Plant Science Research Summit

Summit Background

Click on the report title or the Summit Report tab (upper right) to access the July 2013 report:
Unleashing a Decade of Innovation in Plant Science - A Vision for 2015-2025

The Plant Science Research Summit is designed to engage the broad plant science research community in developing a consensus plan to invigorate and guide plant science research over the next decade.

In September 2011, representatives from the full spectrum of plant science research – from basic to applied and industry to academia – gathered to develop a consensus plan to invigorate and guide plant science research over the next decade.  The meeting marked the first time this diverse community assembled to unify their vision for the future.  Summit participants were charged with articulating research priorities in plant science that positively impact grand challenges in areas such as health, energy, food, and environmental sustainability. A document, “The Green Frontier: A Unified Vision for Plant Research,” reflecting the consensus of the discussions and opinions exchanged during the 2011 Summit was assembled and distributed.  Additional information can be found on the INFORMATION page.

A second meeting, consisting of a smaller cohort of plant scientists whose charge was to build upon the foundational work of the first Summit and develop a succinct compilation of recommended plant science research priorities, was convened in January 2013. We envision the recommendations developed through these meetings as a tool to excite, engage, educate, and, perhaps most importantly, impact future budgetary discussions and decisions at the state and federal levels.

The final product of the Plant Science Research Summit will be a report that accompanies the 2011 meeting summary and suggests a decadal plan for investments in plant science research, describing the contributions of plant science to addressing important scientific priorities and vital societal challenges. The report is expected to be released in late spring of 2013.

The Plant Science Research Summit has received direct or in kind support from the following sponsors:

  • American Society of Plant Biologists
  • Howard Hughes Medical Institute
  • National Science Foundation (Award # MCB-1136911)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture (NIFA Award # 2011-67013-30637)
  • U.S. Department of Energy (Award # DOE-SC0006924)

11 thoughts on “Summit Background

  1. Dear Plant Science Research Summit Team:

    With all due respect, I do not believe the principles guiding this effort are well founded or justified, and are likely to lead the plant science community down an unsustainable path. There is no doubt that a primary objective behind this effort is to secure federal funding for research in the plant biology community into the future. This I do applaud. However, what is equally evident is the ever-growing demand for greater accountability in how federal funds are used to support research. Both our federal and state legislative branches of government have felt compelled to demand more accountability based on their perception of what the public expects for such expenditures. This has also lead to an increased expectation that such public supported research should/will have a direct impact on the public’s immediate welfare. These expectations have, in my opinion, turned our scientific enterprise away from true discovery research towards mundane stamp collecting and lead to false promises of how our work will transform society. When we look back 100 years from now, I think we will recognize these times as a dark period for science, a period that stifled innovation and lead to greater public mistrust of science.

    Identify 3 grand challenges for plant sciences – I dare you. Lets simply take a look at how such efforts have performed recently. NSF’s IPlant consortium is a terrific case in point. Conferences were convened to identify the Grand Challenges around which computational and biological oriented scientist could rally and whose efforts would open up new frontiers yet seen. I’m not keeping too close tabs on the IPlant, but it is now 10 years in the making and close to 100 million in expenditures. Hmmm –I cannot articulate a single grand challenge question this team has advanced. Don’t get me wrong, good things have come from this effort, but not on the scale and certainly not such that those discoveries pervade all of the scientific community. I think it would be eye-opening if one were to simply divide the cost of this effort by the number of publications. And then if one were to somehow factor in the “impact factor” of the resulting publications, I believe we would be seriously disappointed. Certainly one of the promises of this effort was the development and availability of computational tools to take advantage of these large data sets we all contribute to now. This hasn’t happened. In fact, $10,000 for a CLC workbench and a dedicated computer can and have superseded IPlant’s hopes and promises. This is all it takes for advanced undergraduates and junior graduate students to go hunting for genes associated with novel functions and to propose truly innovate ideas.

    And therein lies my most critical comment about this effort. The notion of predefining grand challenges truly stifles innovation. When was the last time you went for a walk? And along the way, did you by chance pause to pick up a stone and look under it? What did you see? Did it make you think maybe about the worms underneath the stone or perhaps even something totally unrelated, like all the leaf litter surrounding the pathway or how did this event of leaf fall that occurs annual on such a massive worldwide scale happen (evolve)? Have you ever thought how such thoughts might have changed your scientific pathway if you had had that thought at the start of your journey?

    Defining grand challenges and allocating funding initiatives to these will only force people to conform to a way of thinking that assures they will bend their research to secure financial support, rather than allow them to exercise their greatest asset, their innate curiosity.

    The notion of grand challenges is giving the public a very distorted and unrealistic expectation for science in general. There certainly are challenges that have galvanized the public. The aim to understand, prevent and cure cancer is certainly one of those and indeed a worthy one. But I suggest that the average Joe, if asked, would have a difficult time telling you what had been accomplished in the last 50 years of waging this war. In the plant science community, we do have some challenges that reach to this level of humanity – sustenance for the world’s population, but this challenge is perhaps too great, too diverse, and perhaps most of us would already identify this is a driver behind our work.

    “What is needed”, in my opinion, are a few things. First, we need to recognize that innovation is going to bubble up from inquisitive minds and we shouldn’t try to micro-manage that, but instead support the platforms best able to allow this to occur. The peer-review, federal funding programs in the US are one essential component to this and they need better funding and our absolute support. Not for large consortia type projects, but for individual grants that allow individual’s to pick up and look under rocks. And to allow individuals to come together based on their scientific interests to form consortia addressing broader, interdisciplinary questions. These consortia, however, need to be critically evaluated and held accountable just like any individual supported project for their contribution to the scientific fabric. We don’t need to pre-define the mission for such consortia, simply provide the means for these to arise should the investigators be able to adequately justify the scientific merits of the consortium effort. Second, we need to better communicate the value of science for the sake of knowledge. We cannot know how useful any knowledge will be to the next person, but I hope we can agree that knowledge empowers each and every one of us in a myriad of ways. And some of this empowerment will translate into practical utility for society in today’s world, some will have future benefit, and some will rest in the book of mankind to stimulate, support and encourage an unassuming mind in some future scientific pursuit. Translating science into societal benefit is not a simple recipe or prescription, and it is likely to take on all kinds of forms. Lets not constrain it by our desire to due good, or by an arrogance that we can write this down as some sort of protocol. Lastly, let us provide an environment that encourages creativity. Your request to list 3 critical research areas for the plant sciences is discouraging to me, and I imagine it might be adversely affecting the more junior scientists in our community. Why don’t we turn your questions around to make them more optimistic and affirming – i.e. What were the resources, conditions and events that gave you the greatest insights in your research pursuits?

    Very sincerely yours,
    Joe Chappell
    chappell@uky.edu

  2. Joe, those are excellent insights and will be invaluable in our planning. You will notice we have not talked about “Grand Challenges” per se, but more areas in which research can and should be pursued. I can assure you that we are not biased against “blue sky” research, but we do need some way in which to frame the need depending on the constituency.

    • Dear David – Thanks for your response, but I’m afraid either I don’t understand your comment “frame the need depending on the constituency” or I disagree with your premise. I suspect you are referring to a “constituency” that really means politicians or those who control funding for federal agencies. And, my point is this sort of approach is likely to encourage more of the same, which ultimately will lead to the erosion of public support for the sciences. As I noted, the NSF IPlant effort is just an example. I could easily have used a USDA Cap or a DOE ARPA-E program to illustrate what I consider be poor investments in the scientific fabric for the US’s future. I used a high tech example, a computational one, to illustrate how ingenuity arises more efficiently and more effectively by empowering those with a bona fide interest. I strongly recommend the Plant Science Research Summit Team to endorse, first and foremost, support for inquisitive, individual-direct research. This, indeed, means that more senior investigators like myself have a great responsibility to re-educate the public and politicians about the value and merits of scientific exploration for the sake of knowledge and future innovation. The alternative is to follow the guidelines espoused at the Plant Science Research Summit website, which, in my opinion, are not tenable long-term and worse yet could deter young people from considering a scientific career path. Sincerely, Joe Chappell

  3. The progression of the United States is not a new thing for humanity … just read the history to see of Europe and Arabic civilisation, to see this process … the problem here is the distribution of funds, the second problem is the origins of these funds, and finally the use or exploitation of these funds …
    The question that arises, is, if the state has the right to distribute the money?? If so, we are exactly in the introduction of the state in the management and scientific production … a director who distributed NOW money becomes in the long time a real manager and then begins Patron and finaly The Boss of Science … in this étape he directed and imposed its own science vs scientists … this case has not happened when Mendel threw the white blouse and left the scientific community that has becomeof Political and populist and popular’s Environment ???

    So it is not worth doing studies, to see where this going to lead .. the real policy researchers will eventually desert the university and laboratories funded by Federal Boss and Patron …
    Is not it better to ask the question differently?? Does not it make sense to speak about exploitation of the environment instead of use funds???
    Now try to simulate the two visions, creation and distribution of funds and the creation and operation of a zone of activity …..

  4. I am concerned that too much of the research in this field is going toward relieving global population increase. The quote comes to mind, “We are too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet.” Examples include GM stress tolerant grains, the IRRI’s effort to make rice a C4 plant, and vertical hydroponic growing stations. If we grow more food, are we not simply feeding the problem further? (no pun intended). As Richard Dawkins wrote in The Selfish Gene, “If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.” Attempting to increase yields ad infinitum is obviously unsustainable and there are limits even to GM technology. It may be wiser to focus on quality and nutrition (i.e. “Golden Rice”) rather than quantity. Unless population growth is expected to plateau at a sustainable level, I see no good reason to focus so much research on increasing yields.

  5. you can do your research on the computer by going on any website bydearching plants on plant research

  6. I want to do research

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