Plant science research has tremendous potential to address pressing global issues including climate change, food insecurity and sustainability. However, without sustained investment in plant science, the necessary research to generate innovative discoveries that solve these urgent problems is at risk.

On September 1, 2020 the Plant Science Research Network (PSRN) released its Plant Science Decadal Vision 2020-2030: Reimagining the Potential of Plants for a Healthy and Sustainable Future, a report that outlines bold, innovative solutions to guide investments and research in plant science over the next 10 years.

The PSRN calls on its community to unite around the Decadal Vision’s priorities and to inspire their government representatives and fellow community members.

“The Decadal Vision is a community-wide vision that is a powerful tool for communication and advocacy,” said David Stern, President of the Boyce Thompson Institute and corresponding author. “After all, the public should be the ultimate beneficiary of the vision.”

The Decadal Vision grew out of Plant Summit 2019, a conference held February 10-13, 2019, at Biosphere 2 in Arizona.

“Fifty diverse participants – including scientists, industry representatives, educators and advocates – discussed the future of research, training and infrastructure,” says Stern, who is also an adjunct professor of plant biology in Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “From that meeting, the writing team developed the Decadal Vision as a rallying cry for all plant scientists to unite around a common vision, inspire new collaborations to pursue interdisciplinary research goals, and implement new paradigms for professional development that will catalyze a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable future.”

The Decadal Vision recognizes the intersection of human and scientific elements and demands integrated implementation of strategies to advance research, people and technology. The vision is presented through eight specific and interdisciplinary goals, each with an accompanying action plan.

Four research goals are presented: Harness plants for planetary resilience; Advance technology for diversity-driven sustainable plant production systems; Develop 21st-century applications of plant science to improve nutrition, health, and well-being; and Launch the “Transparent Plant”, an interactive tool to discern mechanisms and solve urgent and vexing problems.

When it comes to agriculture, “Increasing food production may not be the solution,” explains co-author Ole Wendroth, professor of soil science at the University of Kentucky. “Food needs to be produced more sustainably, and plant science plays an important role in this for the future. Farmers that I have worked with are very willing to take this bold step as long as they can produce a safe farm income.”

The two goals emphasizing our people are: Reimagine the workplace to nurture adaptive and diverse scientists; and Build capacity and interest to engage with plant science.

“What I like about the Decadal Vision is that equity and justice were part of the vision right from the beginning, and not just tacked on at the end,” says co-author Madelaine Bartlett, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. “Everyone should have the same opportunities that I have had, but that is simply not the case right now. It is hard work, but it can be done and it must be done.”

Bartlett adds that collaborations among people from many scientific disciplines is the new normal, and the PSRN has strengthened connections between scientific societies.

“My research is in the intersection of genetics, bioinformatics, developmental biology and evolutionary biology, so I belong to four different research societies,” she says. “I hope this report will help knock down those barriers and stimulate more research that integrates multiple disciplines.”

The two goals focused on technology infrastructure are: Develop new technologies to revolutionize research; and Manage and realize the potential of Big Data.

Co-author Eric Lyons, associate professor in the School of Plant Sciences at the University of Arizona, says such new technologies are necessary because plant research is a diverse set of sciences that span from molecules to the entire planet.

“Addressing the most pressing questions of plant research requires an unprecedented level of coordination, collaboration, and training across many disciplines of science,” says Lyons. “This Decadal Vision is essential to bring a common voice to the needs of these diverse researchers and the central role that data science plays in facilitating integrating information to make new discoveries to improve the human condition through plants and agriculture.”

While the Decadal Vision makes a case for new funding, obtaining that support will require plant scientists to engage the public and advocate for needed resources.

Indeed, federal funding agencies, private philanthropies, corporations and entrepreneurs, are all necessary for plant science to have a maximum impact on enhancing human health, improving environmental quality, boosting the economy, and benefitting global equity and justice.

“Plant science gets such a small piece of the funding pie. If there are going to be solutions to surviving climate change, then plants are going to be a critical part of those solutions,” says Bartlett.

Wendroth believes that funding agencies can foster plant science discoveries to address pressing global issues by calling for proposals in forward-thinking, interdisciplinary research with speculative outcomes. “This would help harness scientific creativity in a similar way that venture capital is used to invest in long-term growth potential opportunities,” he says.

Decadal Vision 2020-2030 was published in the open-access journal Plant Direct. The citation for the report is: Henkhaus N, Bartlett M, Gang D, et al. Plant science decadal vision 2020–2030: Reimagining the potential of plants for a healthy and sustainable future. Plant Direct. 2020;00:1–24.

The PSRN was formed in 2015, with a grant from the National Science Foundation (IOS 1514765) to the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI). The network comprises 15 organizations and scientific societies with interest in advancing plant science research, which includes research applied to agriculture, foundational research in plant biology (such as genetics, molecular biology, etc.), and ecological research to understand plant biodiversity and apply knowledge (for example to conservation efforts):

  • American Phytopathological Society
  • American Society for Horticultural Science
  • American Society of Agronomy
  • American Society of Plant Biologists
  • American Society of Plant Taxonomists
  • Association of Independent Plant Research Institutes
  • Botanical Society of America
  • Council on Undergraduate Research
  • Crop Science Society of America
  • Ecological Society of America
  • Genetics Society of America
  • Global Plant Council
  • North American Arabidopsis Steering Committee
  • Phytochemical Society of North America
  • Soil Science Society of America

Author: Aaron J. Bouchie

Article source: Boyce Thompson Institute

Image credit: Boyce Thompson Institute