Our plant pathologist Sarah Dodd has recently left our Auckland office for a more tropical life in Vanuatu for the next 3 years with her husband and family. Sarah will be continuing to do some work for us from afar and will put her skills to use in the Pacific. One project Sarah will be helping us with is sampling Pacific kauri trees (Agathis macrophylla) in Vanuatu for Phytopthora disease, as part of our project to understand how kauri collar rot has come to affect kauri trees (Agathis australis) in New Zealand. The kauri collar rot is thought to have been introduced to New Zealand but it is uncertain where this disease originates from. Previously Sarah was able to visit the island of Efate with forestry staff where they found two dead trees. Pythium (a close relative of Phytopthora) was isolated from the samples but no Phytopthora. Sarah hopes to organise sampling next on the island of Santo, which is thought to be the source of introductions of the Pacific kauri to New Zealand in the 1950s.
“Other projects I am hoping to become involved with include an Australian-funded weed biocontrol programme in Vanuatu run by Michael Day (Biosecurity Queensland),” says Sarah. Like, all Pacific islands Vanuatu has some fairly serious weed problems. Other possibilities include working with Miriam Seth at Vanuatu Livestock and Quarantine to help her set up a plant pathology laboratory that can provide basic services to the horticultural and forestry industries there. Sarah has taken over some essential items like a pressure cooker and an element so that Miriam and her team can sterilise their equipment, generate sterile water and make basic agar medium for culturing. She is also providing a digital camera so that Miriam can take pictures of disease symptoms on other islands (Vanuatu is made up of 81 islands) that can then be used to help diagnose plant diseases.
Contact Sarah (Sarah can still be contacted via her Landcare Research email).
Some of Sarah’s work, which she cannot undertake remotely from Vanuatu, will be picked up by Mahajabeen (Maj) Padamsee. Maj was trained as a fungal biologist at the University of Minnesota, USA. She worked as a postdoctoral fellow on the “Assembling the Fungal Tree of Life” project where she discovered her fascination with the plant pathogenic rust fungi. Maj was excited by the opportunity to work on the phylogenetics of the New Zealand rust fungi and started as a post-doctoral fellow at Landcare Research in 2010. The most commonly used group of fungi used in weed biocontrol are rusts, so we are extremely fortunate to have a rust expert to join our team, especially since we will be importing the lantana rusts (Prospodium tuberculatum, Puccinia lantanae) into containment shortly to allow releases to get underway. Outside of work Maj spends a lot of time walking her dog and tramping.
Our plant pathology technician Daniel Than left us last year to work for Biodiscovery, and Chantal Probst has now stepped into this role. Chantal is originally from Switzerland. She completed a Bachelor’s degree in cellular biology and physiology and a Master’s degree in plant biology and plant products, with an emphasis on plant pathology, in France. She then undertook a PhD at Lincoln University on the epidemiology and identification of Cylindrocarpon black foot disease in grapevines. After submitting her thesis, Chantal worked for the Ministry for Primary Industries in the Mycology and Bacteriology team for fi ve months and then in the Virology team for six months before moving to Landcare Research. Chantal is involved in a number of projects including one to better understand the role of plant endophytes and the impact they have on weed biocontrol projects. In her spare time Chantal loves gardening, taking to the hills and meeting up with friends.