Fixing the Nitrogen Problem

3 October 2017

By David Dent, Chief Technical Officer and a Founder Director of Azotic Technologies Ltd.

Nitrogen is crucial to agriculture and no plant can grow without it. To manufacture nitrogen fertilizer, 500 million tonnes of ammonia are produced each year, accounting for 1% of the world’s energy usage and 3-5% of natural gas usage.

However, crops use only an estimated 30-50% of the nitrogen fertilizer applied to the soil. The remainder is lost, either to the atmosphere as nitrous oxide gas or into our waterways as nitrate run-off. Agricultural nitrogen fertilizer use accounts for 66% of UK nitrous oxide emissions, contributing to climate change, while nitrate run-off contaminates drinking water, with 5% of the European population exposed to unsafe levels. Continue reading

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‘Power Plants’: renewable energy from photosynthesis

28 March 2017

By Barney Slater AMRSB, BBSRC PhD student at University of Cambridge and policy intern at the Royal Society of Biology, talks about renewable energy from photosynthesis.

Moss radio. Photo: Fabienne Felder (source)

Moss radio. Photo: Fabienne Felder (source)

The need for renewable energy will only increase as our global supplies of fossil fuels begin to run dry. One of the most famous examples of renewable energy is solar power. Solar panels typically use expensive light-sensitive semiconducting materials like silicon to convert sunlight into electricity. However, biologists teaming up with engineers have been working on an equivalent solar semiconductor system, one already utilised by living things: photosynthesis. Continue reading

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Plant Health Studentships: opportunities for undergrads and providers

This post was originally published on the Royal Society of Biology’s blog on 9 January 2017.

Dr Celia Knight FRSB, plant science education and employability consultant, shares her thoughts on undergraduate opportunities.

What does a summer studentship mean to an undergraduate?

When considering whether to undertake a summer research studentship, placement, internship or work experience, undergraduates might wonder:

  • Does applying for a research studentship mean you have to know you want to do a PhD?
  • If you are an intern, should you expect to be paid?
  • Do placements mean you do a year out or year abroad?
  • Does work experience mean you don’t want an academic career?

Sometimes the answer to these questions is ‘yes’ – but it doesn’t have to be! Continue reading

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Helping urban agriculture take root

This post was originally published on the Royal Society of Biology’s blog on 9 January 2017.

Sam Lane AMRSB looks at some of the technologies and policies that will help cities grow their own food.

What if I told you there was a way to meet growing demands for food security, reduce causes of climate change, shrink supply chains and improve public health? Well, some think that urban agriculture might just be the answer, and plant biologists are in a prime position to get involved. Continue reading

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On the Horizon: Xylella fastidiosa — Microbe Post

By Benjamin Thompson, Head of Communications at the Microbiology Society

It’s not just humans and animals that are affected by emerging diseases. In this latest addition to the On the Horizon series, we learn about a poorly understood bacterium that causes significant hardships to farmers across the world. The Apulia region, a thin strip of southeast Italy that stretches out into the Ionian and Adriatic […]

via On the Horizon: Xylella fastidiosa — Microbe Post

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How does a flower come to be?

16 August 2016

By Ian Street, Research Associate at Dartmouth College

A flowering world

There are around 369,000 known flowering plant species on Earth today, by far the most numerous group of plants living on Earth by an order of magnitude. The next largest group is the ~15,000 species of bryophytes. Humans are 100% reliant on flowering plants for food, medicines, wood, air, culture, and our environment.

Death Valley, California super bloom, spring 2016. Photo by Nat Prunet.

Death Valley, California super bloom, spring 2016. Photo by Nat Prunet.

Continue reading

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The Nagoya Protocol: The fair and equitable use of genetic resources

3 August 2016

By Katie Beckett, ABS Project Manager at the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy

KBeckett Photo 2The world’s flora has been studied for millennia. The first plant records known to exist are from the Neolithic Revolution, about 1000 years ago, the same period that is often described as the Agricultural Revolution. Fast forwarding through history, from the work of Mendel to new drug discovery and advances in molecular biology, plant science is at the cutting edge of research and development (R&D) in many sectors around the world.

Pharmaceutical, food & beverage, cosmetic, textiles and agriculture are just a selection of those sectors that would not be where they are today without research into plants, their derivatives and by-products. Alongside industries researching plant material to develop innovative commercial products, the UK is home to several leading plant science university departments and research institutions, accessing plant genetic resources from around the world for their own research purposes. Continue reading

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Plant pest detection technologies: from research to real life

26 July 2016

By Barbara Agstner, economist at Fera Science

Barbara Agstner Fera science economistAs an economist working in a research organisation, part of my daily bread and butter is to assess costs and benefits of new technologies. A current example I am working on are detection devices, as part of a project on new approaches for the early detection of tree health pests and pathogens. To carry out such assessment, I need to know who is going to use these new technologies, in what way, and what the consequences are. In the case of a handheld ‘scanner’ for diseased plants, for example, will someone regularly scan all plants at an airport or nursery, and what will they do if they find a potentially diseased specimen? Is it an effective way to keep novel diseases out of our country, or can it help to manage a disease which is already here? What are current plant health measures, and how would the new technology sit with these?

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Plant IP – how the sands are shifting

27 June 2016

By Penny Maplestone FRSB, Chief Executive of the British Society of Plant Breeders

Penny 19Say the words broccoli and tomato to a group of European plant breeders and the chances are you will spark an excited and at times furious debate about the best way to protect Intellectual Property (IP) in plants.  Key decisions taken last year by the European Patent Office may have changed the plant IP landscape in Europe for ever.

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