The 11th Congress of International Plant Molecular Biology took place at Iguazú Falls, located at the Argentine-Brazilian border. Our guest blogger Michelle Cotta used the opportunity to talk to a few of the leading scientists there.
Luis Herrera Estrella from Physiology and Metabolic Engineering of Plants, Mexico, lectured about ‘Two examples of using genomics to design abiotic resistant plants’ during the Plenary Lecture on Thursday 29th. He spared some of his time, very generously, to respond to some of my questions about the essential use of today’s available technologies to solve these issues
What are the priorities for research in the coming decades to guarantee global food security, faced with the ever increasing challenges related to drought, fertilizer and pesticide-dependent production approaches?
I think we need to develop crops that are less dependent in agrochemicals. So, we need to use any technology available, traditional breeding, genetic modification and the new breeding technologies, to generate new varieties that are more competitive, requiring less agrochemicals and less energy input. Then, we need to make a more sustainable agriculture that is friendlier to the environment and the only solution is to use all technology available. We cannot exclude any technology that can contribute to achieve this goal.
For a young scientist like me, what is your advice to achieve a position in a career like yours?
I think there are two major aspects that young people have to care about. One is, to find questions that are important and that can be translated in new technologies. The second, which is difficult to achieve, is to be creative. Science tends to take people to follow trends! So everybody is doing the same as what all the other people are doing. So you have to stop…think… and be creative! And that is a very difficult part, but I think that is what can make you successful in the field!
Did you enjoy the Conference in Brazil?
Yes, I enjoyed very much the conference, because it was very well organized, with those magnificent speakers and all the logistics were really very well set up. The food and the place – everything was perfect!
Cyril Zipfel from the Sainsbury Laboratory, Norwich Research Park, UK, talked about ‘Connecting the dots: linking receptor kinase activation to downstream immune outputs’ during the Plenary Lecture on Sunday 26th. He shared his opinion about new insights on plant immunity.
Are you interested in studying crosstalk between abiotic stress and biotic stress? Do you think ABA has an important role in plant immunity?
Yes, there are a few reports that abscisic acid is regulating immunity but is not something that my lab has been working on. We have been looking at crosstalk between brassinosteroid and immunity, but indeed there is a role for abscisic acid in regulating immunity.
I talked with Selena Gimenez Ibanez because she showed some stomatal responses in certain pathways. During abiotic stress it well known that ABA controls stomatal closure and impairs stomatal opening, so do you think this is something related to that or maybe it is a more complex response?
Abscisic acid plays a role in stomatal closure in response to PAMPs, so now we need to understand mechanistically how the two pathways are linked, at least in guard cells.
You are a scientist in a high position in one of the most prestigious labs in the world. What advice can you give to future students that aim for a successful scientific career like yours?
I guess that you should just follow what you like, the research field that you are interested in, and the questions you have. Try to identify the people you admire or that you think are addressing interesting questions and apply to their lab.
This is your first time in Brazil or in South America? What do you think about the conference here? Did you enjoy it?
Yes, it was a great conference, was really well organized and the scientific program was excellent! It was nice also to see that there were so many poster presentations on other plant species which are relevant for agriculture in South America and the rest of the world. There are a lot of posters on coffee and cocoa, these really important crops, it is nice to see this!
What do you think about the initiative of the special issue from Annals of Botany?
‘It is interesting, I mean, for two principal reasons. One is that it offers a special issue obviously on an important topic, and another that it has enabled young scientists to attend this conference through provision of funding to a speaker involved in the issue, as observed in my section. Without that, I am not sure whether these people could have come here!’
Finally, for the IPMB2015 organizers, we are extremely thankful to take part in this amazing and rewarding opportunity, a first visit to Latin America. Congrats for the superb organization and set up. Certainly, it is a memorable Conference!