Last week I went to York and had a very interesting time at the UK PlantSci 2014 conference. As well as some excellent talks by students and post-docs (for example the potential of the Bambara groundnut), the discussion on plant science in the late afternoon on Monday was particularly enlightening. The panel discussion followed a brief presentation summarising the recommendations of the report on UK plant science (PDF) published by the UK Plant Sciences Federation. [...]
Tag: plant biology
Horticulture is an important area for BBSRC, as evidence for instance by our Horticulture and Potato Initiative, and I was delighted to be able to attend this year’s Chelsea Flower Show, including (among hundreds) exhibits by the University of Nottingham, East Malling Research and Waitrose/NFU. We had given some sponsorship to the former, so it was particularly pleasing to see that they had been awarded an RHS Gold Medal for their stand.
I also attended the annual dinner meeting of the British Society of Plant Breeders, which was addressed by Lord de Mauley, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Resource Management, the Local Environment and Environmental Science (to name but three). [...]
Last week we had our third ‘roadshow’ conversation at what had been the Free Trade Hall in Manchester, where again we enjoyed a very useful and helpful dialogue with our community. I also took part in a very useful meeting held by Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir John Beddington with a number of the Departmental CSAs and Research Council CEOs. These provide a very useful forum for topics where there is the potential for major cross-Government activity. An obvious area of present interest in the UK is the response of both the research base and regulators to the ash die-back disease cause by pathogenic variants of the fungus Chalara fraxinea, where BBSRC and partners had already initiated a call on Tree Health and Plant biosecurity. Hopefully by getting in early we can avoid the levels of tree loss seen with Dutch elm disease.
I also enjoyed a visit to Council member Jim Godfrey’s farm for a series of discussions of modern agriculture and the role of our research therein. It was very striking how very much science, and scientific approaches, do indeed contribute to modern successful agricultural enterprises. [...]
Much of last week was occupied by my attendance at an eponymous conference in Dundee that we helped sponsor on plant root biology, under the auspices of the International Society for Root Research. I co-chaired one of the sessions and gave a short talk based on a couple of review articles and calculations.
There were a huge number of highlights, not least in meeting so many of this community, but probably the outstanding talk was the opening keynote by Jonathan Lynch, whose wide-ranging review covered everything from molecular genetics and very high-tech measurements of root morphology at different scales (e.g. using laser ablation tomography as the best method for measuring aerenchyma) to the substantial yield improvements that these methods, and some careful thinking, plant breeding and agronomy, were having in a variety of African countries. Effective breeding increases both shallow (and spreading) roots for improved phosphorus uptake and deep roots for improved nitrogen use efficiency and drought tolerance. Roots should be ‘steep, deep and cheap’, said Lynch. I also much enjoyed keynote presentations by Malcom Bennett and Michelle Watt, both vertically integrating quite fundamental molecular knowledge with downstream physiological properties (with the latter showing improvements in water acquisition by deep roots, with 10cm of increased depth in no-till agriculture in Australia translating to 0.5 tonnes per ha increase in wheat grain yields). Overall I learnt a lot about the potential and research needs of this core element of Global Food Security. [...]