Reversing the Decline in Plant Science Applications to the BBSRC: analysis and recommendations from GARNet

GARNet is a community-facing UK network funded by BBSRC through Responsive Mode that supports the delivery of outstanding plant science research. GARNet’s primary focus is supporting researchers who work on fundamental areas of plant science, particularly around the adoption of new technologies and new ways of working. Recently members of the plant science community have expressed concerns about a perceived lack of opportunities to obtain funding for fundamental plant science.

The primary mechanism for obtaining funding of this type comes through BBSRC Responsive Mode funding predominantly via Research Committee B: Plants, microbes, food and sustainability. As a service to the community, GARNet asked the BBSRC to analyse their data regarding the number of plant science applications, which is not in the public domain. The BBSRC found that the number of total plant science applications is declining in line with the number of funded projects. However the number of applications to study aspects of fundamental plant science is declining at a faster rate (Figure 1).

Therefore GARNet investigated the factors that might have contributed to this worrying trend and our findings allowed us to make a series of recommendations outlined below. The discussion and reasoning that led to these recommendations is included in a longer article that is available for download from the GARNet website.

A- showing number of submitted and successful grants from Responsive Mode that propose to work on any aspect of plant science (2014-2017) B- showing number of submitted and successful grants from Responsive Mode that propose to work on an aspect of fundamental plant science (2014-2017). Data provided by BBSRC.


1. GARNet and other UK plant science stakeholders to spread the message that the BBSRC is ‘open-for-business’ to fund world-class grants based on fundamental plant science, including Arabidopsis-only or other plant model-only research.

2. GARNet and other UK plant science stakeholders to encourage the academic community to review Responsive Mode grants and to apply to join Research Committees. Currently, this is a particularly important action point for fundamental plant scientists.

3. GARNet uncovered considerable confusion over what can be considered ‘Impact’ within Responsive Mode proposals. We recommend that BBSRC circulates updated information to potential applicants and Research Committee panel members to clarify what exactly can be considered as ‘Impact’. The BBSRC is providing a piece on this topic for GARNish issue 29, published in Summer 2018.

4. Plant scientists are encouraged to submit their proposal to Research Committee B, but where more appropriate for the proposed research program they are also invited to submit to any of the other Research Committees. Should BBSRC deem it necessary to transfer proposals between committees, they will provide applicants the choice to withdraw their proposal.

5. BBSRC to advise potential applicants that world-class fundamental research is appropriate to be included in relevant GCRF applications, provided that it includes a clear long-term path toward a demonstrable benefit in an ODA country.

6. Given the success of IPAs, we recommend BBSRC reassesses the criteria for evaluating these grants. BBSRC could look into the possibility of capping the number of successful LINK/IPA proposals to a reasonable proportion of funded applications within a single grant round. Grants of sufficient quality would be encouraged to reapply in subsequent funding rounds if they do not fit under the cap in any one round.

7. Plant scientists are encouraged to engage with BBSRC to suggest areas that are relevant for special grant calls. The BBSRC has some flexibility to use Newton Fund and GCRF calls to respond to novel areas of research interest if there is a demonstrable community need.

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