Report: Plant science must innovate over next 10 years

The Plant Science Research Network (PSRN) has released its Plant Science Decadal Vision 2020-2030, a report that outlines innovative solutions to guide investments and research in plant science over the next 10 years as scientists tackle pressing global issues, including climate change, food insecurity and sustainability.

The PSRN calls on its community to unite around the report’s priorities, and to inspire their government representatives and fellow community members.

“The Decadal Vision is a community-wide vision that is a powerful tool for communication and advocacy,” said David Stern, president of the Boyce Thompson Institute (BTI) and corresponding author. “After all, the public should be the ultimate beneficiary of the vision.”

David Stern

The Decadal Vision grew out of Plant Summit 2019, a conference held in February 2019.

“Fifty diverse participants – including scientists, industry representatives, educators and advocates – discussed the future of research, training and infrastructure,” said Stern, also an adjunct professor of plant biology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“From that meeting,” Stern said, “the writing team developed the Decadal Vision as a rallying cry for all plant scientists to unite around a common vision, inspire new collaborations to pursue interdisciplinary research goals, and implement new paradigms for professional development that will catalyze a more diverse, inclusive and equitable future.”

The Decadal Vision recognizes the intersection of human and scientific elements, and demands integrated implementation of strategies to advance research, people and technology. The vision is presented through eight specific and interdisciplinary goals, each with an accompanying action plan.

The four research goals are:

  • Harness plants for planetary resilience;
  • Advance technology for diversity-driven sustainable plant production systems;
  • Develop 21st-century applications of plant science to improve nutrition, health and well-being; and
  • Launch the “Transparent Plant,” an interactive tool to discern mechanisms and solve urgent and vexing problems.

The two goals emphasizing people are:

  • Reimagine the workplace to nurture adaptive and diverse scientists; and
  • Build capacity and interest to engage with plant science.

“What I like about the Decadal Vision is that equity and justice were part of the vision right from the beginning, and not just tacked on at the end,” said co-author Madelaine Bartlett, an associate professor of biology at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. “Everyone should have the same opportunities that I have had, but that is simply not the case right now. It is hard work, but it can be done and it must be done.”

The two goals focused on technology infrastructure are:

  • Develop new technologies to revolutionize research; and
  • Manage and realize the potential of big data.

While the Decadal Vision makes a case for new funding, obtaining that support will require plant scientists to engage the public and advocate for needed resources.

“Plant science gets such a small piece of the funding pie,” Bartlett said. “If there are going to be solutions to surviving climate change, then plants are going to be a critical part of those solutions.”

The Plant Science Research Network was formed in 2015, with a grant to BTI from the National Science Foundation.

A version of this story appears on the BTI website.

Aaron J. Bouchie is a science writer at Boyce Thompson Institute.

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