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Richard Cooper
Richard Cooper working in an oil palm plantation in north Sumatra

Internal News - 25 January 2007

Bath academic elected President of British Society for Plant Pathology

Dr Richard Cooper, Reader in Biology & Biochemistry, has been elected as President of the British (International) Society for Plant Pathology (BSPP) for 2007.

The Society was founded in 1981 for the study and advancement of plant pathology and supports the professional interests of plant pathologists worldwide.

Dr Cooper said: "As we increasingly lose touch with agriculture in the UK, the public are worryingly ignorant as to where our food comes from and the risks and losses that occur to crop plants."

In developed countries, yield losses are estimated above 7 per cent; however, most damage is still caused in developing countries where we seek to achieve the Millennium Development Goal to eradicate extreme hunger through improved food security.

Major epidemics still threaten the livelihoods and food supply of many communities: swollen shoot and black pod of cocoa in West Africa, cassava mosaic virus and coffee wilt in East Africa, cocoa frosty pod and witches’ broom in Central and South America, banana bacterial wilt in Central Africa and Magnaporthe blast of rice worldwide; all have major impacts on national economies and in turn the livelihoods of those in most need.

The diseases also affect quality and prices of imports into the UK.

In developed countries pathologists continue to strive to control disease with environmentally friendly and sustainable methods, such as preventing accidental introductions, finding and using natural genes for resistance and employing benign microorganisms against those that cause disease.

Dr Cooper said: "In this context, current attempts in the UK to trial cloned resistance genes from a wild potato relative from Mexico into commercial potato lines have led to the usual protests.

"These genes are to control late blight, the disease that led to the death of one million Irish in the 1840s and the emigration of another one million; it is still a major disease.

"Before joining the objectors to GM crops, consider that these genes are from a wild relative of potato (conventional breeding has used these since the early 1900s) and disease control requires up to 20 fungicide sprays per annum.

"People may be unaware that many “organic” potato crops are also sprayed."

The Presidential Meeting for 2007 Attack and Defence in Plant Disease will be held at Bath 12-14 September 2007.

Notes

The BSPP has almost 700 members representing 64 countries and is a registered charity.