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

The GM debate and the UK General Election

He hasn’t officially started in his role yet, but here’s a blog post from GARNet’s new Coordinator! In light of the upcoming General Election, Geraint Parry talks politics and highlights what the different parties’ manifestos have to say about the genetic modification of crops.

Please note these are the personal opinions of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of GARNet or its committee.  

Photo ‘hugovk’, used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.

Unless you have been living under a very large rock you’ll be aware that the UK will be going to the polls on Thursday (7th May) for the 2015 General Election. Recently there have been many excellent articles about the Science and Technology policies of the different political parties, including a repository of information supplied by the Society of Biology and a voting recommendation by The Guardian.

Aside from the obvious and real concerns about the levels of future funding, another important issue to consider is the debate surrounding genetic modification (GM). Most people will be aware that EU regulations have recently changed so that, simply put, individual member states will be allowed to set their own policies on the growth of GM crops, albeit with a significant and important number of safeguards to ensure environmental protections. One of GARNet’s roles over the coming years is to encourage the translation of fundamental research, so the political environment surrounding the uptake of GM technology is of great importance for the future direction and efficacy of Arabidopsis research.

Photo by European Parliament, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.
Photo by European Parliament, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Although members of the European Parliament (MEPs) voted in favour for a change in regulations surrounding GM crops, the major UK political parties have significant differences in their policies toward this technology. Although GARNet isn’t suggesting that you decide your vote on this single issue, the GM debate might indeed be suggestive for a political party’s willingness to embrace new technologies in other areas.

Amongst the 2015 election manifestos published by the mainland UK political parties, only three of them include the word ‘genetic’ in the context of GM crops. On one hand, both the Green Party and Plaid Cymru explicitly state that they will support a ban on the cultivation of GMOs, whilst the UK Independence Party (UKIP) states that they ‘support research into GM foods, including research on the benefits and risks involved to the public’. The stance of the Green Party is particularly interesting as in my anecdotal experiences, many party members are disappointed with this policy given the wealth of scientific evidence supporting the safety and potential of GM crops.

status report coverAlthough the three major national UK political parties do not mention GMOs in their manifestos we can look back over their past histories in this area and use this as a basis for determining future policy directions. Over the past few years the Conservative government has embraced the idea of GM technology. The Environment Secretary, Owen Patterson, has given a number of high profile speeches, stating that the development of GM technology should be a priority for UK science. This opinion fits well with the recent policy document (PDF) published by the UK Plant Sciences Federation, which stated that ‘UK policymakers and regulatory bodies….remove unnecessarily burdensome regulation and ensure that science-based evidence is paramount’.

Whilst this indicates that the Conservative party is a full supporter of GM technology perhaps, as ever, the story is not as simple as it might seem. Currently the vast majority of GM crops are grown by large agri-businesses such as BASF or Monsanto. The proposed loosening of regulations will provide these companies with a foothold in the UK to grow for-profit crops. This embracing of big business is consistent with a right-wing ideology and therefore the Conservative party’s interest in GM crops could be described as much as a business opportunity as it is the chance to develop new varieties that might sustain crop protection through changing environmental conditions.

When the EU vote was taken earlier this year, Liberal Democrats were supportive of the change in policy with MEP Catherine Bearder being quoted as “welcoming the news”. Similarly, correspondences with my local Lib Dem parliamentary election candidate suggested that the party will adopt the ‘precautionary principle’ when it comes to this issue, meaning they will take an open view as scientific evidence develops in the area. Interestingly, a well-established online polling site reveals that a strong majority of people who identify as themselves Liberal Democrats support the uptake of GM-technology. Therefore, the consensus appears to be that the Liberal Democrats will support any legislation to allow the controlled growth of GM crops in the UK.

Arguably, the UK Labour party has the most interesting stance on the issue of GM crops. Although their 2015 election manifesto does not directly address this issue, their recent policy document entitled ‘Feeding the Nation’ (PDF), states that they ‘view biotechnology as a way to strengthen the UK’s food chain and reduce environmental damage….if it has public support’.

However, there appears to be some significant nuance to their policies. David Martin, a Scottish Labour MEP, supports the change in EU legislation, stating: ‘Labour MEPs have voted to give national governments the power to limit or ban the cultivation of genetically modified organisms’. Therefore, this indicates that by supporting the legislation, the Scottish MEPs would push to prevent cultivation of GMOs, at least in Scotland. It remains to be seen whether the national Labour party would use the change in legislation to support the development of GM technology or use it as a mechanism to ban the cultivation of GM crops. Reading between the lines, the Labour party may side with the weight of public opinion when it comes to this issue. Therefore it is imperative for plant scientists to continue their recent good work explaining the technology and allaying any safety concerns that members of the public might have.

The debate surrounding GM technology is fascinating in many ways, not least because it does not simply fall along standard political lines. Whatever the result of the upcoming election, it remains important for scientific advisors to impress upon policy makers the robust scientific support that exists for GM technology and the many and varied benefits that it could bring.

GARNet 2014 presentations available online

As you’ll already know, we held our GARNet 2014 conference, Arabidopsis: The Ongoing Green Revolution, at the University of Bristol on the 9th and 10th September. If you didn’t know, you can read Charis’ report on it by clicking here to go to the main GARNet website, or here to see some photos!

Some of the researchers who spoke at our conference have kindly agreed to share their GARNet 2014 presentations with you online – please click the links in the programme below to view or download a PDF copy of the speaker’s slides.



Session 1: Physiology & Productivity

Session 2: Genome Biology

Session 3: Natural Variation

Session 4: Systems and Synthetic Biology

Arabidopsis Research Round-up

Categories: Global, Round-up
Comments: No Comments
Published on: September 2, 2014

There are some really interesting Arabidopsis papers in the Round-up this week, including one from GARNet’s Chair, Jim Murray, a review on the role of sugar–hormone interactions in the regulation of floral signal transduction from the University of Bolton, and a fascinating Science paper describing how sieve element cells become enucleated. Enjoy!


  • Mammarella ND, Cheng Z, Qing Fu Z, Daudi A, Bolwell GP, Dong X and Ausubel FM. Apoplastic peroxidases are required for salicylic acid-mediated defense against Psuedomonas syringaePhytochemistry, 2 August 2014. DOI: 10.1016/j.phytochem.2014.07.010.

Arsalan Daudi and Paul Bolwell from Royal Holloway worked with American colleagues on this Phytochemistry paper, which provides further detail to some previous findings regarding the effect of reduced expression of peroxidase genes. This newly published work shows that some, but not all aspects of pattern-triggered immunity in Arabidopsis are diminished in lines with reduced peroxidase expression. It was also found that salicylic acid signaling is impaired in these lines.

This paper is dedicated to the memory of Paul Bolwell, who sadly died from motor neurone disease before publication.


  • Matsoukas IG. Interplay between sugar and hormone signaling pathways modulate floral signal transduction. Frontiers in Genetics, 13 August 2014.DOI: 10.3389/fgene.2014.00218. [Open Access]

This useful review by Ianis Matsoukas at the University of Bolton highlights potential roles of sugar–hormone interactions in the regulation of floral signal transduction. It particularly emphasises Arabidopsis thaliana mutant phenotypes, and suggests possible directions for future research.


  • Forzani C, Aichinger E, Willemsen V, Laux T, Dewitte W and Murray JAH. WOX5 suppresses CYCLIN D activity to establish quiescence at the center of the root stem cell niche. Current Biology, 18 August 2014. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.07.019. [Open Access]

This paper was led by GARNet Chair Jim Murray at Cardiff University and describes findings that provide new information about the role of the transcription factor WOX5. WOX5 is known to be involved in the maintenance of a pool of stem cells at the quiescent centre (QC) of the Arabidopsis root, but the molecular mechanisms underpinning this, as well as whether WOX5 in involved in proliferation of the QC cells, has not been previously well understood. Here Jim et al propose a specific role for WOX5 in initiating and maintaining the quiescence of QC cells.


  • Miyashima Furata K, Ram Yadav S, Lehesranta S, et alArabidopsis NAC45/86 direct sieve element morphogenesis culminating in enucleation. Science, 22 August 2014. DOI: 10.1126/science.1253736.

Led by a Finnish group, this fascinating Science paper also involves colleagues from Belgium, more scientists from Cardiff, and from the Sainsbury Lab at the University of Cambridge. The researchers used electron microscope imaging and 3D-reconstructions to follow the development of sieve element cells and observe the regulation of the self-destruction of the nucleus. If you can get through the paywall, check out the images and movies in the supplementary data files!


  • El Zawily AM, Schwarzländer M, Finkmeier I, et alFRIENDLY regulates mitochondrial distribution, fusion, and quality control in Arabidopsis. Plant Physiology, 27 August 2014. DOI: 10.1104/pp.114.243824. [Open Access]

This paper presents findings for the role of FRIENDLY, a protein responsible for the correct distribution of mitochondria within the cell. Scientists from Imperial College London were involved in this international work, which identified that FRIENDLY is likely to have a role in mediating inter-mitochondrial associations. Disruption of mitochondrial associations, motility and chondriome structure affects mitochondrial quality control, which in turn has repercussions for mitochondrial stress, cell death and strong growth phenotypes.

GARNet goes global with the Global Plant Council

If you follow me on Twitter (@GARNetweets) then you’ll know that I’ve been out of the office quite a lot recently, attending a variety of conferences.

Charis has already blogged about our trip to Manchester for the Society of Experimental Biology conference a couple of weeks ago, but I’ve also been helping out our colleague Ruth Bastow at some conferences further afield.

The Global Plant CouncilAs well as being GARNet’s part-time co-ordinator, Ruth is also Executive Director for the Global Plant Council (GPC) – a coalition of global crop and plant science societies that aims to connect the wealth of knowledge and expertise from around the world to help find solutions to global plant science challenges.

The GPC is focusing on three priority initiatives: firstly the creation of a Digital Seed Bank, which aims to capture and exploit the wealth of diversity in crop collections around the globe. The Digital Seed Bank is part of larger project; the Diversity Seek Initiative (DivSeek), whose mission is to unlock the potential of crop diversity stored in genebanks around the world and make it available to all so that it can enhance the productivity, sustainability and resilience of crops and agricultural systems.

This is an ambitious project and will need to tackle problems such as how to tag or assign a DOI to genetic resources, just as you can to a journal paper. If this can be done, scientists will be able to trace published work or data back to a single seed, accession or group, and know where they can find and access that germplasm to cross-reference and compare data. A grand aspiration, but aim high and you never know what you might achieve!

GPC is also working to join up global research and policy in the areas of biofortification and stress resilience. There are many scientists across the globe working on the improvement of crops, whether by traditional or marker assisted breeding, or using GM or synthetic biology technologies – wouldn’t it be great if we could facilitate better global collaborations on these projects?

The Convention Centre Dublin, or The Coke Can, to its friends!
The Convention Centre Dublin, or The Coke Can, to its friends!

The GPC is made up of (at present) 28 member organisations, including some big players such as the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO), the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB) and our own UK Plant Sciences Federation (UKPSF).

As members of these societies, many researchers are also members of the GPC by default – whether they realise it or not! To help spread the word to these organisation’s members, I’ve been helping Ruth to man (woman?) an exhibition booth.

So first we flew off to Dublin and attended EPSO’s Plant Biology Europe 2014 conference (23–26th June). This was held at the Convention Centre Dublin in Ireland (known locally, I’m reliably informed, as the ‘Coke Can’!).

Delegates at the EPSO conference came from all over the world
Delegates at the EPSO conference came from all over the world

Our booth was well attended and generated lots of interest from not just European plant scientists as you might expect, but also the global community. Rather than just collecting email addresses in a list, we collected business cards, or got people to fill in a GPC card, and pinned them to a world map so we could see exactly how ‘global’ the GPC’s reach is – I was surprised to meet delegates in Dublin from as far afield as Africa, Australia and New Zealand!

As well as working on the booth, we also had the opportunity to hear some great talks, including a public evening lecture given by Charles Godfray from Oxford University. Charles put a population biologist’s twist on ‘The Challenge of Global Food Security”; lamenting our ‘Malthusian pessimism’ about the need to feed 10 billion people by 2050 and resistance to technologies that might allow us to do this, Godfray said that failure is not an option – “If we fail to have food security, everything will fail,” he said. A sobering thought!

Portland is known for being a bit on the "alternative" side
Portland is known for being a bit on the “alternative” side

After Dublin, and a week in Manchester at SEB, I was back on the plane again; this time heading to Portland in Oregon in the US’s pacific northwest. After a few days’ holiday exploring this very cool ‘hipster’ city and sampling the infamous Voodoo Donuts, Ruth and I set up our GPC booth, this time at the Oregon Convention Centre for the ASPB Plant Biology 2014 conference.

As you can see from the map we generated this time, it was a different demographic who visited the booth; mostly researchers from the US, Canada and western Europe, although we did speak to a few people from Asia and Latin America too. The GPC’s giveaway pens went down a treat here and I came home with only one left!

Our Global Plant Council map at the ASPB conference
Our Global Plant Council map at the ASPB conference

Again, I found some time between exhibit sessions to attend a few talks, and was particularly impressed by journalist/food writer Nathanael Johnson, winner of the ASPB award for Leadership in Science. He spoke about the challenge of communicating science to the public, arguing “facts are not enough”. The big issues in science, he said, are simply too big and too complex for people to grasp, so instead they will grasp at small pieces of information they can understand – and this is often how things like the anti-vaccination movement, or anti-GM campaigners get started. Building trust between scientists, industry and the public is of huge importance, because simply giving people piles of ‘evidence’ has no impact a) if people do not understand it, and b) if there is an assumption that it is inaccurate or they are being misled.

Ruth in the Booth
Ruth in the Booth

So now I’m back in the GARNet office (though the weather here in Coventry is just as hot as it was in Portland!) but only for a week. This weekend the whole GARNet team is off to Vancouver for the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research (ICAR), so stay tuned for more blog posts and tweets from Canada!

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