Current Status and Future Challenges of UK Plant Science

Categories: GARNet, UKPSF
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Published on: January 28, 2014

status report cover

The UK Plant Sciences Federation released UK Plant Science: Current Status and Future Challenges today. It is the product of over a year’s work collecting data and viewpoints from across the UK plant science sector, from researchers like those in the GARNet community to industry scientists, managers in industry and academia, plant breeders and growers, policy-makers and educators.

The report contains the first ever assessment of activities across the UK’s plant science sector. It calls for a doubling of investment in plant science, which currently receives less than 4% of UK public research funding, and urges Government and industry to work together to achieve this.

Jim Beynon, GARNet representative to UKPSF and UKPSF Chair, says: “In addition to increased investment, we need a more concerted approach to ensuring progress in both fundamental scientific understanding and its application for all our benefit. This has not been the case for more than a decade and the adverse impact on skills supply, infrastructure and innovation is now becoming apparent.”

The whole GARNet team have contributed to the report, and we’re excited to be going to the official launch at the Royal Society – consider the above quote from Jim a preview of his speech this evening! We’ll post some photos here later in the week, but in the mean time you can follow the launch virtually on the #UKPSFReport Twitter stream.

The Nagoya Protocol and plant science

Categories: intellectual property
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: January 28, 2014

There is some legislation struggling through the EU at the moment that could have a big impact on UK plant science – not least, a potential mountain of paperwork for sharing certain genetic material. It is the EU Regulation to implement the Nagoya Protocol, a section of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). For those of you who (like me!) are new to regulations surrounding plant genetic material and breeders’ rights, I’ve given a simple background summary before explaining the new goings-on.

The Convention of Biological Diversity

The CBD is based on the principle that biodiversity is valuable – scientists and industrialists have been ‘bioprospecting’ for centuries, hoping to find something of scientific interest, and preferably also economic worth. The CBD reaffirmed the sovereign rights of a country over the genetic material found within its boarders, and aimed to ensure the states that signed up to it conserved their own biodiversity, used its components sustainability, and shared benefits arising from it responsibly and fairly. It came into force in 1993 after 168 parties had signed up, and now covers over 180 countries.

The Plant Treaty

A second significant agreement linked to the current Nagoya Protocol discussions is the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (often referred to more easily as ‘The Plant Treaty’), which sets out special treatment for 64 important agricultural crops that between them provide 80% of human food globally. It was adopted in 2001 and recognizes the rights of all stakeholders in significant plant genetic material – the country of origin, scientists, breeders and farmers. Now, 13 years on from the adoption of the treaty, there is a well established Standard Material Transfer Agreement for access and benefit sharing of genetic materials, which is relatively simple to use, pragmatic and well understood by the plant breeding community. (more…)

Recently in the GARNet community…

Comments: No Comments
Published on: January 24, 2014

GARNet news

Lisa and I went to the Brassica Growers Association Conference on Tuesday. I wrote two posts on it over on the UK-BRC website, and Lisa put together a very informative Storify of tweets on the #BGAconference stream.

The UK Plant Sciences Federation has been collecting opinions, facts and data for the past year or so and is now ready to launch a report entitled UK Plant Science: Current Status and Future Challenges. Lisa and I helped out with this report so keep an eye out for it on Tuesday and let us know what you think!

I went to the SEB Synthetic Biology conference last week and have written a short report for the SEB Bulletin about it – I’ll share it when it is published. There was some excellent plant science there. Antonio Scialdone presented the plant-arithmatic work from Martin Howard’s lab – you can read his open access 2013 paper modelling starch degredation over night here (Scialdone et al., eLife 2013;2:e00669). Oliver Ebenhoeh discussed how mathematical models for photosynthesis and plant metabolism can help synthetic biology be done in plants and other photosynthetic organisms.

 

On the GARNet website

If you missed some January funding deadlines, there are plenty more opportunities to submit your proposal – take a look at the funding round-up on our website for ideas for fellowships, travel, collaborations or straightforward research grants.

Lisa is continuing to write her weekly Arabidopsis research round-up, which you can find on the GARNet news pages. It’s the best way to keep informed of what fellow UK Arabidopsis researchers are up to. This week, papers from GARNet committee members Heather Knight and Cyril Zipfel feature.

 

Your chance to present your work

PlantSci 2014 is in York on 31 March/1 April, and abstract submission is open until the end of February. There are two £200 cash prizes to be won by early career researchers giving short talks, so make sure you submit an abstract! There won’t be a traditional poster session, but delegates are invited to bring mini-posters to discuss during the networking sessions. Abstracts for the mini-posters will be included in the abstract book.

Further away in September, GARNet 2014 is your second chance to present your work at either a poster session or as a short talk. Registration and abstract submission are both open, and news about special opportunities for students will be coming very soon.

Finally, I’ve been reliably informed that the FSPB/EPSO Plant Biology Conference organisers are looking for proposals for short talks for the Big Data in Plant Science session, so if you’re planning on going and do ‘big data,’ think about submitting an abstract!

How do plants remember winter?

Martin Howard is a Professor at the John Innes Centre, one of a small cluster of research institutes in Norwich. In the fourth of our Celebrating Basic Plant Science series, he explains how he uses mathematical modelling to understand how plants remember winter cold and respond to it throughout the year. 

How do plants ‘know’ the correct time to flower? Getting this timing right is vital for reproductive success; flowering in the middle of winter is unlikely to be optimal! Many factors are integrated together to make this critical decision, including the day length.

We have been studying one aspect of this question: How the plant Arabidopsis thaliana perceives and then remembers exposure to winter cold. This fundamental mechanism ensures that flowering doesn’t occur until winter has passed. Interestingly, this memory is quantitative – a longer winter means flowering is faster once it starts (see the image below).  This process is a very nice example of what’s called an epigenetic phenomenon, as the plants store information about winter cold exposure even after the environmental stimulus (cold) has been removed.

So how is this information about cold stored? In Arabidopsis, this is centred on a gene called FLC (Flowering Locus C). When the plant is cold, the FLC gene is turned off. The products of this gene prevent flowering, so turning it off actually stimulates the plant to flower. Over recent years, we have learned a great deal about the operation of FLC and associated genes through genetics and biochemistry, in large part through the work of my experimental collaborator, Caroline Dean. However, despite all this knowledge it was still not clear overall how the epigenetic memory system worked. This was partly due to feedback among the different components, which made arriving at an intuitive understanding a very difficult task. For these reasons, we began to model the dynamics of FLC mathematically in the hope of making sense of these interactions and, we hoped, revealing some underlying simplicity in how the system operated.

Mathematical modelling turned out to be very informative and suggested that FLC gene silencing occurred in an all or nothing fashion inside each cell. (more…)

This much is known…Arabidopsis science-art

Proving that science and art aren’t mutually exclusive, check out this gorgeous animation that has recently been produced by engineer-turned-Fine Art student Andrew Styan.

this much is known from Andrew Styan on Vimeo.

Andrew recently took part in a science-art course, tutored in part by Dr Gordon Simpson, an Arabidopsis researcher who works within Dundee’s Department of Plant Sciences.

Inspired by Dr Simpson’s work, Andrew’s animation This Much is Known represents 25 years of Arabidopsis research and demonstrates how our understanding of this little weed has expanded in such a relatively short time.

Using the Scopus database, he searched for all Arabidopsis papers published in the last 25 years, and the keywords associated with them. Each bubble that appears on the screen represents a different keyword, with the size of the bubble growing as more papers on that topic are published.

I think it’s very clever and very beautiful! Thanks Andrew, and Gordon!

If there are any other budding science-artists out there who have produced some cool work on Arabidopsis or other plant science, we’d love to see it so please email lisa@garnetcommunity.org.uk.

Register now for GARNet’s 2014 events

We have been busy arranging two great events for 2014! Registration for both Software Carpentry for Plant Scientists (9-10 April) and Arabidopsis: The Ongoing Green Revolution (9-10 September) is now open.

 

On 9-10 April we are hosting a Software Carpentry bootcamp for plant scientists – an Introduction to Programming for Biologists. For those of you who don’t know about Software Carpentry, it is a foundation that teaches good practice in scientific computing, with the aim of providing all scientists with basic, but reliable and transferable, programming skills. If you’ve ever run through the rain to Computing to have a large ChIP-chip dataset split so you can attempt an Excel analysis on it, you’ll know how valuable that is (based on real events – feel free to insert your own experiences there …)!

We’ve worked with the Software Sustainability Institute to develop a programme suitable for both complete beginners and scientists how know their way around the Terminal/Command Prompt but want to improve their skills and learn how to write reliable, re-usable code they can share with their colleagues and collaborators. Registration is £50 and discounted on-campus accommodation is available.

 

Later in the year, the GARNet general meeting is returning for one time only on 9-10 September at the University of Bristol. Our theme is ‘Arabidopsis: The Ongoing Green Revolution’. We have a line up of excellent speakers, including plenary talks from Alistair Hetherington (University of Bristol), Andrew Millar (University of Edinburgh), Rob Martienssen from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratories, and Paul Schulze-Lefert and Maarten Koornneef from the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research. 

The full line-up and registration details can be found by visiting www.garnet2014.org. More information will appear on there closer to the time of the conference. Registration costs £150 for two days, lunch and refreshments on both days, and a drinks reception on the afternoon of 9 September. We’d also love to see you at our conference dinner on the evening of the 9 September at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel (£44 per head for three courses and wine on the tables).

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