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Over 100 UK plant scientists gathered last week for the Royal Society of Biology Plant Health Conference 2023, which offered a day full of keynotes and discussions from a range of experts, covering cutting-edge research and potential approaches to improve plant health worldwide.

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Dr Mimi Tanimoto welcomed guests to the conference, and introduced the first speaker, Jake Morris from Defra, which is in partnership with RSB for the Plant Health Series events.

Morris talked about the policy perspective on public engagement and citizen science, and discussed the public behaviour aspects of plant biosecurity, focussing on a strong partnership of Government, industry and the public, working together to reduce and manage risks posed by plant pests and pathogens.

Following Morris’ talk, Dr Jassy Drakulic chaired the flash talk session, featuring presentations from those who had taken part in the RSB Plant Health Undergraduate Studentship Scheme. It included a talk from Dr Gareth Thomas from Rothamstead Research, who spoke about the role of underground chemical signals in plant-rhizobia-pest interactions, specifically the pea leaf weevil.

Aliya Santosa, a research assistant from the Crop Science Centre, University of Cambridge also presented her own research, which examines the molecular mechanisms underpinning the suppression of Arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) symbiosis, a mutually beneficial interaction formed between land plants and soil fungi, under diverse different conditions. She commented that the long-term goal is to stabilize AM symbiosis in diverse environmental conditions to make plants more resilient to pathogen attacks.

After the flash talk session, updates on the Plant Health Register were given by Dr Charles Lane, Mike Long and Sarah Carroll, who all work at Fera Ltd.

Professor Jeremy Pritchard, chair of the Plant Health Professional Development Advisory Group, then chaired a career overview panel discussion.

This involved talks on career opportunities, including sessions on: early careers and the civil service from Niamah Bashir, careers with fungi from Professor Sarah Gurr, University of Exeter, and advice for careers in the plant science sector by Dr Geraint Parry, Association of Applied Biologists.

The last talk of the day was given by Janice Ansine from the Open University, who spoke about the importance of a holistic approach citizen science and how it can be used to connect research, teaching, learning and engagement.

To sum up the event, Professor Pritchard commented: “Throughout the day we have seen a common theme about collaboration, bringing people together, and networking.

“The whole idea of science being interdisciplinary has come through quite a lot in terms of the need for social science and science communicators, and to translate science to the public.”

The next Plant Health event will be 13th September and the recordings from this event will be available on the RSB YouTube Channel in due course.