CONTROLLING pests and diseases in the face of rising food insecurity, was the main topic of discussion at this week’s gathering of over 1400 plant scientists at Glasgow’s SEC Centre.

Global population growth is set to rise to 9.9bn by 2050, with food production required to increase by 70% to meet demand. Pests and diseases are a major set-back to reaching food production targets – between 30-40% of our crops are lost to pathogens long before they reach individual’s dinner plates.

Increasing resistance of pathogens to pesticides and tightening regulations that restrict the use of our remaining chemical control agents have had a cumulative negative effect on food production. Climate change is also playing its part by increasing the spread of harmful pests and pathogens.

These issues, and many others, were at the centre of discussions during the International Society for Molecular Plant-Microbe Interactions (IS-MPMI) World Congress, held in Glasgow which saw scientists attend from 52 countries – the largest ever gathering of experts in this field.

Leader of the James Hutton Institute’s Cell and Molecular Sciences group and co-organiser of the event, Professor John Jones, said: “In order to develop new ways to combat the plethora of pests and diseases in the environment it is essential to develop a full understanding of how different plants either survive or succumb to disease.

“In this fast-moving scientific field, timely communication between researchers is vital to uncover and learn from the molecular battles that occur between plants and the pests and parasites that infect them,” he stressed.

Fellow co-organiser and Head of the Division of Plant Sciences at the University of Dundee, Professor Paul Birch, added: “Delegates will hear about the latest advances in our knowledge of how pathogens infect plants and of how research can help to improve the plant immune system to fight off infection.”

IS-MPMI is comprised of members from around the world who research molecular aspects of how microorganisms interact with plants and the consequences of such interactions.