Great British Success in ERA-CAPS

The ERA-CAPS funding call was a major EU initiative that was focused on plant sciences. Recently the second set of successfully funded projects were announced, even though the funding levels have not been confirmed. Amongst these twelve successful bids, eight feature UK plant scientists (including four from the JIC). These successful projects are highlighted below:
logo-era-caps
Project Name: DesignStarch, Designing starch: harnessing carbohydrate polymer synthesis in plants

The UK representative Rob Field is a biochemist based at the John Innes Centre. The objective of this project is to ‘gain a profound understanding of the regulation and control of the biophysical and biochemical processes involved in the formation of the complex polymeric structure that is the starch granule’, which will involve in vitro analysis of the enzymology of starch formation with the ultimate aim of transferring their findings back into plants.

EfectaWheat: An Effector- and Genomics-Assisted Pipeline for Necrotrophic Pathogen Resistance Breeding in Wheat

James Cockram (NIAB) is the project leader on this grant that proposes to investigate the economically important wheat leaf spot group (LSG) of necrotrophic pathogens. The project will use a range of techniques such as high-density genotyping, pathogen re-sequencing and advanced virulence diagnosis to deliver a genomics- and effector-based pipeline for the genetic dissection of LSG host-pathogen interactions across Europe.

EVOREPRO: Evolution of Sexual Reproduction in Plants

Both David Twell (Leicester) and Jose Gutierrez-Marcos (Warwick) are included in this seven-group consortium that aims to investigate the origin of the mechanisms that predate double fertilization in plants. The project will take a comparative gene expression-based approach to investigate gametogenesis across Marchantia, Physcomitrella, Amborella, Arabidopsis and a range of crop species. The expected findings will allow the identification of specific mechanisms that are targeted by environmental stresses during sexual reproduction in crops and will assist in the selection of stress-resistant cultivars.

INTREPID: Investigating Triticeae Epigenomes for Domestication

GARNet advisory board member Anthony Hall (Liverpool) leads this group which includes long time collaborator Mike Bevan (JIC). This project will look at variations in the epigenome across eight diverse wheat lines with the aim of determined how epigenetic marks are re-set and stabilized during the formation of new wheat hybrids and how they might influence gene expression.

MAQBAT: Mechanistic Analysis of Quantitative Disease Resistance in Brassicas by Associative Transcriptomics

John Innes Centre scientist Chris Ridout leads this six PI consortium that will look at pathogen resistance in Brassica napus, where diseases are a major limiting factor in growth success. Almost 200 lines of B.napus will be screened against a range of specific and general pathogens in the aim of discovering important disease resistance loci. One proposed aspect of the work will look at the role of glucosinolates in both disease resistace and seed quality. The project also includes UK B.napus expert Bruce Fitt (Hertfordshore).

PHYTOCAL: Phytochrome Control of Resource Allocation and Growth in Arabidopsis and in Brassicaceae crops

Karen Halliday (Edinburgh) leads this three-PI group that will investigate the link between phytochrome signaling and resource allocation in both Arabidopsis and B.rapa. One aim of the project will be to build models that predict the dual action of phytochrome and photosynthesis on resource management and biomass production.

RegulaTomE: Regulating Tomato quality through Expression

Cathie Martin (JIB) leads this largest successful consortium of 8 labs that aim to link transcriptional regulation of metabolic pathways with tomato quality. Loci contributing to abiotic stress tolerance will also be identified toward the combined goals of obtaining more nutritious, stable and sustainable crops. The project will lead to regulatory gene identification (an important advance in terms of fundamental understanding), and provide new tools for metabolic engineering of fruit quality.

SOURSI: Simultaneous manipulation of source and sink metabolism for improved crop yield

Lee Sweetlove (Oxford) leads this group that aims to understand the linkages between source and sink tissues in the assimilation of carbon and nitrogen. The project claims to implement a metabolic engineering strategy of unprecedented scale in plants exploiting the new technique of biolistic combinatorial co-transformation.

A few funding opportunities for UK plant scientists

Here are the details of a few funding opportunities we have recently came across for early career and more established researchers – some of the deadlines are quite soon so if you’re interested, be quick!

Royal Society Research Grants

The Royal Society invites applications for its research grants. These provide seed-corn funding for early-career UK scientists for research within the society’s remit in the natural sciences, including the history of science. The aim is to increase the availability of specialised equipment and consumables for high quality research, and to enable scientists to further develop their new projects by obtaining funding from other sources.

Applicants should have a PhD or equivalent status, be working as independent researchers within five years of their first academic position and be resident in the UK. Non-tenured researchers and retired scientists may apply if the application is related to the history of science and the applicant works in association with an eligible institution. Eligible organisations are UK universities and non-profit research organisations, including institutes funded by the UK Research Councils.

Two types of grants are available for a maximum period of 12 months: grants of up to £15,000 for specialised equipment, essential consumable materials and services, and travel and subsistence for essential field research; and grants of up to £5,000 for the publication of scholarly works on the history of science.

Deadline: 26th May 2015

 

BBSRC Future Leader Fellowship

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and the Food Standards Agency invite applications for their future leader fellowship. This enables early-career researchers to undertake independent research on any area within biotechnology and biological sciences, and to gain leadership skills.

Applications that align with the following strategic priorities are particularly welcome:

  • animal health;
  • bioenergy – generating new replacement fuels for a greener, sustainable future;
  • combating antimicrobial resistance;
  • data driven biology;
  • food, nutrition and health;
  • healthy ageing across the lifecourse;
  • new strategic approaches to industrial biotechnology;
  • reducing waste in the food chain;
  • replacement, refinement and reduction in research using animals;
  • sustainably enhancing agricultural production;
  • synthetic biology;
  • systems approaches to the biosciences;
  • technology development for the biosciences;
  • welfare of managed animals.

In addition, the FSA will co-fund proposals that have the potential to impact on issues highlighted in its emerging strategy 2015–2020 and underpinning science, evidence and information strategy. A particular interest is for proposals that aim to realise the potential of utilising big data approaches to address complex issues that will ultimately lead to benefits for consumers. Fellows whose proposals are co-funded by the FSA may undertake a short term placement with the agency.

Applicants should have a PhD, or be expecting to have passed their viva prior to 30 November 2015. They should have no more than five years’ postdoctoral research employment by this point.

Approximately 12 fellowships are available. Each fellowship is worth up to £250,000 over a period of three years. Awards include personal salary as well as support for travel and subsistence, training activities and research consumables.

Deadline: 4th June 2015

 

Rank Prize Nutrition Fund New Lecturer Award

The Rank Prize Funds’ nutrition committee invites applications for its new lecturer awards. These support scientists who are conducting research in an area of human nutrition or crop science in order to further their careers.

Newly-appointed lecturers, researchers of equivalent status who are based in research institutes, or fellows with their own independent support who are working in a UK institution, may apply. The post must have been started at the earliest in 2013, and applicants should normally be three to nine years from their PhD. Postdoctoral scientists supported on a senior investigator’s funding are not eligible.

Awards are worth up to £20,000 each for a period of up to two years. Funding may be used for consumables, equipment or a contribution towards a salary or student support.

Deadline: 28 August 2015

Funding and networking opportunities from BBSRC plant science NIBBS

Categories: funding
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Published on: December 9, 2014

Early this year, BBSRC announced 13 new Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy (NIBBS). Their aim is to foster collaborations between the academic research base and industry in order to drive new ideas in specific areas of focus. Four NIBBS have plant science themes:

•   A Network of Integrated Technologies: Plants to Products: http://www.nibbp2p.org/

•   High Value Chemicals from Plants Network: https://hvcfp.net/

•   Lignocellulosic Biorefinery Network (LBNet): http://lb-net.net/

•   PHYCONET: unlocking the IB potential of microalgae: http://www.phyconet.org.uk/

Each BBSRC NIBB organises free residential networking events and awards funding in the form of Business Interaction Vouchers and Proof-of-Concept funds. You need to be a member of the NIBB to access any of these resources, but they are all free to join.

Business Interaction Vouchers are worth up to £5000 and are intended to support research done by an academic partner for an industrial partner of the NIBB. Depending on the NIBB, there are deadlines throughout the year or applications are accepted at any time.

Proof-of-concept funds are more flexible in scope and amount awarded, but have stricter deadlines. Each NIBB is dealing with their awards differently: The HvCFP deadline is 19 January 2015; and the LB-Net has organised Challenge Workshops in 2015, which will lead to funding for multi-disciplinary teams formed at the workshops. The other networks do not currently have proof-of-concept calls open.

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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Funding round-up: Summer 2014

Categories: funding
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Published on: July 16, 2014

Here’s your irregular round-up of funding opportunities. Some of these deadlines will already be burned into your brains, but hopefully there a few useful new ones for you to think about!

Many of the options below are only available if you are a member of a society. Funding is one of many benefits to joining a learned society (blog post on this from Sarah Blackford), and if you’re a student your institution might even pay for the membership fee for you.

 

Travel – conferences

British Mycological Society Small Grants: Deadlines 20 July, 20 September, 20 December, 20 March every year. Not pure plant science, but worth a look if you work on plant-fungi interactions or soil. Grants available for fieldwork, travel to meetings, to buy books or scientific equipment.

The Genetics Society Conference Grants: Deadlines 1 August, 1 November, 1 February, 1 May. Two types of grants are available depending on whether the event is linked to the Genetics Society or not.

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Travel grants 2014

Categories: conferences
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Published on: February 18, 2014

It’s that time of year when conference registrations are open and early bird deadlines are coming up fast. If you want to go to one but are unsure about the cost, take a look at the travel grants below. They all have fairly simple application processes and several deadlines throughout the year, but get your applications in within the next few weeks for summer conferences.

Remember, if you’re a student, you can use your training grant to pay for conference fees and travel. Attending and presenting posters or talks at conferences is an important part of a PhD studentship.

  • Company of Biologists travel grants from the Society of Experimental Biology: Deadlines 31 March, 30 June, 30 September, 31 December 2014. Funding to attend a UK (£250) or international (£500) conference. You have to be a member of SEB, or to buy a multi-year membership, to apply.
  • Honor Fell travel award from the British Society for Cell Biology, sponsored by the Company of Biologists: Rolling deadline. Up to £300 for UK meetings and more for international travel is available to students and post-docs.
  • Biochemical Society travel grant: 7 deadlines throughout 2014 – submit as early as possible. Members of the Biochemical Society can apply for a travel grant of up to £750 to attend a meeting.
  • British Society of Plant Pathology travel grants: Deadlines 28 Febrary, 31 May, 31 August, 30 November 2014. Travel funds are available for BSPP members to assist with expenses for conferences, study tours and visits. The amount available varies, but will not be more than half the cost of your trip.
  • Society of Biology travel grants: Students and early career researchers can apply for £500 for overseas travel in connection with biological study, teaching, research, or attending a conference.
  • Genetics Society Conference Grants: Deadlines 1 May, 1 August, 1, November. Up to £750 is available to PhD students and post-docs within two years of their viva to cover travel, accommodation, and registration cost for conferences and meetings. Also, up to £150 is available for travel to Genetics Society meetings.

Why not try and get some funds to attend UK conferences PlantSci 2014 (£200 is up for grabs for the best student/postdoc talks!), SEB 2014 or our very own GARNet 2014?

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.

Research funding: What strategy is best?

Categories: funding
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Published on: November 14, 2013

I was invited to the EPIC Planning Committee meeting after October’s Epigenomes of Plants and Animals conference at the John Innes Centre, and during the meeting we discussed what I think is the biggest issue in research strategy. That inspired this post, and a probably series of posts on the EPIC website – I’ll share them when they’re up. 

Is it best to spread resources and support/fund/promote as wide a breadth of research as possible, or focus on a few areas in more depth?

The problem with the ‘catch-all’ approach to research funding is that it inevitably does not catch all. In the UK plant science is funded via the BBSRC, and a large part of that funding is allocated through a committee-determined responsive mode structure. As the committees, made up of jobbing scientists, are only gently guided by broad strategic priorities, this is essentially catch-all. However, some plant science areas now occupy very small niches and are in danger of extinction. Plant and pathogen taxonomy, physiology, soil science and some plant species, even those of economic value like ornamental flowers, soft fruits and many vegetables, have all been neglected.

The alternative is to try and deliver an effective strategy for a few areas, ensuring that these areas have a healthy, broad basic research base from which any innovations that arise can efficiently be turned into commercial product. The difficulty is, of course, deciding which areas to focus on. The decision cannot be driven by fashions or trends, nor unduly influenced by current strengths and expertise, which are all reasons for gaps in the catch-all approach. Modelling and predicting global and local challenges, other countries’ research strategies, risk of failure and impact of success, existing expertise and facilities – these and many more factors should all be considered.

It would be a cop-out to write this post and not say what my opinion is. This issue is of course far more complex than this article allows, and there has to be flexibility in any system. There are big, bad consequences of choosing the wrong areas to invest in, but there are similar, unpredictable, ramifications to accidental skills gaps in both basic and translational science caused by thinly spread funding. So my inclination is to think that within a hypothetical altruistic and infinitely flexible innovation ecosystem, the world would be better served by a focused, in-depth strategy.

What do you think? Leave a comment or get in touch on Twitter.

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