The United Kingdom Plant Science Federation (UKPSF) was launched on 23rd November 2011, having recognised that ‘UK Plant Science can only meet its potential through stronger engagement within and beyond the plant science community’ (Sabina Leonelli et al., New Phytologist, in press, 2012). Amongst the UKPSF’s six aims perhaps the most important are to: ‘Increase the understanding of the significance of Plant and Crop Science amongst government, funders, industry and society in general’; ‘Formulate a coordinated strategy and vision for Plant and Crop Science in the UK that will be utilised to inform policy’; and ‘Support efforts to inspire, educate and train the next generation of plant and crop scientists’. Noble aims, which are sorely needed at a time when plant sciences have probably never been more necessary in tackling – maybe even solving? – many of the most pressing global issues such as food security, and in coping with climate change (Claire Grierson et al., New Phytologist 192: 6–12, 2011), and where concerns over the supply of new plant scientists has probably never been under greater threat (Sinéad Drea biosience education 17: 2, online).
The first annual conference of this botanical trades’ union was held at the John Innes Centre (Norwich, UK) on 18th and 19th April, 2012, and fittingly dealt with the twin themes of inspiring the next generation and reflecting on the importance of the whole range of plant sciences to achieve a unified goal of a better planet (well, that’s how I saw it!). Thus, at one end of the phytological spectrum we had Sandra Knapp (Natural History Museum, London) emphasising the need for fieldwork and exploration to uncover the rich botanical diversity that still awaits discovery – and it is a sad fact that plant hunters are a dwindling resource in their own right. And at the other end, we had Richard Mott (Wellcome Trust Centre for Human Genetics, Oxford) dealing with the latest methodology for sequencing Arabidopsis genomes. Interestingly, Mott usually works with mice. So, if we can convert a hard-core animal scientist to the cause of botany maybe things can’t be too bad?
The issues raised at this UKPSF conference all related to global concerns that are important to plant science wherever it is practised on the planet, and as such my next few posts will be dedicated to some of the topics that were covered.