Travels with my grant – James Bradley

01 November 2017 - By: James Bradley

Travels with my grant – James Bradley

James Bradley

James travelled to the 14th World Congress on Parasitic Plants (Asilomar, USA) to present his research entitled “A Comparative Genomics Approach to Investigate the Genetic Differences Between Striga Asiatica Ecotypes”.

One of the major highlights of the conference was its breadth of coverage of parasitic plant research: we heard the latest advances from biological disciplines as diverse as genomics through to ecology, as well as the latest technology being used to monitor and control the few particularly weedy parasitic plants that pose a serious agricultural problem. The threat that these few weedy parasitic plants pose to agriculture has meant that bulk of the research is focused on a small selection of parasitic species, many of which are in the Orobanchaceae family and include the notorious Striga hermonthica, Striga asiatica and Orobanche cumana. Having said that, there were some very interesting presentations on less well-studied parasitic plants, such as those within the Balanophora genus, which I learnt represents one of the oldest parasitic angiosperm lineages and appears to have a reduced plastid genome. The biological insights into these less well studied but extremely fascinating parasitic plant species was also a personal highlight of this broad-spectrum conference.

During the conference, it became clear that many groups aim to obtain whole genome sequences for the various weedy parasites mentioned above. Indeed, one of the research highlights of the conference was the presentation of the first whole genome assembly for a parasitic plant, Orobanche cumana (sunflower broomrape), which represents a major milestone in the advancement of parasitic plant research. This work was presented by Stéphane Muños from INRA (French National Institute for Agricultural Research), who highlighted the exciting opportunities this genome will provide to gain insights into the genetics that underpin host-parasite specificity. This is particularly the case when studied in combination with the recently published genome of sunflower, which is the main host plant of O. cumana.

Overall, this conference has taught me a great deal about current scientific opinion in parasitic plant research, and also helped me understand and appreciate some of the excellent scientific progress that has been made in understanding the biological mechanisms underpinning processes unique to parasitic plants.

It also provided me with an excellent opportunity to meet with and talk to many researchers in the parasitic plant community.

Category: grants
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