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.

Recently in the GARNet community…

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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!

Celebrating Basic Plant Science

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Published on: October 1, 2013

Do you know why the government uses taxpayers’ money to fund scientific research with no obvious application to the real world and definitely no short-term gain? Do you think it is valuable to carry out such research? If you’re a scientist, can you explain why your research is important?

At this year’s annual UK Plant Sciences Federation conference, PlantSci 2013, keynote speaker David Baulcombe made his case for the absolute necessity of ‘basic’ plant science research – science done for the sake of curiosity and understanding, to answer a question just because it’s there. He argues that above and beyond simple curiosity, maintaining a diversity of basic plant science research avenues is critical for paradigm shifts and future innovation, which are impossible to predict and can impact not only plant and agricultural science but medical science too. You can see him present his arguments in the video below, kindly provided by the Journal of Experimental Botany.

During the question and answer session after his talk, Baulcombe suggested that it would be a good idea to have some sort of online celebration of basic plant science. We jumped on this idea, and asked a few UK based scientists researching fundamental questions in plant science to write a blog post explaining their research and why they spend their time and energy on it. The ‘Celebrating Basic Plant Science’ series will start this week, and we’ll publish one story a month until we run out of volunteers. For now they’ll be here on the blog, but eventually we’ll give them a more permanent home on the GARNet website.

If you’re interested in finding out more about a certain area of plant science, please feel free to Tweet us (@weedinggems, @garnetweets) or to leave a comment below. If you want to contribute your own story Celebrating Basic Plant Science, we’d love to hear from you – please email

Video credit: Journal of Experimental Botany. See the other talks from PlantSci 2013 here

Celebrating basic plant science with David Baulcombe

Categories: UKPSF
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Published on: May 10, 2013


Barbara McClintock discovered transposable elements when investigating irregular colouring in maize.

It’s now nearly a month since UK PlantSci 2013, and high time I wrote something about it on this blog. Rebecca Nesbit has written two posts about it already on the Society of Biology blog, and a New Phytologist meeting report will be coming out soon. The Weeding the Gems contribution to this collection of UK PlantSci nostalgia is a write-up of the second keynote talk by David Baulcombe.

David Baulcombe’s talk was a rallying cry in defence of basic research and plant science. He kicked it off with a whistle-stop history of important scientific achievements, all by scientists carrying out basic research on plants: Robert Hooke, who identified and labelled ‘cells’ for the first time when studying woody plant biomass in 1665; 19th century monk Gregor Mendel, whose peas were the first genetic model system; Russian botanist Dmitri Iwanowsk, who in 1892 was the first scientist to identify and characterise a virus; and Barbara McClintock, who discovered transposable elements in maize. More recently even than McClintock’s work, Argonaute proteins, tumour formation, and cellular totipotency were all identified first in plants (Bohmert et al. 1998, EMBO 17:170; Sussex 2008, Plant Cell 20:1189).

The scientists involved in the discoveries listed above were carrying out what they presumably viewed as interesting work, simply because they wanted to know the answer – pure science, but all with far-reaching consequences. Baulcombe commented than in the 21st Century research is impact-driven, so some of these pioneers may have struggled to get funding via today’s funding mechanisms.

Now, it is unfair to say that research today is all end-product focussed and impact driven. I know that the BBSRC and other funders worldwide fund basic plant science research regularly, and I highlight some of it here on this blog. Baulcombe’s main point in this first half of the talk was that basic excellent plant science research has to be celebrated in its own right rather than as a half-way point to a useful product in the future. (more…)

Dundee’s week of plant science conferences

Categories: conferences, UKPSF
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Published on: April 23, 2013

Well, what felt like the biggest week of the year for UK plant science is now over. Last week, the UK Plant Phenomics Network meetingUK PlantSci 2013, and Monogram all happened at the University of Dundee. It was a whirlwind week of inspirational talks, updates, people, and a drop or two of Scottish whiskey.

PlantSci 2013 was the second annual conference organised by the UK Plant Sciences Federation. Representatives from fields as wide-ranging as basic and applied research, industry, molecular biology, ecology, and science communication spoke to an auditorium packed with people from all stages of their careers.

I have committed myself to no less than 3 write-ups of PlantSci 2013, so I won’t blog about it here, but I will do my best to write up David Baulcombe’s keynote talk as soon as I can. As far as I know, it hasn’t had a write-up yet and was very inspirational. However, until I can share my reports, there are plenty of PlantSci-related media to immerse yourself in.

The extraordinarily talented Rebecca Nesbit of the Society of Biology managed to write-up two sessions of PlantSci 2013 while live-tweeting. Her post on the first keynote talk, ‘Feeding 10 Billion People on a Finite Planet’ is here and her second post, on the Inspiring Future Generations session, is here.

At one point the conference hashtag #plantsci2013 was one of the most used phrases on Twitter! Twitter coverage of the conference extended well beyond the lecture theatre in Dundee as people all over the world followed the conference by the live-tweets and interacted with delegates who were present. For a fairly comprehensive overview of all the talks and the conference in general, take a look at the Storify I made of the Twitter feed. The shortlinks in the tweets will take you to papers or resources the speakers mentioned in their talks.

Monogram is the annual conference on UK small grain cereal and grass research, again attended by breeders and other stakeholders as well as basic and applied researchers. The Monogram blog will soon have a post about the conference, but in the mean time the Storify of tweets from the meeting is here.

Image credit: left image, Anne Osterrieder, right image, Charis Cook


Ready for UK PlantSci 2013

Categories: Friday Film, UKPSF
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Published on: April 12, 2013

To whet your appetite for next week’s UK PlantSci 2013 conference in Dundee, here are clips of the keynote speakers Charles Godfray (University of Oxford) and David Baulcombe (University of Cambridge). I think that the Godfray clip can be considered a very unofficial ‘preview’ of his keynote lecture Feeding 10 Billion People on a Finite Planet, which will be on Tuesday morning. David Baulcombe’s interview probably isn’t linked to his Of maize and men or peas and people lecture on Wednesday morning, but it is still a good watch – an interesting and balanced discussion about GM.

If you’re not coming up to Dundee, you can still keep up with these talks and all the others live on the Twitter hashtag #PlantSci2013. I’ll post the blog posts and reports about the conference here once they’ve trickled out, too.


Video credits: The Oxford Martin School and LEAF

Spring funding round-up

Categories: funding, UKPSF
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Published on: February 28, 2013

Spring 2013 is full of deadlines for various plant science funding opportunities. I compiled a list of calls that close in the next few months here. For up-to-date funding news, check the UKPSF website.

Research funding, partnering awards, and fellowships

BBSRC Strategic Longer and Larger Grants: Outline proposal deadline 18 April. Selected applicants will then be invited to submit full applications by January 2014. These sLoLa grants are worth over £2M and can last up to 5 years. The proposed projects must be in line with BBSRC Strategic Priorities, and in this round proposals are particularly encouraged in ‘innovative routes to fine and platform chemicals’ and ‘mechanisms for enhancing cellular productivity.’

BBSRC Responsive Mode: Deadline 24 April. Proposals are accepted to the four research committees for projects in line with BBSRC Strategic Priorities. Remember that plant scientists may apply to Committees B and D. For non-plant specific generic genes, development, technology, engineering, and maths approaches to biology, consider Committee C.

BBSRC Synthetic Biology China Partnering Award: Deadline 30 April. Up to 5 awards will be co-funded with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The funds are to form collaborations between UK- and China- based groups who are current BBSRC or CAS grant holders. The four key areas highlighted in the call are fairly well suited to plant science, so if you have Chinese contacts and are open to synthetic biology, do give this partnering award consideration.

BBSRC Enterprise fellowships: Deadline 17 May. This enterprise-driven award provides a salary for a year spent on developing a business plan and seeking investment, access to mentors and business experts, and business training. Academics, research staff, or post-grads may apply. (more…)

Root development with Malcolm Bennett

Categories: Friday Film, GARNet, UKPSF
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Published on: January 25, 2013

Malcolm Bennett, Professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Nottingham, discusses here about his research into root development, the ‘hidden half of plant biology.’ He talks about working with computer scientists and soil scientists, and explains how they work toward improving water efficiency and nutrient uptake in the model plant Arabidopsis. As the four previous scientists in this series also said, he hopes the work will be translated to crop species. He also discusses funding for UK plant science, and the progress that has been made by the community in recent years.

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