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Amazing plant facts from PlantSci

Posted by on April 20, 2012

The Society of Biology hosted its first academic conference this week, which was a huge success. I certainly learnt a lot from the talks at PlantSci 2012, and thought I’d share some of my top facts.

The conference opened with an inspiring address from Professor John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Advisor. He spoke of the need to boost crop productivity whilst reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and stressed the need for sustainable intensification of agriculture. In much of the world crop yields are dependent on irrigation and this can lead to groundwater depletion. Globally, 70% of fresh water goes into agriculture, and it is likely that all UK river basins will be in deficit by 2020s.

Ian Graham from the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products at the University of York spoke about ‘orphan’ or neglected crops and their importance for food security in many parts of the world. He was also keen to state their value for medicine and fuel: we have to get people out of poverty not just feed them. One orphan crop he studies is Sweet Wormwood, Artemisia annua, which has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries to kill the malaria parasite. Read more.

In the Carbon Capture and Yield session, Alison Smith spoke about using algae for bioenergy. Algal bioenergy doesn’t compete with food crops, and algal growth is up to 50 times faster than land plants! We can’t currently get biodiesel from algae, but Smith believes there is great potential here. Work is needed to understand algal physiology; virtually nothing is known about diseases of algae or how to prevent them.

Sandy Knapp from the Natural History Museum amazed many people on Twitter with the fact that 80% of human calorific intake comes from six flowering plant species: wheat, rice, maize, potatoes, cassava and sweet potatoes. Sandy writes an amazing blog about her plant hunting trips around the world.

More facts can be found on the Twitter updates: click here even if you’re not on Twitter. There’s an interesting commentary on how businesses and academics can work together for the benefit of agriculture, and I can recommend signing up to the PlantSci monthly news emails from the UK Plant Sciences Federation.

Rebecca Nesbit, Press Officer at the Society of Biology

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