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Seventh International Postharvest Symposium, Kuala Lumpur

David Brummell from Plant & Food Research presented a paper at the 7th International Postharvest Symposium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and visited the new Centre of Excellence in Postharvest Biology at the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus.

The International Postharvest Symposium in Kuala Lumpur was the seventh in this series (the previous one was in Turkey in 2009), and is the largest and most important meeting in the postharvest science of fruit, vegetables and flowers.  The meeting was held at the Putra World Trade Centre in downtown Kuala Lumpur, with over 530 participants representing 50 countries, including approximately 150 speakers and 400 poster presentations.  The conference began with a special award to Professor Adel Kader of UC Davis, to recognize his many years of achievement in the postharvest area.  Each day of the five-day meeting began with three or four keynote addresses, and then split into three parallel sessions on various specialist topics, which meant that it was possible to go to only a fraction of the available talks.  However, it also meant that there was a very good range of countries, approaches, problems and crops to choose from.  My presentation was entitled ‘Post-translational regulation of invertase activity by overexpression of a vacuolar invertase inhibitor reduces cold-induced sweetening of potato tubers’, with co-authors Ronan Chen, Matthew Ashworth and Marian McKenzie.  The talk described the role of endogenous invertase inhibitor proteins in controlling the production of reducing sugars in cold-stored potato tubers.  These reducing sugars become a problem when the tubers are processed into chips or crisps, since they react with free amino acids to produce acrylamide, a potential carcinogen.  Invertase inhibitor expression might be a useful tool in breeding to develop cultivars resistant to cold-induced sweetening.  In addition to molecular aspects of quality, the conference covered a range of topics including preharvest factors, postharvest handling, storage conditions, packaging, pests & diseases, antioxidants & health, safety and marketing, with considerable emphasis on emerging technologies and third world problems.  Included in the conference was a technical tour, which visited a local dragon fruit pack house followed by a dragon fruit plantation. 

The meeting was attended by a large proportion of the most prominent researchers in the postharvest field worldwide, and was an excellent opportunity for developing and maintaining linkages with other scientists and importantly, exposure of our science to research workers on an international stage.  Due to the principal role of horticulture and postharvest in the New Zealand economy, it is essential that New Zealand is represented at international meetings such as this.  The conference was particularly useful in highlighting the role of new technologies in postharvest research, such as the use of metabolomics, proteomics and transcriptomics in understanding how to maintain postharvest nutritional quality, and in predicting storage life and disorders.  Poster sessions were unfortunately brief, but there was time at tea and meal breaks to meet many of the participants.  Julian Heyes gave a short talk publicizing the IHC 2014 meeting in Brisbane, and we also had a trade stand with information about Brisbane and the congress which the New Zealand representatives took turns in manning during teabreaks and lunch breaks.

The conference finished at lunchtime on the final day, and in the afternoon a trip to the University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) had been arranged for several of the participants.  As a graduate (undergraduate) of the University of Nottingham, I was looking forward to this visit.  The campus is set in a large amount of open space about 40 km outside Kuala Lumpur, and has many new buildings and facilities.  After an introduction by Professor Graham Kendall, the Vice-Provost for Research and Knowledge Transfer, there was a tour of several of the new buildings and labs.  Our main interest was in the facilities of the almost new Centre of Excellence in Postharvest Biology, and the institute boasts many new labs and controlled temperature rooms, and a number of keen graduate students.  It was made very clear that they welcome visiting scientists and are keen to develop interactions with other institutions, particularly in the Asia/Australasia region. 

Other points of interest:
Professor Sayed Azam-Ali gave an overview of plans for the new Crops for the Future Research Centre (CFFRC), of which he is CEO.  The research centre is being built at The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus, in partnership with the Government of Malaysia.  It will concentrate on developing and exploiting under-utilized crop species, in an effort to reduce human dependence on the staples (wheat, rice and maize) that currently provide over 60 per cent of the global diet.  The centre will focus on potential sources of food that are going unnoticed and will protect some plants that are disappearing altogether.  Many of these species could be of major agricultural significance in the future or be developed as niche products, particularly those that can grow in marginal or unusual land, or in land not easily cultivated (for example the many hundreds of hectares present under power lines).  They were eager for willing collaborators, but obviously the focus will be on tropical and sub-tropical rather than temperate crops.

View David's images from the symposium

David Brummell
Plant & Food Research, Private Bag 11600, Palmerston North
64 6 355 6121                                             

Dates of Travel and places visited (if relevant):

25th to 29th June 2012, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia