BBSRC’s investments are key to supporting plant science research in the UK. Our plant scientists lead the world in understanding the fundamentals of plant biology – knowledge that is now being applied to key agricultural crops across the globe. Despite the importance of plant science, it tends to lack prominence in many A-level biology and UK university courses and I recall being one of only 12 students (out of ~100) who studied plant biochemistry when I was an undergraduate. Initiatives that raise the profile of, and opportunities in, plant science to undergraduate students are, therefore, very welcome and, in relation to this, I was delighted to be the closing plenary speaker at the recent Gatsby Plant Science Summer School.
This initiative, which has been running for over 10 years, brings together 80 or so undergraduates from 26 UK universities at the end of their first year and submerses them in plant science for a week. The interest and enthusiasm of the students was plain to see and the scope of questions I was asked demonstrated a real maturity of thought. I enjoyed speaking to the students who reported that the summer school had really helped them see the opportunities available – who knows, among them could be the future leaders of plant science research!
Part of my summer holiday was spent in Burgundy – and this inspired me to take a closer look at the bioscience behind viticulture. As we cycled through vineyards, occasionally stopping off to sample the wide range of wines on offer, it was hard not to be astounded by the differences in wines produced from the same varieties of grape – the influence of the famed ‘terroir’ being a key factor. It struck me, while being guided around one particular Chateau, that this is a fascinating example of ‘genotype x environment = phenotype’, recognising the skills of the winemakers too of course. Doing a brief sweep of the literature ‘oenomics’ (using Fourier Transform ion cyclotron resonance mass spectrometry) emerged as the current state-of-the-art approach for examining the influence of soil composition on metabolite profiles in grape juice and wines. Recent studies have also suggested that the soil microbiome may contribute to the regional ‘terroir’. This holiday-inspired diversion into viticulture emphasised to me that cutting-edge technologies and approaches developed to address one biological problem so often find applicability across the breadth of bioscience research. It will be interesting to see how science influences future developments in wine production.
I returned from France to the announcement made by the Chancellor providing reassurance to the academic community regarding H2020 and the Government’s commitment to underwriting awards. As demonstrated in the statement from all Research Councils this is really welcome news and emphasises the benefits of working closely together as we go through this period of change.