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GPC Community

The Next Generation

By | ASPB, Blog, Future Directions, GPC Community, SEB

Meet Amelia and Sarah, the two newest additions to the Global Plant Council team.

As a coalition of plant and crop societies from the around the globe, the Global Plant Council (GPC) aims to bring together scientists, policy makers and other stakeholders to engage in coordinated strategies to find solutions to global problems.

The GPC currently has 29 member organizations representing thousands of scientists in diverse disciplines around the world. Online media such as this blog and the @GlobalPlantGPC Twitter account provide a fantastic resource for our member organizations to stay in touch, share ideas and develop interdisciplinary collaborations.

For Spanish speakers, we’ve also recently launched a Spanish version of our Twitter feed at @GPC_EnEspanol, kindly translated for us by Juan-Diego Santillana-Ortiz, an Ecuadorian currently studying at Heinrich-Heine University in Düsseldorf, Germany.

Amelia is in the third year of her PhD at the John Innes Centre, Norwich UK. She is researching how altering the biochemistry of epicuticular waxes affects the physiology and ultimately yield of UK wheat. She tweets @AmeliaFrizell (https://twitter.com/AmeliaFrizell)

Amelia Frizell-Armitage is in the third year of her PhD at the John Innes Centre, Norwich UK. She is researching how altering the biochemistry of epicuticular waxes affects the physiology and ultimately yield of UK wheat. She tweets @AmeliaFrizell.

To further enhance this network, the GPC has awarded two New Media Fellowships to early career plant scientists Amelia Frizell-Armitage and Sarah Jose. The role of the Fellows will be to increase visibility of the GPC through managing this blog, devising new strategies to promote GPC activities and to increase traffic flow and engagement on Twitter.

A key priority will be to increase members’ contributions to this blog to promote their organizations and associated activities. Contributing to the blog is a fantastic way to interact with other GPC members, and we are always open to suggestions for guest posts. Perhaps you want to talk about a recent meeting or activity, discuss a particularly exciting piece of emerging research, promote a newly published book, or even just give some insight into your everyday life?

Sarah Jose is a third year PhD student at the University of Bristol, UK. She is investigating the link between wax biosynthesis and stomatal development in barley and Arabidopsis, and its potential impact on the water use efficiency of plants. Find her on Twitter @JoseSci.

Sarah Jose is a third year PhD student at the University of Bristol, UK. She is investigating the link between wax biosynthesis and stomatal development in barley and Arabidopsis, and its potential impact on the water use efficiency of plants. Find her on Twitter @JoseSci.

Whatever it is, we want to hear from you! Please get in touch on Twitter, via the comments section on the blog, or by emailing our Outreach & Communications Manager Lisa Martin.

It is an exciting year ahead for the GPC with the launch of a new online platform for the plant community that is being built in partnership with the ASPB and with support from SEB. There are also various fundraising initiatives in the works, and a Stress Resilience Forum coming up in October, which is being organized in collaboration with SEB.

Stay tuned to this blog to keep up to date with all our activities. The events calendar for member organizations is also looking busy and vibrant, and can be found here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Onwards and Upwards for the Global Plant Council

By | Blog, GPC Community

PrintThe 2014 Global Plant Council annual general meeting (AGM) was held 2-3 October and hosted by the Society of Experimental Biology in London. GPC Individuals representing 22 member organisations from 5 continents gathered at Charles Darwin House to share updates and plan for the future.

The Global Plant Council (GPC) is a coalition of plant and crop science societies from across the globe. It aims to provide a global voice for these societies which individually represent scientists from specific countries, continents or sub-sets of plant science. During the AGM it became clear that in reality the GPC is a central hub, acting to instigate change in plant science research and application worldwide. This is a critical role; coordinated global action and a unified voice are essential for plant scientists to be able to effectively play a part in meeting the world challenges of hunger, energy, climate change, health and well-being, sustainability and environmental protection, which affect all of us.

The first day of the AGM was dedicated to sharing news and updates. Two working groups, that deal with Advocacy and Finance issues, praised the progress made by Ruth Bastow, the GPC’s first dedicated member of staff, since May 2013. Council members were pleased to see GPC flyers and brochures designed, produced and distributed at conferences over the summer, resulted in over 140 people signing up to join the GPC mailing list (if you don’t receive the monthly bulletin then sign up here!). The GPC blog had a successful launch in April 2014, with a particular highlight being a post on the economics of agricultural biotechnology by David Zilberman.

At the 2013 AGM, member organisations identified four priority areas: Agricultural Productivity and Sustainability; Food and Human Health; Adaption to Climate Change; and the sharing of Knowledge, Data and Resources. The GPC will support and promote these themes through activities including network building, engaging with policy makers, fundraising and leading global collaborative projects.

Recent activities for the GPC have focussed on number of key initiatives: Diversity Seek, Digital Seed Bank, Biofortification and Stress Resilience.

The Diversity Seek Initiative is a community-driven initiative that has been established in collaboration with the Global Crop Diversity Trust, the Secretariat of the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, the CGIAR Consortium and the GPC. Approximately seven million crop accessions are being conserved worldwide, representing one of the greatest – largely untapped – opportunities for accelerating yield gains and overcoming emerging crop productivity bottlenecks. DivSeek acts a ‘magnet’ to bring together current and future projects working toward unlocking and characterizing the crop diversity that exists in genebanks around the world in a coordinated manner. The DivSeek Initiative was presented and discussed at the recent G20 meeting of Chief Agricultural Scientists in Brisbane, Australia and is noted in the final communiqué from the meeting.

The Digital Seed Bank is a foundational DivSeek project and will act as a ‘flagship’ to illustrate the power of mining the genetic potential of crop diversity. The Digital Seed Bank will store detailed information on the molecular and biochemical basis of genotype x environment interactions, and allelic diversity, and will utilize this data to discover the gene networks controlling quantitative traits for yield and quality performance. Combining genomic data with quantitative information about the expression of genes, proteins, and metabolites from crops growing in environmental conditions that reflect their diversity will give breeders unprecedented new and valuable insights that can be exploited for crop improvement programs. The Digital Seed Bank initiative leader Wilhelm Gruissem is currently seeking funding to make the Digital Seed Bank a reality.

In July, the GPC gathered 30 scientists from 11 countries (including representatives from Africa, Africa, Europe, Oceania and the Americas) for a Forum focussing on the Biofortification Initiative in Xiamen, China. Attendees at the Forum considered current projects, assessed current strategic investments into R&D, and initiated a gap analysis to begin the process of ensuring that major nutritional needs are met through an internationally coordinated approach. The outcomes of this workshop will be summarized in a white paper that will be made available via the GPC website.

The final initiative is improving Stress Resilence. The initiative leaders are planning holding their first forum at the 2015 International Plant Molecular Biology Congress at Iguazu Falls, Brazil in October 2015. We’ll keep you informed as more details get finalised.

New initiatives were discussed at the AGM, from a digital resource to international research projects to engaging with global policy bodies. The Global Plant Council has made vast progress in the past two years – and there is much more still to come!

 

GPCAGM2014v2

Attendees of the 2014 Global Plant Council AGM. Back row from left: Beat Boller, (EUCARPA); Antonio Costa de Oliveira (ICSS); Ellen Bergfeld (ASA/CSSA); Ariel Orellana (CNNP); Crispin Taylor (ASPB); Jim Beynon (UKPSF); Vicky Buchanan-Wollaston (SEB); Henry Nguyen (ASA/CSSA); Rodomiro Ortiz (SPPS); Zuhua He (CSPB); Gustavo Habermann (SBFV and SAFV); Shahrokh Khanizadeh (Plant Canada); Charis Cook (GARNet); Nelson Saibo (SPFV); Carl Douglas (CSPB). Front row from left: Paul Hutchinson (SEB); Ruth Bastow (GPC); Russell Jones (ASPB); Christine Foyer (FESPB); Wilhelm Gruissem (EPSO); Zhihong Xu (CSPB, BSC and GSC); Karin Metzlaff (EPSO); Mimi Tanimoto (UKPSF).

This blog was written by Charis Cook who was present at the meeting as an observer from GARNet who is a member of the UK Plant Sciences Federation, which represents the UK to the Global Plant Council.

Musings of a Well-Travelled Plant Biologist

By | Blog, GPC Community

As someone who’s been “all over the map” as a plant scientist, I have a special appreciation for the goals of the Global Plant Council (GPC).  

My Dad was a country doctor, and my best friends as a child were the sons and daughters of farmers who raised pigs, corn and soybeans in rural Indiana. It was an interesting time in which small farms were gradually being consolidated and the percentage of our population engaged in farming was gradually decreasing—a phenomenon I’ll come back to later in this blog.

If you count my time as an undeDelmer LAb MSU-DOErgraduate and graduate student, then a post-doc, and later as a faculty member in the plant sciences, I’ve been associated with 5 major American Universities. Having been married to an Israeli, I also spent 10 years as a faculty member at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem where I was challenged in my middle age to learn to lecture in Hebrew. I spent two sabbaticals in the private sector—at The ARCO Plant Cell Research Institute and at Calgene, Inc. My research on plant cell walls was supported at various stages by grants from The US Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation, from the US-Israel bi-national Agricultural Research and Development Fund (BARD), by the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF), by Cotton Incorporated that is funded by cotton growers in the U.S., and from funds that supported a few collaborations with scientists from Pioneer HiBred and Monsanto.

I have chaired the Section of Plant Biology at UC Davis and served as President of the American Society of Plant Biology and was elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 2004.

At age 60, I turned my life upside down with a decision to leave Academia and work as a program officer doing grant making in support of developing world agriculture for the Rockefeller Foundation. Although based in New York City, this work took me to China, Thailand, the Philippines, India, and a number of countries in Africa where I was exposed to the complex challenges facing developing world agriculture. I also interacted with scientists from many National Agricultural Research Institutes (NARIs) and as well as those from the international centers of the CGIAR. I am now officially retired but continue to serve on scientific boards and consult for foundations that support research related to international agriculture.

So, yes, I suppose you could say I’m a bona fide member of the global plant science community. And so, for the rest of this blog, I thought I would try to do two things: first, to outline from my perspective some of the great strengths and weaknesses of these various research systems; and second, to outline some thoughts on how the GPC might best interact with these systems in ways that take advantage of their great strengths and offer help to address some of their weaknesses.

I’ll begin with the Universities and Advanced Research Institutes (ARIs). On the plus side, Universities and ARIs provide the venue for truly cutting edge research in the plant sciences; they possess a diverse array of scientists who are well funded and motivated to satisfy their curiosity about how the world works and to seek new knowledge of fundamental plant processes. Such activities thus lay a foundation for applied research that benefits the environment, agriculture, and consumers of food. In this best-case scenario, their scientists have the time and enjoy educating a new generation of students who are challenged to think for themselves and express their ideas freely.  In the worst-case scenario, scientists at these institutions are under-funded, over-worked, forced to choose between doing good teaching and good research, and also feel isolated from the larger global agricultural community.

By contrast, scientists in the NARIs of the world represent the public sector’s system for translation of scientific advances into new products and practices that can be passed on to farmers. In the best of all worlds, their staffs enjoy good government support and excellent relationships with a strong team of local extension agents and with the farming community. They see first-hand the true issues facing farmers, and their feedback to the research community is vital for setting global research priorities. Their counterpart in the private sector includes all those companies that also supply farmers with agricultural inputs but with the aim of generating a profit. The size and strength of NARIs can vary tremendously, ranging from large, well-funded organizations such as Embrapa in Brazil or the USDA to very small operations in the poorest countries of the world that may lack even one PhD scientist and suffer from very modest government support and pathetic facilities. A similar range of sizes holds true for private sector companies that can range from the large multi-national companies with very deep well-funded and innovative research programs and large global sales down to the smallest seed company in the poorest country in the world that does its best to get access to quality seed at prices their clients can afford.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHaving functioned on behalf of a private donor (The Rockefeller Foundation) and later as a member of one center Governing Board, I am most intrigued by the complex role played by the 15 international research centers that represent the CGIAR. Each center has a specific mandate to work on certain crops, fish or livestock or to address policy issues related to international agriculture. They also operate within a larger global framework that has goals to reduce rural poverty, enhance food security, to promote better nutrition and health and sustainably managed natural resources. In the best of all possible worlds, these centers should serve as the obvious natural bridge between the upstream work of the Universities and ARIs and the downstream applied efforts of the NARIs; they should also find ways to have productive interactions with the private sector that involve win-win scenarios for all. At their worst, the centers suffer from some uncertainties as to who their clients really are, to a lack of infusion of more new blood into the system, to relatively rigid management structures, and to new uncertainties about organizational issues and stability of funding as a result of recent attempts at CGIAR reform.

But when I began to think about some of the larger weaknesses of these various systems, I was surprised to discover that they all share many key challenges. Although one can argue there is a huge difference between what the University of California and a NARI of a small African country requires in the way of research budgets, both engage in a constant struggle to obtain sufficient funding froChickpea Field trials at ICRISATm local and national budgets. The private sector and the CGIAR centers worry no less about financial matters. All these systems are blessed by the power of the Internet and the increasing ease with which we can communicate with others around the globe. But all are challenged by the overwhelming increase in data to be managed and shared in a fair way. All are affected by the divisive global debate over GM crops, by the disparate and uncoordinated systems for regulation of such crops, for rules regarding quarantine and global exchange of germplasm, and for the lack of harmonization for processes of approval and release of new crop varieties. All are affected by local, state and international policies that affect the advancement of agriculture at all levels. And all are struggling with ways to best contribute to solving the profound issues of food security, malnutrition, and the effects of global climate change.

There are two other issues that concern me a great deal. One relates to an issue I alluded to in the beginning of this blog—the way in which farm communities grow and change as they progress and adapt to an ever-changing world. Progress in agriculture has often (but not always) involved consolidation of farms into larger more efficient operations.   Yet the development community often continues to look for solutions that could bring prosperity to a woman farmer growing maize on one hectare of land while running a household and raising 5 children. At the other end of the spectrum, while there is growing concern about the rising level of large “land grabs” that involve the leasing or selling of land to create vast for-profit farms in the developing world, there is, in my opinion, room for much more discussion about ways to promote “pro-poor” land consolidation in combination with creation of more off-farm job opportunities. This is an issue that increasingly affects the future of agriculture for rural communities across the planet.  

The second issue that concerns me relates to how we interact with each other within this vast global community. In my opinion, there is a serious gap in the way these various research systems talk to each other, understand each others’ respective roles, and in the ability to forge productive international partnerships.  I have to also say that I have seen huge differences in management styles that certainly differ across, but also within, cultures. Having grown up in the American academic system, I believe that one of the strongest reasons it stands out internationally as one that fosters a high level of innovation is the way that this system (at its best) fosters in its younger students, post-docs and faculty a freedom to engage in independent thinking and offers the freedom to challenge those in power. One thing that has continually distressed me in all my global wanderings is a recognition that many research organizations across the globe are much too hierarchical with a top-down style of management that discourages free discourse, stifles the voice of the young, and discourages innovation.

I recognize that all may not agree with my opinions on the many issues discussed above but this is a blog, and I was encouraged to speak my mind! And that is one of the great things about having the Global Plant Council as a venue to discuss difficult issues. And the real reason I agreed to write this blog is my belief that the Global Plant Council can provide one very powerful venue to help address the many challenges I have outlined above. One can already see the GPC forging initiatives to create a more powerful international dialog on issues such as the creation of a Digital Seed Bank, dealing with malnutrition through support for biofortification efforts, and coping with climate change through an emphasis on building more stress resilience into our agricultural systems. There are many more issues that could be addressed such as harmonization of seed systems, quarantine laws, and some sort of harmonization of regulatory processes for the safe approval and monitoring of GM crops. Such harmonization is particularly critical for small countries that share boundaries and markets but cannot afford to develop such regulations on their own. The GPC could also provide a forum for the sharing of advanced educational materials, for promoting international collaborations and arranging imaginative internships and sabbatical exchanges, and for promoting a broader and more inclusive discussion of policies relating to issues such as farm consolidation and the interactions of agriculture with the environment. Maybe it could also create learning modules and foster dialog that helps leaders of research institutions function most productively to foster innovation in the 21st Century. All this and much more–but only if the GPC has strong support from all of us as individuals, from our scientific societies, from private donors, and from governments of both rich and poor countries.

 

Deborah Delmer

Professor Emeritus, University of California Davis

Program Officer, The Rockefeller Foundation (retired)

Celebrating Norman E. Borlaug’s Centenary: Looking backwards for the leap forward

By | Blog, GPC Community

You cannot build peace on empty stomachs
John Boyd Orr
1949 Nobel Peace Laureate and First FAO Director General (1945-1948)

On the centennial of Borlaug’s birth Global Plant Council representatives Rodomiro Ortiz and Russell Jones reflect on his achievements and legacy.

wheat1The last Nature editorial “Wheat Lag” [1] affirms “growth in yields of the cereal must double if the Green Revolution is to be put back on track”.  Google records about ½ million hits for the term “Green Revolution,” which refers to the huge increase between 1943 and the late 1970s in the production of rice and wheat, the main small grain cereals that feed the world. Plant research had led to the development of new cultivars, the sharing of seed, and improved crop husbandry. Without these developments, crop yields would have been at least 20% less and food prices about 19% higher than they had been in 2000, according to Evenson and Gollin [2]. Their modeling reveals that calorie consumption would have dropped by about 5% and the number of malnourished children increased by at least 2%. It is estimated that the Green Revolution helped improve the health status of 32 to 42 million pre-school children.

BorlaugWithout doubt, the leader and main advocate of this Green Revolution was the late Norman E. Borlaug (1914-2009), a wheat breeder who continues to be a source of inspiration in plant science and whose impact on livelihoods was immense [3]. As noted elsewhere, his wheat cultivars saved millions of humans from starvation and death [4]. It was therefore not surprising that the Nobel Committee of the Norwegian Parliament awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970. The award noted that, “more than any other single person of this age, he has helped to provide bread for a hungry world” [5]. Wheat breeding, however, only meant something to Borlaug if it increased production and improved food security. In his words “For more than half a century I have worked with the production of more and better wheat for feeding the hungry people, but wheat is merely a catalyst, a part of the picture. I am interested in the total development of human beings. Only by attacking the whole problem can we raise the standard of living for all people in all communities, so they will be able to live decent lives. This is something we want for all people on this planet.

Even though critics of the Green Revolution insisted that Borlaug’s “miracle wheat” depleted natural resources [6], research shows that the net effect of high grain yields resulting from the Green Revolution reduced emissions of up to 161 gigatons of carbon (GtC) (590 GtCO2e) between 1961 and 2005 [7]. In one of his last writings, Borlaug argued eloquently with evidence that significant grain yield increases [8] actually spared land from agricultural uses. His assertion has recently been verified: plant breeding on the major staple crops between 1965 and 2004 saved an estimated 18 to 27 million hectares from being brought into cultivation [9]. The widespread adoption of high-yielding bred cultivars preserved natural ecosystems rather than displacing pastures and deforesting lands for intensive agriculture. 

In his last years, Borlaug cautioned that there was no room for complacency in the fight to ensure food security, especially when there are still almost 1 billion people going to bed hungry every night in the world. He was convinced that advances in plant science could provide new tools for crossbreeding, crop husbandry and more efficient use of resources. He contended that, in the absence of scientific evidence that food derived from transgenic crops harmed either human health or the environment, consumers would benefit from their use.  Particularly in the developing world, plant biotechnology could help to ensure the food supply [10]. He always thought that uncontrolled population growth posed more threat to the environment than plant science.

Borlaug warned of the dangers of research subject to excessive organization. Research directed from the higher reaches of administration could result in scientists using valuable time to write reports justifying their work, or in finding themselves doing research isolated from their peers [8]. During his prolific professional career he advocated that No matter how excellent the research done in one scientific discipline is, its application in isolation will have little positive effect on crop production. What is needed are venturesome scientists who can work across disciplines to produce appropriate technologies and who have the courage to make their case with political leaders to bring these advances to fruition.”

A growing world population increases the need for nutritious and quality food, feedstock, fiber, and fuel, while at the same time the Earth faces a decline in arable land. Agro-ecosystems are affected by land erosion, water scarcity, stalled crop productivity, overgrazing of pastures, deforestation, and anthropogenic climate change.  These new global challenges require an integrated plant science agenda that goes beyond productivity gains; this agenda needs to include increased resilience, eco-efficiency, and sustainability. Plant scientists need to work together with growers, retailers, entrepreneurs and policy makers for intensifying sustainably agro-ecosystems. Growers will need to increase output with less input, adapt their farming to climate change, and conserve agro-biodiversity by capitalizing on the advances brought by plant science. Agribusiness entrepreneurs together with growers and plant and food scientists need to add value throughout the food chain and improve the quality and safety of the human diet. Likewise, decision makers, with support from policy analysts, should ensure that food markets work for social benefits. Plant science must therefore contribute to a healthy and prosperous society in the 21st Century by providing knowledge, methods and tools that deliver diverse, nutritious and healthy food for a balanced diet. Increasing the wellbeing of everyone in this global village will be the best tribute to the memory of Norman E. Borlaug, the humanitarian plant scientist who changed the world.

Rodomiro Ortiz, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Alnarp, Sweden 

Russell Jones, University of California, Berkeley, USA

[1] http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/507399b

[2] Evenson RE, Gollin D (2003) Science 300:758-762 http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.1078710

[3] Ortiz R, Mowbray D, Dowswell C, Rajaram S (2007) Plant Breeding Reviews 27:1–38 http://media.wiley.com/product_data/excerpt/86/04719979/0471997986.pdf

[4] Easterbrook G (1997) The Atlantic 1997.01.01 http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/01/forgotten-benefactor-of-humanity/306101/

[5] http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1970/press.html

[6] Bunge J (2014) The Wall Street Journal 2014.03.25 http://blogs.wsj.com/corporate-intelligence/2014/03/25/green-revolution-or-agricultural-disaster-a-statue-in-d-c-rekindles-the-debate/

[7] Burney JA, Davis SJ, Lobell DB (2010) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 107:12052–12057 http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.0914216107

[8] Borlaug NE (2007) Euphytica 157:287–297 http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10681-007-9480-9

[9] Stevenson JR, Villoria N, Byerlee D, Kelley T, Maredia M (2013) Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA) 110:8363–8368 http://dx.doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1208065110

[10] http://blog.chron.com//sciguy/2008/07/norman-borlaug-genetic-modification-can-feed-the-world/

 

 

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