Attendees at the Global Plant Council AGM (see end of post for details)
The 2014 Global Plant Council (GPC) annual general meeting (AGM) was held 2-3 October and hosted by the Society of Experimental Biology in London. GPC Individuals representing 22 member organisations from 5 continents gathered at Charles Darwin House to share updates and plan for the future.
Officially, the Global Plant Council is a coalition of plant and crop science societies from across the globe. It aims to provide a global voice for these societies, which individually represent scientists from specific countries, continents or sub-sets of plant science. During the AGM however, it became clear that in reality the GPC is a central hub, acting to instigate change in plant science research and application worldwide. This is a critical role; coordinated global action and a unified voice are essential for plant scientists to be able to effectively play a part in meeting the world challenges of hunger, energy, climate change, health and well-being, sustainability and environmental protection, which affect all of us.
The first day of the AGM was dedicated to sharing news and updates. Two working groups, who deal with Advocacy and Finance issues, praised the progress made by Ruth Bastow, the GPC’s first dedicated member of staff, since May 2013. (more…)
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.
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/
Just a quick blog post this week on some new plant science podcasts, for your entertainment!
First, Radio 4’s much-retweeted Plants: From Roots to Riches. This programme has been running all month and ends today so it’s not really news, but I’ve been listening to this bit by bit and was delighted to hear a familiar voice in the ‘Signals of Growth‘ episode. Nick Harberd, one of our Advisory Committee members, discussed the Green Revolution wheat and rice varieties with presenter Kathy Willis.
This is a great series, although the episodes are quite short and only focus on a small area of plant science so I’d advise skipping any episodes on a topic you know too much about or that just isn’t of interest to you. Highlights for me so far have been the ‘Blight on the Landscape‘ episode about plant-microbe interactions, which had a very interesting section on Beatrix Potter’s work on lichens; and the episode based entirely around Kew’s Arboretum, ‘An Ill Wind‘, which gave me a new appreciation of the great value of tree science and forestry.
Friday’s episode was about Arabidopsis – I haven’t reached that one yet though!
Second, videos of talks from the UK Plant Sciences Federation conference PlantSci 2014 are now available on the Journal of Experimental Botany YouTube channel. The talks were all excellent and the videos make good teaching resources. All the speakers pitched their science for a well-informed general audience, and all were clear about why their research is important. The highlight of the conference for me was the panel discussion about UK plant science challenges, achievements and future needs and I’m happy to see that it’s there in it’s entirety, including the comments from the floor – all 1 hour 27 minutes of it.
It’s been very quiet here on the blog recently, but we’re pretty much caught up after being away at the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research in Vancouver (you can still see the #ICAR2014 stream here). Things will be back to normal very soon.
Thanks to Society of Biology Regional Coordinator David Urry for wielding the Society camera throughout the launch of the UKPSF report ‘UK Plant Science: Current Status and Future Challenges’, and letting me use some photos!
The GARNet website has a news piece on the launch, and tweets about the report are collected here.
Not put off by the long, damp queue for the Faraday Lecture, the plant sciences community gathered in the Marble Hall at the Royal Society.
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.