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Plant scientists assemble to address future challenges at UK PlantSci 2014

Posted by on April 11, 2014

DSC06911Anna Tiley, policy and communications intern at the Society of Biology, summarises events from the recent UK PlantSci 2014 conference held at the University of York. This post can also be found on the UK PlantSci blog.

One of the defining aspects of doing a BBSRC funded doctoral training partnership (DTP) PhD is the opportunity to do a 3 month placement to gain experience outside of the lab. I have recently started my placement with the Society of Biology and spent the first few days helping run the UK PlantSci 2014 conference. This was a very enjoyable experience which gave me an invaluable insight into a leading scientific organisation.

This year’s annual UK PlantSci conference was held at the University of York on the 31st March and 1st April. The event was run by the Society of Biology’s Special Interest Group, the UK Plant Sciences Federation (UKPSF), and included over 30 speakers and 160 attendees representing diverse areas of plant science.

The theme for the conference was ‘Plant science – sustaining life on earth’. This topic was first introduced by the keynote speaker, Professor Tim Benton from the University of Leeds, who highlighted the essential role of plant science in helping to achieve future food security.

The main talks covered a broad set of subjects, showcasing some of the best plant science research in the UK. Topics ranged from genetically engineering plants to help mop up pollutants to understanding whole species adaptations in a variety of harsh environments. It would certainly be hard to pick my favourite, but among them was the lecture given by Professor Cathie Martin from the John Innes Centre on anthocyanin production in Sicilian blood oranges.

As a current PhD student, I found it particularly inspiring to hear the talks given by the early career scientists. One of the two prize winners speaking in the ‘Future generations’ session was Presidor Kendabie who really caught the audience’s attention talking about the underutilised crop, Bambara groundnut. The second winner, Sarah Harvey, also gave a highly informative talk on the interaction of effectors from the oomycete pathogen, Hyaloperonospora arabidopsis, with Arabidopsis thaliana.

A clear highlight of the conference was the lively panel discussion about ‘The future of UK plant science’, held on the first day. This was chaired by Dr Sandy Knapp from the Natural History Museum in London, and included panel members from the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew, the John Innes Centre, the University of Exeter and Syngenta.

There was wide audience participation throughout the discussion, both from early and senior level researchers alike. One concern raised by younger audience members related to the feasibility of taking on internships in plant science. Although it was agreed that internships provide useful insights into future career options, it was brought up that there is not always the necessary funding or support available.

The UKPSF aims to tackle these and other concerns through the formation of five working groups, and encourages anybody interested in contributing to get in touch.

The final talk was given by Professor Jackie Hunter, Chief Executive of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), who further highlighted the importance of plant science in meeting future challenges. Overall the conference was very successful and brought together many different researchers across the spectrum of plant science. It has certainly become a key annual event for meeting top UK plant science researchers and hearing about the latest advances in this important field.

For tweets from the meeting follow the twitter hashtag #plantsci2014

Anna Tiley is a second year PhD student at the University of Bristol currently studying on the South West Doctoral Training Partnership.

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