Connecting Plant Science Researchers, Entrepreneurs and Industry Professionals

From Lab Bench to Boardroom

From Lab Bench to Boardroom workshop at Botany 2015

This blog post was written by Amanda Gregoris and R. Glen Uhrig who organized a workshop entitled “Lab Bench to Boardroom” at the Botany 2015 meeting in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Our motivation behind holding this workshop was to engage graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to consider the science behind biotechnology. We designed this workshop to be an opportunity to expose students and post-doctoral fellows to how industry experts and entrepreneurs develop ideas, and how they refine those ideas to make them attractive business opportunities for investors. We created an environment where students and post-doctoral fellows could ‘pitch’ their own plant science business ideas to a panel of industry experts. Through cooperative idea development with the panel and audience members, presenters were able to learn how to evolve their ideas, as well as how their peers viewed their proposed ideas.

Workshops such as Lab Bench to Boardroom are of central importance given the limited availability of academic positions. In light of this fact, students and post-doctoral fellows alike need to consider career options outside of academia prior to completion of their degrees, contracts or fellowships. It is imperative that early career researchers invest time to maximize long-term career outcomes. Workshops like ours and others assist in this by developing a thorough understanding of the non-academic opportunities available.

If you are an early career researcher looking to move away from academia, some industry positions for graduates and post-doctoral fellows may include:

  • research and development,
  • quality control,
  • marketing,
  • market research analyst,
  • business development manager,
  • competitive intelligence analyst,
  • product manager, and
  • management consulting.

Notice that these opportunities are not only based at the lab bench, but can be in more managerial or consulting positions. Your experiences as a researcher have given you highly valued skills, so don’t limit your options! Of course, industry is not the only option, and other opportunities may include working in a government lab, public policy, science writing, herbarium curation or patent agent.

The question of whether enough is being done to inform graduate students and post-doctoral fellows of alternative, non-academic career paths is one often asked, and is one that varies by institution. In our experience, universities have taken a largely standard approach, offering lectures by professionals from industry, as well as informal social gatherings aimed at connecting students to industry. Although these are good opportunities, they represent just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what could be done to inspire entrepreneurship amongst the upcoming generation of plant scientists, and better assist them with the transition from an academic focus to an industry focus.

Workshop concepts similar to Lab Bench to Boardroom could be developed at the departmental level, or by university career centers, to allow graduate students and post-doctoral fellows to gain an elevated understanding of non-academic career opportunities. Some universities have made great strides in this area, creating internship resources for current graduate students in the areas of biotechnology and public policy. Along these lines, university career centers will usually have databases of current job postings that can assist students in the search for life after grad school.

In the end, it is imperative that universities, governments and industry continue to work to develop strategies that assist graduate students and post-doctoral fellows in the transition from academics to successful non-academic careers. This can be accomplished either individually, or through partnerships between these groups. We believe that developing these strategies is undoubtedly essential to the sustainable development of new ideas and technologies in the plant sciences that will be required to address the current and future needs of society.

 

Amanda Gregoris is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Alberta, Canada and Dr. R. Glen Uhrig is a post-doctoral fellow at the ETH Zurich, Switzerland. Both are members of the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists

Glen Uhrig

Glen Uhrig

Amanda Gregoris

Amanda Gregoris

Creating stress resilient agricultural systems: Video interviews

The global population is projected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050, and to accommodate this, crop production must increase by 60% in the next 35 years. Furthermore, our global climate is rapidly changing, putting our cropping systems under more strain than ever before. Agriculture will need to adapt to accommodate more extreme weather events and changing conditions that may mean increased instance of drought, heatwaves or flooding. The Global Plant Council Stress Resilience initiative, was created to address these issues.

Back in October the Global Plant Council, in collaboration with the Society for Experimental Biology brought together experts from around the world at a Stress Resilience Forum to identify gaps in current research, and decide how best the plant science community can move forwards in terms of developing more resilient agricultural systems. We interviewed a number of researchers throughout the meeting, asking about their current work and priorities for the future.  Watch the best bits in the video below:

New Year, New Executive Board

Happy New Year!

Although they’ve actually been in post since our Annual General Meeting (AGM) in October 2015, I thought I’d take this opportunity to introduce you to our new(ish!) Executive Board; the elected committee of plant science experts from around who help Ruth and myself, and Bill our President, to direct and drive the GPC’s activities and initiatives.

Barry-PogsonBarry Pogson – Chair

Aussie Barry is stepping into the (very large!) shoes of our outgoing Chair, Willi Gruissem. Barry is no stranger to the GPC, having been a GPC Member Organization representative of the Australian Society of Plant Scientists since the GPC’s inception, and being the lead on our Biofortification initiative.

In the lab, based at the Australian National University in Canberra, Barry explores the signaling pathways between chloroplasts and nuclei, particularly investigating how these can impact plants’ tolerance to drought, and carotenoid synthesis and accumulation. His work has important implications for plant biology as a whole, but also for human nutrition, particularly in the biofortification of crops as a means to reduce micronutrient deficiencies.

Barry is Chair of the Golden Rice Technical Advisory Committee and has won numerous awards for his research, teaching and supervision excellence. You can read more about Barry on the GPC website.

Ariel-Orellana-200x300Ariel Orellana – Vice Chair

Ariel replaces outgoing Vice-Chair Henry Nguyen. A Professor of Plant Biotechnology at the Universidad Andrés Bello in Santiago, Chile, Ariel has also been involved with the GPC for a number of years as a representative of Chile’s National Network of Plant Biologists, and we look forward to continuing to work with him as a key point of contact in South America.

A highly decorated scientist with many awards, titles, and attributions to his name, Ariel’s research interests are in plant cell wall polysaccharide biosynthesis in the Golgi, particularly looking at the contribution of nucleotide sugar transporters, and he also uses genomics as a tool for the marker-assisted breeding of fruit.

Read more about Ariel on the GPC website.

VickyVicky Buchanan-Wollaston – Treasurer

Vicky joins the GPC Executive Board as our new Treasurer, taking over control of the purse-strings from Brazil’s Gustavo Habermann.

Vicky is Emeritus Professor of Plant Sciences at the University of Warwick, UK, where her research interests are focused on plant senescence, using both Arabidopsis and vegetable Brassicas to carry out functional analysis of leaf senescence-regulating genes. She is a GPC Member Organization representative for the Society for Experimental Biology, and with Professor Jim Beynon, leads the GPC’s initiative on Stress Resilience. Read more about Vicky here.

Carl_2014Carl Douglas – Board Member

Now joining us as Board Member – together with Yusuke Saijo (below) replacing former Board Members Kasem Ahmed and Zhihong Xu, Carl is also a GPC Member Organization representative for the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists (CSPB). He works at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, where he is a Professor in the Department of Botany. He leads research exploring plant cell wall biosynthesis, and is an expert in tree genomics.

A highly cited and well published author, Carl is also a former President of the CSPB, a Corresponding Member of the American Society of Plant Biologists, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. You can find out a bit more about Carl here.

Saijo photoYusuke Saijo – Board Member

As well as being a newly elected GPC Board Member, Yusuke Saijo is also new to the GPC, replacing his predecessor Takashi Ueda as the Member Organization representative for the Japanese Society of Plant Physiologists.

His lab work at the Nara Institute of Science and Technology in Japan is focused on understanding plant–microbe interactions, particularly plants’ ability to sense danger, undergo transcriptional reprogramming and priming, and the control of plant immunity under fluctuating environmental conditions.

Read more about Yusuke on our website.

Thank you

Huge thanks to our outgoing Board Members – Wilhelm Gruissem, Henry Nguyen, Gustavo Habermann, Kasem Ahmed and Zhihong Xu – for all their hard work and support during their terms.

And don’t forget…

The members of the GPC’s Executive Board are an elected subset of the Council’s representatives from professional plant, crop, environmental and agricultural societies from all over the world. But, if you are a member of one of our Member Organizations, you’re also a part of the GPC community! We encourage you to get in touch with your GPC representative, especially if you would like to get involved with our activities, or if you have any ideas as to how we can help filter the GPC’s news and information down from the Council to your society’s individual members.

You can find a full list of our member societies, their reps, and their contact details here.

Finally, if your society or professional association is not already a member of the GPC and would like to be, we’d love to hear from you! Please contact us at [email protected].

2015 Plant Science Round Up

Following on from last week’s post, Now That’s What I Call Plant Science 2015, we bring you a year in Plant Science!

January

Arabidopsis

Image credit: Jean Weber. Used under license CC BY 2.0.

The year began with a surprising paper that turned our understanding of the phytohormone auxin on its head. Researchers in China and the USA created Arabidopsis knockout mutants of AUXIN BINDING PROTEIN 1 (ABP1), expecting them to fail to respond to auxin and have developmental defects, as previously seen in the abp1-1 knockdown mutant. Instead, these plants were indistinguishable from wild type plants, leading the authors to conclude that ABP1 is not required for auxin signaling or Arabidopsis development as previously believed.

Read the paper in PNAS: Auxin binding protein 1 (ABP1) is not required for either auxin signaling or Arabidopsis development.

A paper later in the year from the same authors found that the embryonic lethality of the abp1-1 mutant is actually caused by the off-target linked deletion of the adjacent BSM gene.

Read this paper in Nature Plants: Embryonic lethality of Arabidopsis abp1-1 is caused by deletion of the adjacent BSM gene.

The tale of ABP1 was examined in more detail on the GARNet blog, Weeding the Gems, which concluded: “In many ways this story is an excellent example of how science should work, where claims are independently tested to ensure that earlier experiments have been conducted or interpreted correctly.” Click here to read more.

 

February

A clever experiment from Germany led to a significant breakthrough in crop protection from insect pests.

When double-stranded RNA (dsRNA) is present within a eukaryotic cell, it is cleaved by the Dicer enzyme to form short interfering RNAs. These can bind to complementary RNA within a cell to target it for destruction, thus silencing the corresponding gene expression. This process is known as RNA interference (RNAi).

RNAi has previously been used to tackle insect herbivory by expressing insect-specific dsRNA in plants; however the protection has previously been incomplete. In this new study, published in Science, researchers produced dsRNA within chloroplasts, which do not have RNAi machinery. When dsRNA is expressed in the cytoplasm, the plant’s own Dicer enzyme breaks most of it down. When expressed in the chloroplasts, the dsRNA remained intact when eaten by insects, which proved much more effective at killing these pests.

Read the paper here: Full crop protection from an insect pest by expression of long double-stranded RNAs in plastids.

 

March

Another crop protection study followed in March, when researchers in China cloned the genetic locus in rice that confers broad-spectrum resistance to planthoppers – insect pests that cause the loss of billions of dollars of crops per year. Three lectin receptor kinase genes were found in rice cultivars from the Philippines, which enable plants to survive an infestation of insects. When cloned into a susceptible rice cultivar, these genes conferred resistance to two different planthopper species.

Understanding the genetic basis of resistance is very important as marker-assisted breeding and selection could be used to develop resistant rice varieties, and potentially utilized in other species of cereal.

Read the paper in Nature Biotechnology: A gene cluster encoding lectin receptor kinases confers broad-spectrum and durable insect resistance in rice

 

April

A European collaboration led to the development of 3DCellAtlas, a computational approach that semi-automatically identifies cell types in a developing 3D organ without the need for transgenic lineage markers. This program will enable the interpretation of dynamic organ growth and the spatial and temporal context of developmental cell divisions that produce the resultant plant. It could be integrated with growth in different conditions or with developmental mutants to examine exactly how these processes affect growth in 3D.

3DCellAtlas

Image credit: Montenegro-Johnson et al., 2015. Digital Single-Cell Analysis of Plant Organ Development Using 3DCellAtlas. The Plant Cell, vol. 27 no. 4, 1018–1033.

 

May

A special issue of the Plant Biotechnology Journal was published in May, focusing on the amazing advances in molecular farming. While the entire issue is worth delving into, we were particularly intrigued by the review on moss-made pharmaceuticals, which outlines the rapid progress made in the field.

The model moss Physcomitrella patens has rapidly become one of the organisms of choice in biotechnology, with a fully sequenced genome and an outstanding toolbox for genome-engineering. The authors describe how moss-made pharmaceuticals can easily be produced while remaining remarkably more stable from batch to batch than cultured animal cells. The system is easily scalable, making their production highly cost effective, and safe. The first moss-made pharmaceuticals are currently in clinical trials, so keep an eye out for much more from this field over the next few years.

Read the review: Moss-made pharmaceuticals: from bench to bedside.

 

June

In June, US researchers discovered a new role for chloroplast stromules, protrusions that extend from the surface of all plastid types. The function of stromules has been difficult to determine, but this research, published in Developmental Cell, suggests that they may provide a mechanism by which plastid signals are conveyed to the nucleus. The paper shows that chloroplast stromules are induced by defense responses such as programmed cell death signaling, and that the stromules extend to form dynamic connections with the nucleus. The stromules may therefore aid in the amplification and/or transport of immune response signals into the nucleus.

Read the paper: Chloroplast Stromules Function during Innate Immunity.

 

July

Extracellular self-DNA

Image credit: Veresoglou et al., 2015. Self-DNA: a blessing in disguise? New Phytologist, vol. 207, no. 3, 488–490.

In late 2014 and early 2015, Italian researchers published a set of articles showing that extracellular self-DNA, DNA from conspecifics, could inhibit the growth of organisms from a wide range of taxa, including plants, bacteria, fungi and animals. Conversely, these organisms were not affected by extracellular DNA from other unrelated species.

In July, New Phytologist published a letter offering an interpretation of the data as it relates to plants. Plants could interpret extracellular self-DNA as an indicator of intraspecific competition (which seeds could use as a cue to remain dormant) or of a hostile environment that has already caused the death of conspecifics, signaling them to ramp up their pre-emptive immune response to increase survival after neighbors have been damaged or killed. There are still a lot of mechanisms and ecological effects to be investigated in this new field, but this letter suggests several interesting avenues to investigate.

Read the article: Self-DNA: a blessing in disguise?

Original research papers in New Phytologist:

Inhibitory and toxic effects of extracellular self-DNA in litter: a mechanism for negative plant–soil feedbacks?

Inhibitory effects of extracellular self-DNA: a general biological process?

 

August

A US study in August revealed a surprising degree of conservation in gene expression patterns across a wide range of plant taxa during root development. This was particularly interesting because the spikemoss Selaginella was shown to use many of the same genes as the evolutionarily distant angiosperms, despite the fossil record suggesting that roots evolved independently in these two lineages. Perhaps roots in these two groups evolved by independently recruiting the same developmental program, or perhaps by elaborating on a previously unknown proto-root that existed in the common ancestor of vascular plants.

Read the paper in The Plant Cell: Conserved Gene Expression Programs in Developing Roots from Diverse Plants.

 

September

Salt stress can significantly reduce the growth and yield of plants. Researchers in Germany identified two components of the cellulose synthase complex that directly interact with the microtubules and promote their dynamics, which interestingly were highly produced during salt stress conditions. During salt stress, cellulose microtubules depolymerize, however the newly discovered compounds, known as Companions of Cellulose Synthase, promote the reassembly of the microtubule to allow cellulose synthesis to continue.

Read the paper in Cell: A Mechanism for Sustained Cellulose Synthesis during Salt Stress

 

October

Throughout the year the GM debate in Europe reached several important milestones. In January the European Union (EU) changed its rules, giving individual countries more flexibility to decide for themselves whether or not to plant GM crops. In February, the UK Science and Technology Committee report stated that EU regulations preventing GM crops are not fit for purpose, and that they should be replaced with a trait-based system.

In October, EU member states revealed their stances on GM crops, with over half of Europe opting out of growing GM crops. Germany was the largest country to opt out of growing GM. The full list can be viewed here: Restrictions of geographical scope of GMO.

Read the news articles here:

EU changes rules on GM crop cultivation – January 2015

EU regulation on GM Organisms not ‘fit for purpose’ – February 2015

Half of Europe opts out of new GM crop scheme – October 2015

 

November

A collaboration between South African and UK scientists revealed how plants can use their circadian clock to pre-emptively boost their immune resistance at dawn, when fungal infection is most likely. Plants tend to decrease in susceptibility at dawn, but those with dysfunctional circadian clocks remained highly susceptible throughout the day. The research also showed that jasmonate signaling plays a crucial role in the circadian timing of resistance.

Read the article in The Plant Journal: Jasmonate signalling drives time-of-day differences in susceptibility of Arabidopsis to the fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea.

 

December

Single nucleotide exon

Image credit: Guo & Liu., 2015. A single-nucleotide exon found in Arabidopsis. Scientific Reports, 5:18087.

Researchers in China published the surprising finding that a single-nucleotide exon exists in the APC11 gene in Arabidopsis. This is the smallest exon ever to be discovered before. The team used an elegant set of APC11-GFP constructs to show that intron splicing around the single-nucleotide exon is effective in both Arabidopsis and rice. This finding has implications for future genome annotations, which might reveal many more single-nucleotide exons.

Read the paper in Scientific Reports: A single-nucleotide exon found in Arabidopsis.

 

What a wonderful year of science! What new knowledge will 2016 bring?

Plant scientists respond: “Plants are boring!”

Throughout my PhD, I often found myself explaining why plants are fascinating, justifying why I was devoting four years of my life to researching the minute details of their biology.

A few weeks ago, I thought I’d ask the #plantsci community on Twitter what makes them love plants. The response was phenomenal, so I thought I’d share it here as a fun way to transition to 2017!

(This is just a handful of the huge number of comments. To read them all, click here.)

 

 

Many of us are amazed by the fact that they can fend for themselves, rather than running away from harsh conditions or predators:

 

Don’t worry though, because plants can fight back:


They can alter their environments in really interesting ways too:

   

A lot of people are interested in plant reproduction:

 

 Some species can survive for millennia:


Much of the rest of the ecosystem relies on them…


… and of course, they give us much of what we need to survive…


We need to highlight how amazing plants are, to counteract “plant blindness”:


Plant blindness means that many people are unaware of the amazing things that are happening around them:


Being scientists, a lot of people liked how easy plants are to work with!

Some of the biggest scientific discoveries were made in plants:


In conclusion:

Thanks to everyone who took part in this twitter chat! This is just a subset of the huge number of comments we received. To read them all, click here!

Have we missed anything? Why do you love plants?