, Professor of Molecular Genetics at Queensland University of Technology (QUT) and Honorary Professor at the University of Sydney. He has made many fundamental discoveries and developed new molecular technologies that have translated into numerous patents and applications. He is well known for his research in virology, RNA interference (RNAi), gene regulation and plant genomics. With his research teams at CSIRO, University of Sydney and QUT (http://www.waterhouse-lab.com/main/index_lab.php), Professor Waterhouse uncovered and developed RNAi in plants, making it a highly effective tool for gene discovery, functional genomics and a potent way of conferring protection against viruses and insects. He is a past recipient of an ARC Federation Fellowship, the Victor Chang Medal, the CSIRO Chairman’s Prize, and the Prime Minister’s Science Prize.