This week contained many short meetings, on which I do not usually blog, but one interesting event I attended was held in the gardens of Westminster Abbey and sponsored by the National Farmers Union and Morrison’s. This allowed the speakers – including Defra Secretary of State Caroline Spelman and Agriculture Minister Jim Paice – to reflect on the importance of vertical integration of the entire food chain, and the sponsors to show off some outstanding British produce (including some wonderful blackberries sourced from Kent). Berries are an excellent source of antioxidants. (In support for the UK’s 2018 World Cup soccer bid, there was also a truly awesome demonstration of ‘keepy-uppy’ by the current world record holder, Dan Magness. Nice to see the UK holding at least one soccer record!) There were many useful networking opportunities with MPs and other delegates, including some very useful discussions of the Red Tractor scheme.

As with last week, I am still thinking about increasing the volumes of plant roots as a means of carbon sequestration that would have many other benefits, including for soil quality and for water and nutrient retention, and this thinking was considerably boosted by reading a very nice review (including an iconic picture, modified below with permission) of the potential role of perennial grasses and grains here. These can have truly enormous roots, although grain yields are not as yet comparable to those of elite crop lines. It and other reviews from the same group (such as this one in Scientific American) set a very clear agenda, to which I hope we shall contribute substantively. A couple of other recent papers indicate some of the challenges for breeding.

Above and below-ground biomass of annual wheat (left) and perennial wheatgrass (right) during four seasons.

Above and below-ground biomass of annual wheat (left) and perennial wheatgrass (right) during four seasons. Although some 25-40% of the wheatgrass root system dies off each year and must be replaced, its access to deeper water and nutrients (that it helps retain), and its longer growing season, are said to result in greater above- and below-ground productivity than its annual counterpart. The potential for greatly enhanced carbon sequestration is self-evident.

Wearing an academic hat, I gave a plenary lecture at the annual meeting of the British Society for Research on Ageing, concentrating on the role of poorly liganded iron in ageing and degenerative diseases. A lengthy follow-up review paper, concentrating on toxicological mechanisms, has just been accepted for publication in Arch Toxicol. Another one to add to the estimated 50 million journal articles that have been published.

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