All-expenses-paid networking in Thailand, Mexico, Brazil or Turkey …

Categories: funding, plant pathogens
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Published on: October 28, 2014
Screen Shot 2014-10-28 at 13.28.28
Plaza de Guanajuato, Mexico. By Jose Carlos Soto.

Do you fancy an all-expenses-paid trip to a meeting where you can present your work, network with senior researchers in your field, get inspired and eat good food in the sun? If you’re a UK-based early career researcher (of any nationality), it might be closer than you think.

And if the days of your ‘early career’ are past, applications are still being accepted for funding to run similar events.

There are four Researcher Links workshops open for applications at the moment:

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Investment in plant science training

Categories: funding
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Published on: October 7, 2014

The planet needs more plant scientists.

As a headline in The Scientist last week, this statement was unambiguously qualified by its ‘Opinion’ prefix. But for the UK plant sciences community it is a dangerous fact: the skills gaps in plant and agricultural sciences expertise and very limited plant science content on undergraduate courses were highlighted in the UKPSF report on the status of UK plant science.

The news that some 375 students will receive PhD training in agriculture and food security over the next five years is therefore very welcome. On Friday, Vince Cable announced the locations of 12 new Doctoral Training Partnerships, funded by a £125 million investment from BBSRC. 1250 PhD students will be trained, of which 30% (375) will be trained specifically in agricultural and food security science, 20% (250) will focus on industrial biotechnology and bioenergy, and 40% (500) on world-class ‘frontier’ bioscience – all areas in which plant science plays a key role. The remaining 10% (125) of students will work within BBSRC’s ‘Bioscience for Health’ theme.

We at GARNet are looking forward to seeing the impacts on plant science, from food security and bioenergy to the as yet unknown, that will come from the hundreds of plant scientists starting their training and careers in the next few years. As every student in the centres will have to do a funded three-month internship working in a different area from their PhD project, it will also be interesting to see how this impact spreads into areas like policy, funding and government over time.

Congratulations to all the organisations involved in the new Centres, lead by Imperial College London, the John Innes Centre, Newcastle University, University College London (not plant science), the University of Bristol, the University of Cambridge, the University of Edinburgh, the University of Leeds, the University of Manchester, the University of Nottingham, the University of Oxford and the University of Warwick.

Training and skills in the UK plant sciences community: Have your say

Categories: UKPSF
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Published on: September 4, 2014

The UK Plant Sciences Federation have set up working groups to follow up the recommendations made in their report, which was launched in January. The Training and Skills Working group is tackling school, university, post-graduate and early career issues in the plant science – definitely a broad scope. The Chair Simon Leather is trying out ‘crowd-sourcing’ with his working group, asking anyone who wants to contribute for their opinions and suggestions about the way forward.

In a post on his personal website, Simon Leather has given a lot of information about the current status of training and skills in the UK plant science community, the main problems highlighted in the report, comments from the first Working Group meeting and some ideas to help solve the problem.

Leather argues that action is imperative: Without a well-trained cadre of plant scientists that are able to recognise whole organisms and are able to interact with industry we will see more problems arising with invasive species, our crop production industry will be severely compromised and biodiversity loss will accelerate. 

Some of the ideas to improve training and skills in plant science discussed at the Working Group are:

  • Working with teachers to encourage children and young people to take an interest in plant science
  • Raising awareness in schools and universities of the opportunities provided by a background in plant sciences
  • Working with the Society of Biology degree accreditation scheme to make sure plant science is a part of accredited courses
  • Building stronger training links between academia and industry to ensure HE courses are fit for purpose

What do you think? Do you think these are the right areas to focus on? The Working Group has come up with reasonable actions to begin making progress. I strongly encourage you to read the whole article, and to have your say on the action plan and challenges by commenting on the article.

Along with the Working Groups on Funding, Regulation and Translation, the Training and Skills group will report at the UKPSF AGM on 20 November.

Go here to read the article and comment: http://simonleather.wordpress.com/2014/09/02/how-do-we-save-uk-plant-sciences/

SEB 2014: The future is bright in the Plant Section

Categories: conferences
Comments: 1 Comment
Published on: July 1, 2014

Lisa and I are at the Society of Experimental Biology’s 2014 (SEB 2014) conference this week. The highlight so far was the first session, when the Plant Section gathered for talks from their President’s Medallist Cristobal Uauy and three Young Scientist Award Finalists: Beth Dyson, Caroline Upton, Stephanie Johnson.

Cristobal Uauy spoke first about his career and work on wheat genetics. He was frank about the difficulties of working with wheat, but said, “I’m not going to complain about how difficult it is to work on wheat, and blah blah blah … because actually it’s getting much better.”

This optimism was sustained throughout Cristobal’s talk. He aims to improve yield in wheat, and has found a trait that increases grain width by what looks like a tiny amount – but the difference adds up very quickly. Over 20 grains, you gain the equivalent of one whole grain. Scaled up to a field, this trait would give an extra 700 loaves of bread. This is certainly something to be proud of, yet Cristobal is excited about increasing this 5% difference to 20% or 30%. His current trait is the result of a mutation on just one copy of the gene – he hopes to find and modify its homologues on the other ancient genomes that make up the huge modern wheat genome.

Cristobal is keen to promote crop research. He pointed out that Arabidopsis dwarfs all other plant species at SEB meetings, yet the current focus on food security in the plant science community necessitates breakthroughs in crop science. At GARNet obviously we have Views on this, but as Cristobal said at the beginning of his talk, “A huge number of people all over the world eat wheat – so anything we can do to improve wheat will have a huge impact.”

Cristobal is a member of the SEB Plant Section Committee, and has started a new sub-group within the Plant Section entitled Crop Molecular Genetics. If you’re interested in getting involved, I’m sure he’d love to speak to you.

The Young Scientist Award Finalists also gave inspiring talks:

  • Beth Dyson measured metabolite, amino acid and organic acid levels in Arabidopsis plants grown in optimum and cold conditions. She has identified key mechanisms that enable photosynthesis to respond to low temperatures.
  • Caroline Upton’s research on barley roots is laying the groundwork in transparent soil methodology. She finds it far easier to analyse images from roots grown in transparent soil than the CT images she initially had to work with.
  • Stephanie Johnson outlined her PhD project on the molecular mechanisms that gives Stay-Green Sorghum its desirable trait. She spent 3 months with experts at the University of Queensland generating transgenic sorghum and is now waiting to confirm the hypothesis developed from her early models.

The President’s Medal and the Young Scientist Awards are both intended to reward and encourage early career excellence and the speakers were all worthy of this recognition. The UK plant sciences community rightly speaks out regularly about funding cuts and skills gaps, but this morning’s session was a refreshing celebration of the talent our community produces and nurtures.

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