Katie Field: Underground and overground at ICOM9

In this guest post, Katie Field, researcher in plant-soil interactions and leader of the Field lab at the University of Leeds, UK, reports back from ICOM9, the 9th International Conference on Mycorrhiza, with a round-up of the highlights (and desserts).

Mycorrhizal researchers from around the globe converged on the Clarion Congress Hotel in Prague on the 30th July for a week of the latest developments in mycorrhizal research and a much-valued chance to meet up with old (and new!) friends and collaborators. The meeting, held under the auspices of the International Mycorrhiza Society (IMS) and expertly organised and coordinated by the local organising committee, led by Jan Jansa, attracted a diverse range of close to 600 delegates of various career stages. The scientific programme covered a wide range of themes ranging from applied mycorrhizal ecology, diversity and function through to genomics and modelling, all within the overarching theme “Mycorrhizal functioning: from wilderness to megacities”.

Image: The local organising committee for ICOM9. Credit: ICOM9 committee.
The local organising committee for ICOM9. Credit: ICOM9 committee.

After a fabulous opening ceremony, day one of ICOM9 kicked off with Paola Bonfante chairing the first plenary session of the meeting “Establishing and maintaining mycorrhizas: the molecular interplay”. Maria Harrison delivered an excellent keynote lecture on the molecular reprogramming of plant root cells and lipid metabolism to accommodate arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi. This led on to thought-provoking plenary talks in the first morning session, including insights into the role of effector proteins in establishing mycorrhizal symbiosis from Jonathan Plett, nitrogen metabolism in orchids by Silvia Perotto and the exciting new developments in the emerging plant-to-fungus lipid transfer story from Caroline Gutjahr. The second part of the plenary session continued along a transport theme, with Alga Zuccaro discussing the impacts of plant immunity on beneficial interactions, Pierre-Emmanuel Courty on the “transportome” and Jean-Michel Ané giving us a lesson in SWEET talking. Uwe Nehls then built on this, discussing sugar efflux in ectomycorrhizas.

After satisfying our appetites (thanks in no small part to an abundance of goulash and an excellent range of desserts!), there was a chance to view and discuss the first half of >300 posters presented by researchers of all career stages.

Concurrent sessions kicked off later in the afternoon. These covered mycorrhizas in agroecosystems, soil and climate feedbacks in mycorrhizal biogeography and ecology and the acquisition, assimilation and transport of nutrients and carbon in mycorrhizal symbiosis. It was pretty challenging to decide which of these excellent sessions to attend! The presentations covered a breadth of mycorrhizal research, including interesting insights into the contribution of mycorrhizas to mineral weathering from Jonathan Leake, discussion regarding sampling and analysis of ectomycorrhizas across large scales from Martin Bidartondo and CO2 effects on arbuscular mycorrhizas in grasslands presented by Irena Maček.

The evening took us to the beautiful Castle Průhonice, a National Heritage Site surrounded by the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Průhonice Park, for traditional Czech music, food and ICOM’s infamous Wines of the World event. The idea behind this important event in the IMS calendar is to encourage conversation by sharing wine from your home country with others and scoring each wine out of ten – elegant in its simplicity, it really works!

Image: Wines of the World at Castle Průhonice, Prague. Credit: ICOM9 committee.
Wines of the World at Castle Průhonice, Prague. Credit: ICOM9 committee.
Image: Tom Thirkell, Katie Field and Grace Hoysted at Castle Průhonice for Wines of the World. Credit: Katie Field.
Tom Thirkell, Katie Field and Grace Hoysted at Castle Průhonice for Wines of the World. Credit: Katie Field.

Day two got off to a rather slow start after the night before, but those feelings soon disappeared with the commencement of the plenary session covering biogeography and diversity of mycorrhizas, chaired by Dirk Redecker. Leho Tendersoo delivered a comprehensive keynote covering a lot of ground on the evolution and biogeography of ectomycorrizas. I discussed functional diversity and evolutionary stability of mycorrhizal (and mycorrhiza-like) symbioses. Next up was Celeste Linde with the latest in orchid-Tulasnella interactions before Gijsbert Werner covered breakdown of plant-arbuscular mycorrhiza mutualisms. The chance to present at ICOM9 was incredibly valuable, my talk stimulated some really interesting discussions that might not otherwise have happened and this helped generate lots of ideas for the next potential steps.

After lunch (and another round of excellent desserts), the second poster session got underway, stimulating lots of conversation between researchers. The afternoon sessions included topics ranging from plant / fungal invasions and population genetics, through to mycorrhizal modelling, conservation and carbon flux. The early evening was given over to workshops which covered common mycelial networks, species concepts of Glomeromycota, mycorrhizas for human welfare and specificity in mycorrhizal symbiosis. I presented the isotope tracing methods I’ve been using to study carbon-for-nutrient flows between plants and mycorrhizal fungi in the interactive workshop session run by Thorunn Helgason and Ylva Lekberg on “How to study mycorrhizas in a messy, real world”. Other speakers included Edith Hammer who described her use of soil chips and microfluidics, Viktor Caldas’ techniques using quantum dots to visualise movement of molecules, Thomas Irving’s use of mutants, Thorunn Helgason discussed genomics techniques, Ylva Lekberg using in-growth cores and fungicides, Björn Lindahl’s enzyme assays in ectomycorrhizal systems and Gaby Deckmyn’s use of computer modelling. This led to a thought-provoking and enjoyable group exercise involving much frantic post-it note scribbling and discussions on how we might use some of these techniques to address our own research questions.

Day three was given over to organised field excursions, with a choice of guided tours, hikes and fungal forays available, or the option to conduct your own self-guided sightseeing. Prague is an amazing city, full of incredible architecture, history and culture, it’s easy to navigate and we really valued the chance to do some sightseeing – I highly recommend a visit, particularly if it takes in the rooftop T-Anker bar to enjoy some of the best local brews and incredible city views. It’s also very worth indulging in a sneaky ice cream trdelník if you get the chance…

Image: View from the rooftops in central Prague. Credit: Katie Field.
View from the rooftops in central Prague. Credit: Katie Field.
Image: Katie Field enjoying an ice cream trdelník. Credit: Thorunn Helgason.
Katie Field enjoying an ice cream trdelník. Credit: Thorunn Helgason.
Image: Mushroom picking in Southern Bohemia. Credit: ICOM9 committee.
Mushroom picking in Southern Bohemia. Credit: ICOM9 committee.
Image: Thorunn Helgason, William Rimington and Martin Bidartondo enjoying the rooftop terrace view of Prague. Credit: Katie Field.
Thorunn Helgason, William Rimington and Martin Bidartondo enjoying the rooftop terrace view of Prague. Credit: Katie Field.

Thursday began with a refreshed audience (perhaps after a 6am jogging excursion around Prague, led by Marc-André Selosse) ready for the morning’s plenary session entitled Below-ground diversity and ecosystem functioning chaired by Nancy Johnson. Keynote speaker Marcel van der Heijden gave us a fascinating overview of the latest research in his lab, which led in to the plenaries which followed from Karina Clemmensen, Melissa McCormick, Dave Johnson, Stephanie Watts-Williams, Carla Cruz Paredes, Jonathan Bennett and Nikhil Joshi. A particular highlight from this session for me was the emphasis placed by all speakers on the importance of studying mycorrhizas with a holistic context, rather than as isolated systems and the highlighting of the key point that physiological measures don’t always correlate with molecular measures.

After lunch (dessert-fatigue had set in by this point but have no fear, I valiantly continued in my mission to try them all) we had the chance to chat with authors of the second set of posters, stimulating lots of conversation amongst delegates. Afternoon concurrent sessions followed, again covering a wide range of topics including mycorrhizal microbiomes, molecular programming of mycorrhizal symbiosis and the integration of mycorrhizas into plant community ecology.

Image: ICOM 9 poster session underway. Credit: ICOM9 committee.
ICOM 9 poster session underway. Credit: ICOM9 committee.

At the end of Thursday, we made our way through Prague’s metro network to arrive at Restaurant Plzeňská on the ground floor of the historic Obecní dům building in central Prague. Having consumed a selection of the finest Czech food and drinks, traditional live Czech music and much mycorrhizal dancing soon followed!

Image: Conference dinner of ICOM9, held in the Obecní dům, Prague. Credit: Mike Charters.
Conference dinner of ICOM9, held in the Obecní dům, Prague. Credit: Mike Charters.

The final day of ICOM9 began and was no less packed than the preceding four days. We started the morning plenary session (Genomics for understanding mycorrhizal evolution and ecology) chaired by Ian Sanders. The keynote talk for this session was given by Francis Martin and covered an exciting range of the impacts of fungal genomics on mycorrhizal research. This was followed by the plenary talks, including Nicolas Corradi, Elena Martino, Laszlo Nagy, Christophe Roux, Martina Peter and Marco Giovannetti covering a variety of aspects of molecular mycorrhizal developments.

After lunch was the final “Perspectives” plenary session of the meeting, chaired by Lynette Abbot. Roger Koide provided some historical context for mycorrhizal research through his short biography of John Harley, a pioneering and inspiring mycorrhizal scientist, before Kitty Gehring brought us up to date with the very latest developments in mycorrhizal research from the end of ICOM8 in 2015 up to ICOM9 in 2017. Highlighted themes here included mycorrhizal development and evolution, how mycorrhizas may help plants respond to environmental stresses, the importance of intraspecific variation and mycorrhizal networks.

Our final talk of the meeting was a far-sighted and thought-provoking perspectives piece from Ian Sanders, who had an important take-home message that pretty much summed up the meeting for me:

Image: Take-home thoughts from Ian Sanders. Credit: Katie Field.
Take-home thoughts from Ian Sanders. Credit: Katie Field.

Congratulations to all of the early career prize-winners, huge thanks to all speakers and perhaps most of all, thank you to the organisers of a fantastic conference which I’m sure has stimulated plenty of new research ideas, collaborations and friendships.

Image: Mycorrhiza Poster Prize winner Shihomi Hachiya with her award, presented by Leho Tendersoo. Credit: ICOM9 committee.
Mycorrhiza Poster Prize winner Shihomi Hachiya with her award, presented by Leho Tendersoo. Credit: ICOM9 committee.
Image: IMS Poster Prize winner Claire Willing with her award, presented by Tom Bruns. Credit: ICOM9 committee.
IMS Poster Prize winner Claire Willing with her award, presented by Tom Bruns. Credit: ICOM9 committee.

Na zdraví Prague, see you all for ICOM10 in Mexico, 2019!

Katie Field
Centre for Plant Sciences, University of Leeds, UK
@katiefield4
@field_lab_UoL

What to read next:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *