Looking to the past for future solutions
A paper published this month in New Phytologist summarises the development of the UK Plant Science Federation (UKPSF) and explains its importance. A special-interest group of the Society of Biology, the UKPSF brings together the plant science community in the UK and creates a coordinated approach to research, industry, funding and education.
The UKPSF was launched in November 2011 and will provide a common voice for UK plant science and education. By first looking into the historical background of plant sciences, it aims to provide a useful template for developing worldwide plant research. The UKPSF will provide a forum for debate and exchange of ideas that are not limited to specific areas of plant science.
Dr Ruth Bastow, GARNet Coordinator at the University of Warwick and co-author of the paper, says: “While similar groupings exist elsewhere in the world, the UKPSF is unique in providing an umbrella organisation that covers such a diverse range of the plant science sector in the UK. This will be beneficial in providing a significant insight into the potential difficulties encountered when taking part in cooperative exercises in such a broad area.”
Botany has long since been an international endeavour, with information, as well as plant and seed material, being circulated globally. In the early 20th century, collaborations between plant breeders and laboratory scientists were fundamental in establishing the disciple of plant genetics. The relationship between plant genetics and crop improvement developed further in the 1970s, with the arrival of molecular biology and the increasing focus on individual model species.
By the 1980s Arabidopsis thaliana became the model organism of choice and was used to elucidate the molecular mechanisms for basic plant traits. Known as the ‘botanical Drosophila’, work on Arabidopsis continues to provide an important reference point for the development of other model species, such as zebrafish and mouse.
As plant genetics, genomics and plant breeding move into the 21st century, the two spheres of basic and applied research are being brought back together through technological advancements. The developments in genome-scale technologies have enabled research in complex crop plants and less well-studied plants. Technologies and data resources currently only available in model plants will soon be extended to a variety of plant species. Using genomic resources could help provide solutions to current global problems.
Ruth says: “Ultimately, the UKPSF is necessary to further plant biology as a whole and translate laboratory results into agricultural improvements, generate bioenergy resources and support efforts to improve our environment. As the UKPSF develops in the future it needs to consider the history of successes and failures of the plant genetics community. It will be the lessons learnt from this history that will help the UKPSF become a productive organisation.”< Back