Planting the seeds of a new business

18 November 2016

Plant scientist Siobhan Gardiner is a full-time PhD student at Cranfield University, and CEO of HEROTECH8 Ltd., a robotics start-up focusing on agri-tech and humanitarian logistics in developing nations. Since time of writing, Siobhan was announced as one of InnovateUK’s Women in Innovation 2016 at the National Business Awards on 15th November. Here she writes about her PhD journey, and some advice on creating a new business in science and technology. Continue reading

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Farming post-Brexit: the fate of agri-environment schemes

14 October 2016

By Rebecca Nesbit, Scientific Programme Manager at Nobel Media

With the plans for a post-EU Britain still unclear, farmers and conservationists are in the dark about how their income will be affected by the loss of EU subsidies. There has been some welcome recent news from the Chancellor: funding is guaranteed for all agri-environment schemes drawn up until the UK leaves the EU. Farmers who are currently applying for agri-environment schemes have confirmation that the projects will be funded until completion, even if this is post-Brexit.

Whilst this news helps farmers make short-term decisions, we know nothing of what the long-term future of agri-environment schemes in the UK will be.

field-of-rapeseeds-oilseed-rape-blutenmeer-yellow-46164 Continue reading

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Securing the future of plants for all

7 October 2016

By Ian Street, Research Associate at Dartmouth College

Seeds for the future

This is a story where people died to preserve plants for future generations. Nikolai Vavilov (1887-1943) is the scientist at the centre of this story and his legacy is still present today in the preservation and capturing of crop plants’ genetic diversity.

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Dandelion seeds take flight, distributing themselves to secure their future (Image source)

Setting the stage

Humans directly consume a small subset of nature’s diversity to fuel our civilization while being 100% reliant on the rest of the plant world.

When humans started farming ~10,000 years ago, a small number of species were domesticated. Farming (eventually) provided a surplus of food and ways to store harvests over winter were developed. This freed people to focus on other activities resulting in our current world where fewer people need to be farmers (~2% of people in the US). However, food security remains the backbone of a healthy economy.

If food security wobbles, so do we– and those struggling to create a food surplus, like many in the developing world, are most vulnerable. An example of why we need plant genetic diversity is finding a solution to the current strain of panama disease quickly moving around the world infecting the single Cavendish banana variety which comprises the majority of commercial production.

Measures to ensure a diverse, and robust, food system for the present and future are a not just  public good activities they are global necessities.

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On the Horizon: Xylella fastidiosa — Microbe Post

3 August 2016

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.

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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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Building a vision for the future: creating a roadmap for UK plant sciences

9 June 2016

By Micha Hanzel, science policy intern, and Alessandro Allegra, senior science policy officer at the Royal Society of Biology

RoadmapPlant science has a central role to play in so many of the global challenges facing the world today, including our future food security, the conservation of biodiversity, sustaining ecosystem services, improving global health and mitigating impacts of global climate change. The UK is internationally recognised for its excellence in plant science, and as such is well positioned to help provide solutions across the range of challenges facing the planet now and in the future.

The UK Plant Sciences Federation (UKPSF), a special interest group of the Royal Society of Biology, plays a key role in this endeavour by providing a unified voice and a forum for the whole UK plant sciences community. The aim of the group is to increase understanding of the significance of plant sciences and formulate a coordinated strategy and vision that is used to inform policy. Continue reading

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State of the World’s Plants

31 May 2016

By Richard Deverell – Director, Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew

The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew recently published the first annual report on the State of the World’s Plants, alongside an international science and policy symposium on the topic. Kew’s Director, Richard Deverell reflects on how it all began and why the work is so important.

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Photo: Andre Dib

Why not plants?

Birds, amphibians, mammals have all been done – but not plants?  Why?

This was the simple question posed by Mike McCarthy, a writer and journalist, when Kathy Willis (Kew’s Director of Science) and I met him at Kew Gardens two years ago.

That was when the seed that became ‘State of the World’s Plants’ was planted – and I think we all owe Mike a debt of gratitude for his simple but important observation.

There was an important gap, one that Kew, working with our partners, could fill.

As ever in science – and in life generally – it is just as important to know what you don’t know as much as to know what you do know.

Science progresses only by individuals with imagination and curiosity asking questions – and then doing the hard work to answer them. Continue reading

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