British Ecological Society – Emerging Plant Pests and Pathogens Symposium 2015

Last week I had the opportunity to present the preliminary results of my graduate research at the Emerging Plants and Pathogens Symposium supported by the British Ecological Society. It has held at the University of Exeter, Penryn campus in Cornwall, UK between 13 – 14 July 2015. Organised by Dan Bebber and Professor Sarah Gurr, the purpose of the event was to bring together experts from different fields to discuss the implications of emerging plant pests and pathogens in global food security and ecosystem resilience.

In this short post, I share a few pictures and my impressions of the symposium.


The first step to present a poster, is to make the poster. The final result was a shared effort, of course, with the indispensable contribution of my supervisors Dan Bebber and Sarah Gurr. I was able to share this preliminary research at #pestsym – thanks to my donors Gerry & Clemencia Posada-Brown who have funded my MSc Food Security and Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Exeter.

Day 1

Dan Bebber gave the symposium a very brief welcome quickly followed by a presentation by Professor Charles Godfray, from the University of Oxford, aimed at explaining the current challenges of global food security, the perspective through which we were to understand the research discussed over the next two days.


Charles Godfrey (University of Oxford) – Challenges for our Global Food Security

My favourite talk of the day was in the theme novel detection methods. Anne-Katrin Mahlein from the University of Bonn – spoke about the technologies being developed to detect plant diseases using mobile phones. Since I’m Colombian, I think about what are the implications for Colombian agriculture. Well, the possibilities are overwhelming, particularly for smallholders in remote areas that have very little except a mobile device. Personally, it was very exciting to see the application of research with the talk on detection of diseases through mobile image sensing. Business-led implementations perhaps are more quick and effective than government policy – that’s why this was my favourite presentation of the day.

I’d like to mention that we had ‘proper’ cream tea more than once during the event. ‘Proper’ cream tea entails clotted cream tea and strawberry jam with tea and milk. Since we were in Cornwall, we had local clotted cream which probably was the reason for serving it during our breaks – delicious!


‘Proper’ cream tea: generous amounts of strawberry jam are smeared atop local Cornish clotted cream over the transversal cut of a scone.

The lectures ended with a debate chaired by Melanie Tuffen from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA) who was also my neighbour during the poster presentations. The question discussed was: is plant biosecurity research addressing the needs of policy? The implications for global trade are significant since the stuff we buy and our travels are vectors for disease.

It was very cool to witness researchers and civil servants (Nicola Spence also from DEFRA), openly argue on the challenges of biosecurity and what needs to be done. There was certainly a tension between global trade and increasing biosecurity barriers and engaging more young people in public policy was mentioned.


Melanie Tuffen from DEFRA moderating the debate: Is plant biosecurity research addressing the needs of policy?

The day ended with the poster presentation session accompanied by Cornish cider. It was great fun to have a one-to-one talk with other researchers attending the event. I would like to thank the many people who gave their helpful feedback for our coffee leaf rust research including Michael Shaw from the University of Reading, Julie Flood from CABI and Jean Beagle Ristaino from North Carolina State University.


Poster presentation and Cornish cider. UK science events are fun!

Day 2

The Penryn campus was very green and uncrowded so I decided to go on an early morning 5k run before the start of the talks.


The Cornwall roads near the Penryn campus during summer.

My favourite talk of this day was by my supervisor Professor Sarah Gurr, Chair of Food Security at the University of Exeter. She shared the important work she has been involved with in recent years presented sort of like a timeline where findings were integrated into one narrative and implications presented as predictions for global food security.


Profesor Sarah Gurr – Chair of Food Security at the University of Exeter

Her talk was the last of the day but managed to be very clear and concise sustaining everyone’s attention. It was followed by the final remarks, a question and answer session with Dan Bebber.


Dan Bebber and Sarah Gurr during the closing remarks

After the day was formally over, some of us went out for dinner in Falmouth. Here are a few pictures of the evening. Overall, it was a very intense learning experience and it’s cool to meet and interact with other researchers in different countries working on similar things.


Group picture in Falmouth


The sweet view from our restaurant


Delicious dinner



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