What has UK Plant Science ever done for us?

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Published on: January 29, 2019

Like that famous sketch about the Romans from Monty Python’s Life of Brian, the contributions of the UK plant science community are often overlooked in favour of (equally worthy) research in cancer or neurobiology. However it is clear from numerous outstanding discoveries and from international citations-rankings that UK plant science is world-leading.

It is in this exciting climate that the Royal Science of Biology launched the ‘Growing the future’ report, which highlights the excellent potential of the UK plant science. The full report can be downloaded from RSB or the GARNet. The report is split into a series of focus areas, namely: ‘Improving crops and agricultural systems’, ‘Plant health and biosecurity’,Plant biotechnology’ and ‘Biodiversity and ecosystems’.

Each section outlines how UK plant science can have a significant societal benefit through maintenance of ecosystem services, protecting our indigenous plant life and in the development of novel plant varieties for feed, food and novel products.

Over the past two weeks high-profile stories have appeared in the mainstream media that have touched on the problems of food supply in a no-deal Brexit as well as the recommendation of a vegetable-based diet to alleviate the effects of climate change. UK plant scientists have the ability to mitigate both of these significant challenges both by improving the nutritional quality of crops and/or by engineering them to grow in changing geographies and using non-traditional methods.

One of the challenges is to work with both funders and the general public to inform them as to the enormous potential of UK plant science as well as to engender enthusiasm for plants across the national curriculum. The report makes the important point that over the long term, engaging with the next generation is key to facilitating the remainder of the recommendations.

The Growing the future document was presented in the Churchill room at the Houses of Parliament and introduced by Stephen Metcalfe MP, who is a current member of the Science and Technology committee. Following on from this introduction, outgoing UK Plant Science Federation chairman Rick Mumford, Director of the John Innes Centre Dale Sanders and head of AgritechEast Belinda Clarke provided enthusiastic testaments about the past achievements and the future potential of UK plant science.

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In particular Dr Clarke urged the use of multidisciplinary approaches and highlighted the importance of asking young people to turn their expertise with new technologies to the challenges of plant science. She suggested this would allow the next generation to gain an interest in plant science through the prism of technological development, which would have clear trickle-down benefits across many areas.

The current news cycle is dominated by the machinations of Brexit, yet there is no doubt that over the longer term and irrespective of the outcome of the negotiations, UK plant scientists, in collaboration with international partners, will play a critical role in improving the living standards and health of both UK and global communities.

Download the full Growing the Future report here.

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