Prof. Bernard Slippers spent a two-month research visit at the Technical University of Braunschweig (TUBS) in June and July 2023 in the lab of Prof. André Fleißner, focusing on the development of novel molecular genetics techniques for the Botryosphaeriaceae to study their infection biology and epidemiology with PhD student, Ms. Anne Oostlander, and others. The visit also included a number of engagements with researchers in the region, including at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (Dr Marc Stadler and Prof. Dr Christine Beemelmans), the Julius Kühn-Institute (Dr Wolfgang Maier, Dr Yvonner Becker and Dr Rasmus Enderle), the KWS Saat Company (Prof. Kerstin Kruger and others), Institute of Sugar Beet Research (IfZ) (Dr Rene Heim), an associated institute with the University of Goettingen, the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology and Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel (Prof. Eva Stukenbrock), and the University of Hamburg (Prof. Dominik Begerow and Dr Martin Kemler). Prof. Slippers was joined during the visit by Prof. Tuan Duong and MSc student Mr Christiaan Grobler, given shared research interests and overlapping projects. The visit not only advanced collaborative research projects, but is leading to further developments of long term linkages with the researchers and institutions in Germany.

Between 16-17 October Prof. Slippers participated in a workshop on the topic of ‘Microbial Interactions in the Phytosphere’. The workshop broad together around 50 participants from the region and beyond for an overview of some of the frontier work in the field and in-depth discussion on how to jointly advance the field. Being involved in this topic and project with colleagues at TUBS, he gave an opening talk on ‘Global networks are needed to address global change impacts on forest health: A FABI perspective’. In the talk he highlighted key examples of how global change, including changes in climate, land use, trade, invasive species distribution and more, are affecting forests globally. FABI is deeply involved in global projects and see first-hand that it is not a problem that can be addressed locally. Strong global networks are needed, to connect expertise, monitor patterns of change on a global scale and share resources to mitigate it.

Following the conference, Prof. Slippers spent two days at the University of Hamburg. The visit included discussions on collaborations with long term partners, Prof. Dominik Begerow and Dr Martin Kemler, on the characterization of fungal communities in trees. He also spent time working on a specialized Keyence VHX7000 digital microscope to characterize spore germination and infection patterns of D. sapinea on Pinus. The visit not only advanced collaborations, but delivered some spectacular images and into D. sapinea spore germination on its host. 

Between 24 November and 1 December, Prof. André Fleißner and Ms Anne Oostlander visited FABI. Ms Oostlander gave a talk to the FABI community at the weekly FABI Monday Morning Meeting, giving an overview of work on both Neurospora crassa and its link to work on Diplodia sapinea. The week included in depth engagements with various researchers at FABI, visits to facilities and a field visit to the York Timbers Sabie Mill, Klipkraal nursery and surrounding plantations. The Mill is an intriguing and unique site where sporulation of Neurospora occurs in high amounts, together with blue stain of wood caused by D. sapinea, which causes significant economic impact. The visit also included a visit to a field site and Camcore trial to look for possible Pine needle pathogens, as well as collections of samples on aging Pine hedges at the Klipkraal nursery. The visit provides insight into the biology of these fungi, but also lays the foundation for future collaborations that include both TUBS and York.

While visiting Prof. Fleißner, Prof. Slippers and Anne Oostlander concluded and submitted a major proposal that would connect the above networks and fund a number of PhD students and postdoctoral Fellows on a project to unravel the dynamics of mycobiomes in forests under climate change. The proposal promises to not only advance the research field and approaches to mitigate these impacts, but to build long term and substantive linkages between FABI and the various institutes in Germany.