A personal overview – by Dr Sandy Knapp FRSB
Plant science has a broad reach – from molecules to ecosystems, and from blue skies to near-market research and practical applications. The UKPSF was formed to bring the plant science sector together and to harness the power of our community to map out a future for plant sciences in the UK that ensures its continued growth and innovation, while fostering its key underpinning role in economic growth and helping the nation meet its needs and obligations.
The report UK Plant Science: current status and future challenges, published in 2013, highlighted key areas for community coalescence and innovation. Four working groups were convened to further explore and identify actions in the priority areas of:
1) Training and Skills (chaired by Simon Leather from Harper Adams University)
2) Funding (chaired by Julian Ma from St. George’s Hospital Medical School)
3) Translation (chaired by Belinda Clark from Agri-Tech East)
4) Regulation (chaired by Huw Jones from Rothamsted Research).
Each group reported on its deliberations and the headline actions at the UKPSF AGM in November 2014, and the full reports were prepared for publication subsequently. Priority actions from each group were reviewed by the UKPSF Executive Group and will form the nucleus of activity in the UKPSF in the near term, and are a powerful beginning for development of a 10 to 25 year visionary roadmap for UK plant science that will involve the community more broadly. A panel session chaired by Dr Anthea McIntyre MEP setting the stage for the roadmap was held at the UKPSF’s annual conference UK Plant Sci in April 2015 – a video of the discussion can be found here.
The working groups have set the stage for future action – but it is up to us, the plant science community, to work together to take many of these actions forward. As you look at the headline actions you will see many of them involve bringing people together in novel ways to take plant science forward in new directions. So please join in!
Headline Actions from Working Group reports
Framing: Inspiring the next generation of plant scientists is critical; education and training must be aligned with employer needs.
- Produce a review of UK plant science training skills and capabilities and requirements
- Develop an interactive education and training resource for dissemination to students and employers as part of UKPSF web offer
- Enhance communication between UK plant scientists and exam boards, publishers and resource developers to enable more plant science content
- Develop an on-line plant science outreach and engagement toolkit as part of UKPSF web offer
Framing: Increased, stable funding streams for plant science are urgently needed; plant science receives on 4% of UK research funding.
- Encourage broader resubmission policy for top non-funded BBSRC grant proposals
- Encourage plant scientists to seek funding from agencies traditionally not seen as funding the sector (e.g., trusts and foundations)
- Integrate the Centres for Agri-Tech Innovation with a wider base of academic institutions by making a case for specific funding calls for related basic and early stage applied research.
- Increase collaboration across the plant science sector by encouraging more joint funding calls (both nationally and internationally) between funding agencies (e.g., BBSRC, MRC or BBSRC, NIH)
- Continue to make the case to Government and funders for the high value of investment in the breadth of UK plant science
- Develop a roadmap for UK plant science for the next decade
Framing: Knowledge exchange enabling the translation of basic scientific research into useful commercial applications identified as a key weakness in the UK’s research and funding strategy.
- Map the UK plant science innovation system – to make it more widely known as a key national competence, and to identify gaps for commercial development and incentive opportunity
- Scope the feasibility of a UK “Pathfinder” service to help broker interactions between commercial and academic sectors and to help UK plant scientists identify funding opportunities
- Convene a forum where “plant science meets social science meets on-the-ground practitioners” to develop understanding of barriers and drivers for uptake of basic plant science innovation in the real world
- Scope an event to forge multi-disciplinary collaboration around key challenges in plant sciences
Framing: UK plant scientists are concerned about the complexity of the regulatory environment that apparently creates barriers to innovation in the key areas of a) Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS); b) Genetic Modification (GN) and novel breeding techniques (NBTs); c) Plant Protection Products (PPPs); and d) Invasive species.
- Create alliances across the UK plant science community to share views and knowledge of these new regulations
- Develop simple guidance for members of the community to enable understanding and compliance
- Engage actively with the UK authorities implementing the Nagoya Protocol and other ABS instruments
GM and NBTs
- Encourage legal clarity over the classification of NBTs at national and European level
- Provide simple guidance for plant scientists about field trial applications (ACRE) to overcome the fear barrier
- Provide a central online resource for navigation through regulations, best practice im compliance and application procedures institutional sharing of risk management documents could be a good first step
- Provide simple guidance for plant scientists on evidence based risk assessment, highlighting the balance between risks and benefits
- Establish an online bibliography of evidence-based assessments to help plant scientists develop strong evidence-based risk assessments
- Engagement further across the plant science sector needed before action taken
- Promote collaborations between those already working in this area for better representation of plant sciences in general
- Promote awareness of the importance of a high level of taxonomic understanding to better inform decision-making
- Engage in national policy fora (e.g., NNSS at Defra) already working in this area