Thursday, September 8, 2011

"Plant Science has never been more important"

The work of Plant Scientists is crucial to our long-term survival, according to a hard-hitting letter by an international group of botanists and crop scientists published this week.

After an online consultation, the authors have drawn up a list of 100 important questions that urgently need to be addressed by the next generation of plant biologists.

"Plant science has never been more important" the authors state. Global challenges including the production of abundant safe and nutritious food, shelter, clothes, fibre and renewable energy can only be met, according to the authors, "in the context of a strong fundamental understanding of plant biology and ecology, and translation of this knowledge into field-based solutions".

In order to see what questions plant scientists should be considering, the authors compiled a list of 100 important questions facing plant science research.

The top-ten questions are:

  • How do we feed our children's children?
  • Which crops must be grown and which sacrificed, to feed the billions?
  • How can we deliver higher yields but at the same time reduce environmental impact of agriculture?
  • What are the best ways to control invasive species of plants, pests and pathogens?
  • Should GM crops require special regulation?
  • How can plants curb global warming?
  • How do plants contribute to maintaining human life on earth?
  • What will be the new scientific approaches central to plant biology in the coming century?
  • How do we ensure that society appreciates the importance of plants and how can we attract the "best and brightest" into plant science?
  • How do we make sure sound science informs policy decisions?

"Plant science is central to addressing many of the most important questions facing humanity", the authors conclude. The importance of plants also extends well beyond agriculture and horticulture as we "face declining  solid fuel reserves, climate change, and a need for more sustainable methods to produce fuel, fibre, wood and industrial feedstocks".

The authors note that training new plant scientists is essential given the central role they will play in the future:
"As plant science becomes increasingly important, we need to attract the brightest and best to careers in plant research. School education does not include the most interesting or relevant aspects of plant science, and discourages young people from studying the subject at university. This is indefensible in a world with such a strong requirement for outstanding plant scientists, and steps should be taken to put it right".

The authors are clear on the importance of plant science research and future plant scientists:
“Everyone knows that we need doctors, and the idea that our best and brightest should go into medicine is embedded in our culture.  However, even more important than medical care is the ability to survive from day to day; this requires food, shelter, clothes, and energy, all of which depend on plants.

“Plant scientists are tackling many of the most important challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century, including climate change, food security, and fossil fuel replacement.  Making the best possible progress will require exceptional people.  We need to radically change our culture so that ‘plant scientist’ (or, if we can rehabilitate the term, ‘botanist’) can join ‘doctor’, ‘vet’ and ‘lawyer’ in the list of top professions to which our most capable young people aspire.”

You can read the letter, published in the New Phytologist here.


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