Hard-up botanist, please give generously

Image: Sidney Paget, Strand Magazine, 1891.

Image: Sidney Paget, Strand Magazine, 1891.

Times are hard; every­body wants more (but seems to be get­ting less…), many demands are placed upon the flimsy, finite fin­ances of states and their fund­ing agen­cies. But if future food and energy sup­plies are to be secured – for all of us – it has been estim­ated that expendit­ure of US$100 bil­lion is needed over a 10-year period. Or such is the claim of Wolf Frommer (Carnegie Institution for Science, USA) and Tom Brutnell (Danforth Plant Science Center, USA) in their ‘Food for thought’ opin­ion piece in The Scientist. As the pair note, ‘Today, we face grow­ing and eco­nom­ic­ally empowered nations, energy-intensive global eco­nom­ies, and major shifts in global cli­mate that together con­sti­tute the per­fect storm for agri­cul­ture. Yet plant-science research has been under­fun­ded for decades—and fund­ing is pro­jec­ted to shrink’. Key to much of this is exploit­a­tion of new and emer­ging 21st cen­tury tech­no­lo­gies in the plant sci­ences – par­tic­u­larly molecu­lar and ima­ging ones – a topic developed in Plant Cell ‘Perspective’ paper by David Ehrhardt and Frommer. But the sum of US$100 bil­lion is just for the USA: how much more is needed for a truly global com­mit­ment to end food poverty, etc? As an encour­age­ment to stump­ing up the dosh, the pair con­clude that ‘If we [the USA] do noth­ing, we may return to our pre-1776 role as col­on­ists who simply provide food to more stra­tegic­ally minded nations’. Or, altern­at­ively and even more unthink­ably, ‘The risks for fail­ing to meet this chal­lenge are great: in an over­pop­u­lated, food-limited world we will inev­it­ably wit­ness more social unrest and, poten­tially, food and cli­mate wars’. Now, what red-blooded American Congressman/woman would risk that in this US pres­id­en­tial (re?)election year? Let those ‘green’ dol­lars roll! [Ehrhardt and Frommer’s art­icle is a mod­i­fied ver­sion of the paper gen­er­ated for the Plant Science Research Summit in 2011. For more inform­a­tion, visit its webpage– Ed.].

Nigel Chaffey. ORCID 0000-0002-4231-9082

Nigel is a botanist and full-time academic at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany he contributes the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ. His main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way...) about plants and plant-people interactions.

1 Response

  1. Even worse here in the USA has been an erosion of bot­any depart­ments and bot­any pro­grams over dec­ades res­ult­ing in a short­age of stu­dents inter­ested in botanical/plant sci­ence careers. People, found­a­tions, and insti­tutes will put mil­lions of dol­lars into some little human dis­ease, tra­gic as it may be on the indi­vidual level, and yet this will be a drop in the bucket of human suf­fer­ing if more sup­port for plant research is not forth­com­ing in an era of cli­mate change.

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