Two services for plant scientists to consider

Categories: resource
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Published on: January 28, 2013

Sometimes, experiments are too big, too expensive, or too specialist to do yourself or to negotiate a collaboration with someone who can. Fortunately there is a way for some of you to get those experiments done – but as ever, it involves competing for funding. Today I’ll highlight two service providers who are taking applications from researchers for a limited number of fully funded services. 

The BBSRC are funding the Community Resource for Wheat Transformation at NIAB. NIAB scientists are wheat transformation specialists, and use a non-commercialized method with over 30% success rate – higher than standard Agrobacterium-mediated wheat transformation (Harwood, 2012). The ‘Community Resource’ is 50 single gene transformations, which researchers must apply for. Half of the transformations are reserved for model plant researchers wanting to test a gene of interest in wheat. The application form is fairly straightforward, requesting information about the proposed gene and research; and how it links to BBSRC food security targets. You need to apply by Thursday this week. If successful, the researcher provides NIAB with a gene in an Entry construct flanked by aatL sequences. NIAB performs the transformation, and delivers the researcher 30 inpendent transformed plants as either plantlets or T1 seed, having confirmed transgenesis by PCR or QPCR.

The Centre for Plant Integrative Biology at the University of Nottingham and the National Plant Phenomics Centre at Aberystwyth University is just one of 14 participants in the European Plant Phenotyping Network (EPPN; Ruth blogged about the centre in Julich a few weeks ago). Researchers can apply for access to CPIB (or another European EPPN installation) to do a phenotyping experiment. ‘Access’ includes:

  • free access for eligible user groups to research facilities;
  • support for travel;
  • on-site logistic support by the infrastructure staff;
  • access to knowledge and know-how at the research infrastructures necessary to complete the proposed experimental work

A very planty November

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Published on: November 23, 2012

November is turning out to be a busy month for the plant science community, and here is a round-up of what you might have missed and what is still to come.

Coming up

NIAB has been granted over £600 000 to provide a community wheat transformation service. This is an excellent opportunity for Arabidopsis researchers to test the application of their research in a commercial crop – around 25 transformations will be granted to model crop researchers. For more information, go to the NIAB website and see this poster. Applications will open shortly.

This year’s meeting of the Genetics Society Arabidopsis special interest group is organized by GARNet and will take place on Monday in Liverpool, focusing on next generation sequencing applications in plant science research. It’s too late to register, but you can see the abstracts here, and the presentation slides will be online soon after the day. We will be live tweeting from the workshop on #ngsplant.

The European Research Area Network for molecular plant science (ERA-CAPS) launched its first joint call on 19 November. Up to £6M of BBSRC funding is available to support UK researchers in ERA-CAPS consortia. The deadline for application is 15 February 2013.

London-dwelling people with an interest in policy will be interested in a new series of events run by the Society of Biology, Policy Lates. On Thursday there will be a debate at Charles Darwin House on Do we need more scientists in Parliament. It is a free event and is now full, but there is a waiting list. I expect there will be live tweeting under #policylates – so keep your Twitter tuned if you want to be there virtually, if not in person.

Recent goings on

The UK Plant Science Federation had its second annual general meeting on 5th November. I wrote a blog post on it for the UKPSF blog, and news from the meeting was also highlighted on this blog by Alan Jones.

I went to the Society of Biology Autumn Members Meeting, where I found out more about the Degree Accreditation Programme. If you feel that original research in UK undergraduate biology courses is poor, get involved by accrediting courses at your own institution, or signing up as an assessor.

The Higher Education team at the Society of Biology launched an Open Educational Resources website last Friday. All the resources on it are peer reviewed by experts, so they are top quality. You can download resources to use yourself, or submit your own resources so they can be used by other lecturers.

NIAB has been granted over £600 000 to provide a community wheat transformation service. This is an excellent opportunity for Arabidopsis researchers to test the application of their research in a commercial crop – around 25 transformations will be granted to model crop researchers. For more information, go to the NIAB website and see this poster. Applications will open shortly.

NIAB Innovation Farm GM workshop 2: Public Good Programme?

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Published on: September 25, 2012
Cows and maize, a major GM cattle feed.

For responses to last week’s news story about the GM maize feeding trial that appeared to cause tumours in rats, GARNet suggests: New Scientist,  the Science Media Centre, UKPSF, or for a rather more biting commentary, Forbes.

As discussed in the previous post, GM plant products are commonly used worldwide for food and for animal feedstock. But strict European regulations mean growing a GM crop and bringing its product to market is very difficult in Europe. Any progress toward GM products on the European market, especially under a public good programme, is dependent on a relaxation of EU regulations for GM. The consensus view from the NIAB Innovation farm workshop GM: Is it time for a public good programme? was that if GM was treated as another breeding method, and GM crops were subject to the same regulations as conventionally bred plant varieties, industry would be far more likely to invest in GMOs.

Anti-GM feeling in the general public has reduced recently, but governments still implement anti-GM legislation. This in itself makes a government-supported public good programme unlikely in a European country. A public good programme would also have to overcome several technical and legal barriers. A framework would be needed to allow open access to technology and outputs, therefore a unique intellectual property arrangement would have to be implemented. A wide stakeholder steering group, independent of any one institution, to deal with these and other issues would be essential. Several people wondered what exactly a public good programme would look like – there is a successful public GMO programme in China, but it depends almost entirely on government funding and a similar financial commitment from the UK government is unlikely, at least in the near future. (more…)

NIAB Innovation Farm GM workshop 1: Background to GM discussions

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Published on: September 18, 2012


On 12th September, I attended a workshop at NIAB Innovation Farm entitled ‘GM – Is it time for a public good programme?’ There were some very good points made throughout the day, and instead of a chronological account of the presentations, two blog posts on the workshop will outline the main themes that came out of the discussions. The programme is on the Innovation Farm website.

The CEO and Director of NIAB TAG, Tina Barsby, kicked off proceedings by outlining the definition of public good: a ‘good’ that is non-excludable and non-rivalrous, and therefore not produced primarily for profit. Making it clear that the workshop was to be very much focussed on the UK and Europe, Barsby argued that as a market for GM products has failed to materialise, it is time for a non-profit, public good programme, perhaps supported by the government. However throughout the day, it became clear that a commercial market for GM cannot yet be written off.

Barsby went on to describe why GM technology in agriculture is necessary. Farmers battling  crop diseases and world leaders trying to ensure a reliable food supply both have the same problem – crop productivity is too low for the demands placed upon it. GM is one of the solutions to this problem, and while in Europe transgenic crops are not farmed, genetic modification is universally used in conventional breeding; from mutagenesis to marker assisted selection. Genetic engineering has the potential to make crops resistant to disease, contain increased nutrition, and withstand extreme weather conditions. (more…)

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