Ten-year roadmap to guide UK plant science

Combine harvesting in a field of golden wheat

A new strategy, UK plant science research strategy: a green roadmap for the next 10 years, sets out clear goals for research and innovation involving plants.

Addressing global challenges

The strategy is crucial to address a range of global challenges, such as:

  • reaching net zero to mitigate the effects of climate change
  • ensuring a sustainable and secure agri-food supply
  • protecting biodiversity and enhancing our environment
  • addressing health and wellbeing issues within our populations.

This strategy was led and authored by Professor Jane Langdale CBE FRS, University of Oxford, and involved very extensive consultation with members of the research and innovation community.

The context of the current COVID-19 pandemic has increased appreciation of the importance of a robust food supply chain, and of access to green spaces for human health and well-being.

The strategy says:

This increased societal awareness now needs to be harnessed to ensure that current and future generations understand, value and support a strategy that firmly embeds plant science research and development into the broader UK science and innovation landscape.

Meeting net zero carbon goals

Also, in order to meet the nation’s net zero carbon goals there is a need to:

  • reduce carbon emissions in agriculture
  • increase carbon sequestration in both cultivated and natural ecosystems, particularly forests and peatlands
  • increase the use of plants for bioenergy.

The strategy adds:

Recent technological advances in genome editing, advanced imaging, synthetic and structural biology, remote sensing, artificial intelligence and machine learning, provide an unprecedented opportunity to apply a systems approach to understand how plants function and interact with other organisms.

In spring 2021, we plan to bring together interested stakeholders to socialise the review findings more widely. We will share further information of how you can get involved shortly.

Six deliverables

Six deliverables are outlined by the strategy that long-term investment in this strategic framework will enable:

  • landscapes that promote human health and wellbeing by sustainably balancing demands for agriculture, biodiversity, carbon sequestration, energy production and flood management. Achieved using predictive biology and digital twinning to inform and future-proof land use strategies, in combination with vigorous translational policies
  • resilient agricultural systems to sustainably produce safe and nutritious food, accomplished by deployment of advanced plant breeding and crop management strategies
  • significant reductions in carbon emissions from the UK agricultural sector, contributing to the UK 2050 net zero goal. Realised through biological replacements for chemical inputs, better management of plant-soil interactions, the use of perennial bioenergy crops and deployment of alternative farming systems
  • proactive mechanisms to monitor, contain and deter plant disease, accomplished with remote sensing, biological interventions and engineered durable plant immunity
  • completely new plant-based production systems for food and for the manufacture of novel products including vaccines, protein feedstocks and high value chemicals. Achieved through biological engineering and the development of innovative culturing technologies.

Safeguarding the future of our planet

Writing in the foreword to the strategy Professor Langdale says:

Whether fundamental or translational, or both combined in a strategic programme, plant science research has a crucial role to play in safeguarding the future of our planet. To meet the expectations of both society and government, investment in the implementation of this strategy is essential and urgent.

Welcoming the publication of the strategy, Professor Melanie Welham, Executive Chair of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council added:

Healthy plants, including crops and trees, are vital for our future and are central to our food supplies, environment, economy and social wellbeing. The UK’s plant science research base has great strengths in discovery research and innovation. By working collectively there are real opportunities to advance knowledge across the areas highlighted in the strategy, helping create a vibrant bioeconomy, supporting growth and jobs.

Further information

About Professor Jane Langdale

Professor Langdale’s research is broadly themed upon the genetics and evolution of plant development.

Her past research used diverse taxa including mosses, lycophytes, ferns and seed plants to investigate how developmental mechanisms were modified during land plant evolution.

Currently, the research is focused on dissecting the genetic mechanisms that pattern the distinctive leaf anatomy found in plants that carry out C4 photosynthesis. This work is carried out with:

  • a view to understanding how developmental mechanisms were altered as the more efficient C4 pathway evolved
  • the long-term aim of engineering C4 anatomy into agronomically important C3 crops such as rice.

For further information, visit the Langdale Lab website.

Top image: Credit: Orientaly/GettyImages

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