Looking to the past for future solutions

30th Apr 2012

A paper published this month in New Phytologist summarises the development of the UK Plant Science Federation (UKPSF) and explains its importance. A special-interest group of the Society of Biology, the UKPSF brings together the plant science community in the UK and creates a coordinated approach to research, industry, funding and education.

The UKPSF was launched in November 2011 and will provide a common voice for UK plant science and education. By first looking into the historical background of plant sciences, the UKPSF aims to provide a useful template for developing integrative worldwide plant research. This will help to strengthen research outputs, improve national and international collaboration, and create a coordinated approach within this vital area of the biosciences. It will provide a forum for debate and exchange of ideas that are not limited to specific areas of plant science.

Dr Ruth Bastow, GARNet Coordinator at the University of Warwick and co-author of the paper, says: “While similar groupings exist elsewhere in the world, the UKPSF is unique in providing an umbrella organisation that covers such a diverse range of the plant science sector in the UK. This will be beneficial in providing a significant insight into the potential difficulties encountered when taking part in cooperative exercises in such a broad area.”

The UKPSF had its Inaugural Research Conference on 18th - 19th April. Held at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, the UKPSF Conference showcased the wealth of plant science taking place in the UK and helped to cross the gulf between pure research and the commercial world. Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, says: “The ultimate goal of plant science undertaken in universities and research institutes is that this work should benefit the wider community, and realising this goal often requires integration between academia and industry. The PlantSci conference demonstrated the quality of plant science the UK has to offer, and valuable relationships were forged.”

Botany has long since been an international endeavour with information, as well as plant and seed material, being circulated globally. In the early 20th century, collaborations between plant breeders and laboratory scientists were fundamental in establishing the disciple of plant genetics. The relationship between plant genetics and crop improvement developed further in the 1970s, with the arrival of molecular biology and the increasing focus on individual model species. By the 1980s Arabidopsis thaliana became the model organism of choice and was used to elucidate the molecular mechanisms for basic plant traits. Known as the ‘botanical Drosophila’, work on Arabidopsis continues to provide an important reference point for the development of other model species, such as zebrafish and mouse.

As plant genetics, genomics and plant breeding move into the 21st century, the two spheres of basic and applied research are being brought back together through technological advancements. The developments in genome-scale technologies have enabled research in complex crop plants and less well-studied plants. Technologies and data resources currently only available in model plants will soon be extended to a variety of plant species. Using genomic resources to examine understudied plants, as well as plant communities, biodiversity and environmental effects, could help provide solutions to current global problems.

Ruth says: “Ultimately, the UKPSF is necessary to further plant biology as a whole and translate laboratory results into agricultural improvements, generate bioenergy resources and support efforts to improve our environment. As the UKPSF develops in the future it needs to consider the history of successes and failures of the plant genetics community. It will be the lessons learnt from this history that will help the UKPSF become a productive organisation.”

Research Paper


Society of Biology

Karen Patel/ Rebecca Nesbit

020 7685 2553

rebeccanesbit@societyofbiology.org or karenpatel@societyofbiology.org


Notes for Editors:

The UK Plant Sciences Federation (UKPSF, www.plantsci.org.uk) is a Special Interest Group of the Society of Biology launched in November 2011. It aims to bring together the plant science community in the UK and create a coordinated approach to research, industry, funding and education in this vital sector of the biosciences. The UK Plant Sciences Federation provides a central resource for everyone involved in Plant Science, facilitating interactions across the Plant Science Sector. The UK PlantSci conference will showcase the wealth of plant science that is being undertaken across the UK, from cell biology to ecology and basic research to the field.

The Society of Biology (www.societyofbiology.org) is a professional body for bioscientists – providing a single unified voice for biology: advising Government and influencing policy; advancing education and professional development; supporting their members, and engaging and encouraging public interest in the life sciences.

UK PlantSci 2012 (http://plantsci2012.org.uk) was the inaugural conference of the UK Plant Sciences Federation and has been established to showcase the wealth of plants science undertaken in the UK. The UK PlantSci 2012 aims to provide an unique arena for all those interested and working in the in plant science sector e.g. cell biologists, industrialists, physiologists, ecologists, plant breeders, soil scientists and agriculturists to come together and share their knowledge and expertise.


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