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Sick plants as information source for human health

Gepubliceerd op
4 april 2018

Knowledge of pathogens in plants help us to better understand illnesses in humans. This is one of the themes of the symposium Global One Health that is taking place tomorrow on the WUR campus. Scientists from across the world will be coming together to talk about global health and illness prevention.

However, Global One Health symposium is about more than human health, failed crops through plagues, and sufficient and safe food. Bart Thomma is one of the speakers at this meeting and he will talk about what our knowledge of plant illnesses can tell us about illnesses in humans. Thomma is the head of the Laboratory for Phytopathology at WUR and studies the interaction between pathogens and plants.

“Addressing the topic of combatting pathogens seems like the most obvious choice,” says Thomma. “But instead, I’m going to talk about how these pathogens spread in plants and how plants deal with such a contamination. By studying the interactions, we keep learning more about how and why a plant becomes ill.”

Thomma tracks these interactions, to the point of contagion in humans and animals. “A plant cannot run away, seems defenceless and assigned to its fate,” he says. “But just like in humans, plants have an immune system, and react to some micro-organisms but not to others. Because the dynamic in plants and humans is almost the same, our results are also useful in research into pathogens in humans. An added advantage is that you can experiment a lot more on plants than on people.”

The symposium will also address knowledge about animals and humans. Jianjun Dai, professor at Nanjing Agricultural University will cover animal health, while Edward Robert Atwill, professor at the University of California, will focus on human health. Thomma believes these are ample ingredients for discussion and new insights. “I especially hope to learn a lot from others. Perhaps one person knows a lot about micro-organisms, while the other knows more about immune systems or combatting pathogens. Such knowledge could benefit all of our research. It is rare to have such diverse knowledge concentrated together on this scale.”

The Global One Health symposium is part of WUR's 100-year anniversary this year.