Registration open for GPC/SEB New Breeding Technologies Workshop!

New Breeding Technologies in the Plant Sciences – Applications and Implications in Genome Editing

Gothenburg, Sweden, 7-8th July 2017

REGISTRATION FOR THIS MEETING IS NOW OPEN!

Organised by: Dr Ruth Bastow (Global Plant Council), Dr Geraint Parry (GARNet), Professor Stefan Jansson (Umeå University, Sweden) and Professor Barry Pogson (Australian National University, Australia).

Targeted genome engineering has been described as a “game-changing technology” for fields as diverse as human genetics and plant biotechnology. Novel techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9, Science’s 2015 Breakthrough of the Year, are revolutionizing scientific research, allowing the targeted and precise editing of genomes in ways that were not previously possible.

Used alongside other tools and strategies, gene-editing technologies have the potential to help combat food and nutritional insecurity and assist in the transition to more sustainable food production systems. The application and use of these technologies is therefore a hot topic for a wide range of stakeholders including scientists, funders, regulators, policy makers and the public. Despite its potential, there are a number of challenges in the adoption and uptake of genome editing, which we propose to highlight during this SEB satellite meeting.

One of the challenges that scientists face in applying technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 to their research is the technique itself. Although the theoretical framework for using these techniques is easy to follow, the reality is often not so simple. This meeting will therefore explain the principles of applying CRISPR-Cas9 from experts who have successfully used this system in a variety of plant species. We will explore the challenges they encountered as well as some of the solutions and systems they adopted to achieve stably transformed gene-edited plants.

The second challenge for these transformative technologies is how regulatory bodies will treat and asses them. In many countries gene editing technologies do not fit within current policies and guidelines regarding the genetic modification and breeding of plants, as it possible to generate phenotypic variation that is indistinguishable from that generated by traditional breeding methods. Dealing with the ambiguities that techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9 have generated will be critical for the uptake and future use of new breeding technologies. This workshop will therefore outline the current regulatory environment in Europe surrounding gene editing, as well as the approaches being taken in other countries, and will discuss the potential implications and impacts of the use of genome engineering for crop improvement.

Overall this meeting will be of great interest to plant and crop scientists who are invested in the future of gene editing both on a practical and regulatory level. We will provide a forum for debate around the broader policy issues whilst include opportunities for in-depth discussion regarding the techniques required to make this technology work in your own research.

This meeting is being held as a satellite event to the Society for Experimental Biology’s Annual Main Meeting, which takes place in Gothenburg, Sweden, from the 3–6th July 2017.

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Flipping the symposium

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Answers to the question: “Which crop species are most critical with regard to stress resilience?”

Lisa Martin, GPC Outreach & Communications Manager

GPC Executive Director Ruth Bastow and I recently travelled to Australia to hold the GPC’s annual general meeting – but we didn’t go all that way for a one-day meeting! We also took the opportunity to attend ComBio 2016, a large conference jointly hosted by the Australian Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, the Australia and New Zealand Society for Cell and Developmental Biology, and GPC Member Organization the Australian Society of Plant Scientists.

Sadly, one person was conspicuous by his absence – GPC President Bill Davies, who had been due to give more than one talk at the conference, was unable to fly out to Australia at very short notice. While Ruth and our Chair Professor Barry Pogson could cover his talk during the GPC’s own lunchtime symposium, this left Dr Rainer Hofmann’s ‘Abiotic Stress and Climate Change’ session one speaker short at the last minute!

Answers to the question, "Which challenges do these crops face?"

Answers to the question, “Which challenges do these crops face?”

Fortunately Rainer, who happens to be a representative to the GPC for the New Zealand Society of Plant Biology, found a quick solution to the hole in his program: it was time for a bit of audience participation!

The ‘flipped classroom’ is an approach I’d heard of, but was not overly familiar with – however, according to Rainer it is used quite extensively in New Zealand, where plant biologists can be geographically isolated. Unlike the traditional university lecture, in which the teacher gives a presentation and the students go away to consolidate what they have learned with revision notes or problems to solve, the flipped classroom turns this model on its head. Instead, students are given the subject content to learn in advance, then bring their own questions to the lecture.

Arguably, this approach makes better use of students’ contact time and the lecturer’s expertise, and provides a richer and more independent learning experience. This model also works very well in distance learning: topic notes and presentation slides can be emailed out in advance, then a video-linked webinar can be used to connect students and teachers, and a web-tool like Socrative Student can be used to ask and answer questions online.

Answers to the question, "What are key solutions to address these challenges, in the next 3 years and in the longer term?"

Answers to the question, “What are key solutions to address these challenges, in the next 3 years and in the longer term?”

Rainer used this idea to fill the gap in his symposium – and it was great! He asked three important questions, and members of the audience were invited to provide short answers via the Socrative Student platform using their computers, cell phones or tablets – answers were then displayed on a screen in real time. Thank goodness for WiFi! The questions and answers can be seen in the word clouds we’ve created here – the size of the word provides an indication of the frequency of that particular response, so it’s easy to see which were the most and least popular answers. These responses provided useful, engaging stimuli for audience-led discussion – I’d really like to see this model used at other meetings!

The three questions asked were:

  1. Which crop species are most critical with regard to stress resilience?
  2. Which challenges do these crops face?
  3. What are key solutions to address these challenges, a) in the next three years, and b) in the longer term?

What would your answers have been? Leave us a comment below!

Down Under: the Global Plant Council’s 2016 AGM

img_20161006_075356Lisa Martin, GPC Outreach & Communications Manager

As a truly global organization, the Global Plant Council hosts its annual general meeting (AGM) on a different continent each year, to give our members from far-flung corners of the globe the opportunity to come together to celebrate progress and discuss future strategies to develop plant science for global challenges.

With our current Chair Professor Barry Pogson hailing from ‘down under’, this year’s AGM was held in Brisbane, Australia, which made for a warm, sunny change from autumnal London for Ruth and I!

Starting bright and early at 8 am on Monday 3rd October, representatives from the GPC’s member societies joined the GPC’s Executive Board at a hotel in Brisbane’s central business district. After a welcome from the Chair, and a minute’s respectful silence to remember our former Board Member Professor Carl Douglas, who sadly passed away earlier this year, introductions were made and we got down to business. Ruth and myself first provided introductions to, and updates on, the main GPC initiatives and activities.

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While waiting for our Stress Resilience white paper to be published, why not read our Nutritional Security report? (Link opens PDF – right-click and save-as to download a copy to your computer!)

The DivSeek initiative continues to grow in strength and numbers, with 67 partner organizations now committed to working together to address genomic and phenomic data challenges in plant science. With funding from the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Ruth has been providing essential coordination services specifically for this project, and with DivSeek Chair (Professor Susan McCouch) and a Steering Committee in place, the initiative is making real progress; a number of working groups have been launched to actively engage DivSeek partners and help the initiative advance its mission and aims.

Our other major, current initiative is in the area of Stress Resilience. As you may have read around this time last year, the GPC held a workshop and discussion forum on the subject of ‘Stress Resilient Cropping Systems for the Future’, in conjunction with our 2015 AGM in Brazil. This successful two-day event brought together experts in this area to share and showcase new research, tools and techniques. We are now turning our discussions from this meeting into a forthcoming white paper, and hopefully a commentary or two for publication in a high impact journal – we’ll let you know when these have been launched!

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Lisa talked to the Global Plant Council about our successful outreach and communications activities. Do you follow us on Twitter or Facebook?

Then it was my turn to speak on the subject of outreach and communication. With much help from our New Media Fellow (NMF) Sarah Jose (and our former NMF Amelia-Frizell Armitage, who left the GPC for a new job earlier this year), the GPC’s social media efforts have been tremendously successful this year. We now have nearly 3000 followers on Twitter, hundreds of ‘fans’ on Facebook, and over 1200 subscribers to our monthly e-Bulletin (though readership is much wider, thanks to many of our Member Organizations who also distribute this newsletter!). We were also pleased to welcome Current Plant Biology to our journal supporters; they join Journal of Experimental Botany, Nature Plants and New Phytologist in providing some financial sponsorship to support our outreach efforts.

In other activity updates, we discussed Plantae, the social media-cum-knowledge hub that the GPC has been working on developing with the American Society of Plant Biologists. Plantae is in beta testing mode to capture feedback on the design and user experience, but is growing and evolving all the time. We encourage you to register an account and sign up, if you haven’t already done so!

Sadly our President Bill Davies was unable to attend the AGM, but Ruth and Barry explained the premise of a new GPC Knowledge Exchange initiative that Bill is working hard to get off the ground. If successful in securing funding to progress this project, we hope to be involved with the development of an online training platform to transfer knowledge from the laboratory to the field – an exciting idea that will, we hope, be of invaluable benefit to communities in developing regions.

screen-shot-2016-11-09-at-14-37-18As with many research networks and non-profit organizations, securing long term funding for the GPC is a continual challenge. The GPC’s main source of income is its member organizations; a revised membership fee structure was agreed at last year’s AGM, but further refinement and additional sources of funding will be required to ensure the continued sustainability of the GPC. As such we are actively seeking donations to help us continue the work of GPC so if you would like to make a contribution to support our efforts, you can do so via our PayPal giving link here: http://globalplantcouncil.org/donate.

Happily, we are pleased to welcome three new affiliate members to our ranks – the Center for Plant Aging Research in Korea, the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Plant Physiology in Germany, and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology in Australia.

Before discussing the GPC’s vision for the future, we took the opportunity to hear from our Member Organizations about what they would like the GPC to do for them, and what they can do for us. Lots of excellent suggestions for cross-collaborations, outreach, and novel funding sources were made, and we will be eagerly following up on these in the coming months – watch this space!

Aside from plant science, we found some time to familiarize ourselves with the local wildlife!

Aside from plant science, we found some time to familiarize ourselves with the local wildlife!

In addition to the AGM GPC also hosted a lunchtime symposium during the ComBio 2016 meeting, entitled, “Addressing Global Challenges in Plant Science: the Importance of Co-operation beyond National Boundaries”. During this session, we showcased exemplar projects involving multi-national stakeholders, stressing that global challenges need global solutions, and highlighting the unique and essential role that GPC plays.

Ruth spoke about DivSeek, GPC Treasurer Vicky Buchanan-Wollaston spoke about our Stress Resilience initiative, and Barry provided an overview of the Nutritional Security Initiative and also filled in for Bill by talking about our proposed plans for the knowledge exchange platform mentioned above. Professor Andy Borrell from the University of Queensland also gave an engaging and insightful talk about why a transnational approach to plant, crop and agricultural science is needed, highlighting some of the real-world scenarios where the GPC might offer practical, proactive support for research across borders.

It was fantastic to see over 70 plant scientists who gave up their lunchtime to attend our symposium – there were plenty of questions and very positive feedback at the end that we hope this will spark new ideas, interactions and collaborations. We felt very encouraged by the interest in and support for the GPC and its initiatives, and look forward to being able to continue serving the global plant science community.

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].

GPC/SEB Stress Resilience Symposium: online tools for stress resilience research

© Lisa Martin

Iguaçu Falls © Lisa Martin

Lisa Martin reports on the GPC’s recent Stress Resilience Symposium and Discussion Forum in Brazil, and highlights some of the brilliant online tools that are available to scientists working in this area.

It’s a strange thing to be packing for 38ºC weather while the temperature at home in England steadily plummets towards 0ºC. Nevertheless, leaving a cold and rainy London behind, Team GPC took to the skies on 21st October and touched down in tropical Foz do Iguaçu, a resort town on the Brazil/Argentina/Paraguay border.

Iguaçu is best known for its spectacular UNESCO World Heritage waterfalls, but we – that is myself, Executive Director Ruth Bastow, and our two New Media Fellows Amelia and Sarah – were in town for three different reasons. As well as attending the International Plant Molecular Biology conference, followed by the GPC’s Annual General Meeting, we were also running a Stress Resilience Symposium in collaboration with the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB), on 23rd and 24th October.

The intention of this Symposium was to bring together experts from around the world to discuss current research efforts in developing plant stress resilience, to showcase new approaches and technologies, and build new networks and collaborations. Our goal is to help contribute to global efforts to develop crops and cropping systems that are better able to deal with fluctuating and stressful environmental conditions.

Food Security Challenges

After a welcome from the new GPC President Professor Bill Davies (Lancaster University, UK), the Symposium got started with a session focused on how scientists are helping to overcome existing and emerging barriers to food security.

Speakers included Matthew Reynolds, who gave an overview of the crops and climate change research at CIMMYT in Mexico; Lancaster’s Martin Parry, who described his group’s work to translate findings in Arabidopsis to capture more carbon and improve the water and nutrient use efficiency of crops; and Bob Sharp from the University of Missouri (USA), who spoke about trying to understand root responses to drought.

As well as hearing from Matthew Gilliham (University of Adelaide, Australia), and Sarah Harvey (University of Warwick, UK), Jean-Marcel Ribault from CGIAR in Mexico described the collaborative approach to developing food crops, with stress resilience in mind, being taken by partners involved in the Generation Challenge Program (GCP, not to be confused with GPC!).

The ultimate aim of this program, Jean-Marcel said, is to improve the germplasm in farmers’ fields, focusing on research on six staple crops, the integration of data management, and building capacity for the future.

IBPnewlogo_0To help with the ‘integration of data management’ arm of the project, the GCP consortium has developed the Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP). As well as providing access to many different germplasm resources and diagnostic markers, central to the IBP’s offering is the Breeding Management System, “a suite of interconnected software specifically designed to help breeders manage their day-to-day activities through all phases of their breeding programs. From straightforward phenotyping to complex genotyping, it provides all the tools you need to conduct modern breeding in one comprehensive package”.

iplant_logoThe IBP is hosted on the cyberinfrastructure provided by the iPlant Collaborative, which, in case you’ve never heard of it, provides free and open access not only to high performance computing power via virtual machines, but also to a huge range of user-friendly, largely user-generated software for biological data analysis. Quick plug: you can find out more about it by reading this JXB paper I wrote with my former colleagues at the UK Arabidopsis research network GARNet…:-)

Improving stress tolerance in variable environments

shutterstock_65739844The session after lunch took a closer look at some specific stress-related challenges. Drought tolerance was a popular topic, with Andrew Borrell of the University of Queensland (Australia), Vincent Vadez from ICRISAT, and INRA’s François Tardieu all presenting work in this area. Scott Chapman also provided some insights into the modeling work going on at Australia’s CSIRO, which is helping crop breeders to decide which traits to focus on to adapt to different sources of stress. He mentioned QuGene, a tool available via the Integrated Breeding Platform, which is simulation software to investigate the characteristics of genetic material undergoing repeated cycles of selection and molecular marking.

downloadIn presenting her work on understanding aluminium toxicity and tolerance in rice, Lyza Maron from Cornell University (USA) introduced us to the Rice Diversity Project, a collaborative effort to explore the genetic basis of variation in rice and its wild ancestors. The Rice Diversity Project website (www.ricediversity.org) hosts a large number of freely available data sets for different rice lines, and a number of tools developed during the project are also made freely available, including a genome browser, a genome subpopulation browser, a seed photo library viewer, and other pieces of analysis software that you can download.

Innovating for Stress Resilience

In the next session, we heard about some exciting projects being carried out across the globe that are advancing our understanding of stress resilience in plants. Chile’s Ariel Orellana gave a fascinating talk about mining the genome of Cystanthe longiscapa, a flowering plant native to the extremely barren and dry Atacama desert; Elizabete Carmo Silva from Lancaster University talked about high-throughput phenotyping in the field, China’s Xinguang Zhu demonstrated some quite stunning 3D models simulating cell structures, water and metabolite movement in the leaf; and potato root architecture was the theme of the presentation made by Awais Khan from the International Potato Center in Peru.

Speaking about the part her lab played in the PRESTA project, Warwick’s Katherine Denby showed us some of the complex, intricate transcriptional network models used to predict, test and reveal interactions between genes involved in Arabidopsis’ defence against Botrytis cinerea. Source code for the WIGWAMS tool, which was specially created to help analyse multiple gene expression time series data, is available here.

Short poster talks

At the end of a fascinating day of fantastic science, we heard some short talks from up and coming researchers whose posters had been selected for an oral presentation: make sure to look up the awesome work of rising stars Elizabeth Neilson from the University of Copenhagen, Nicolas Franck from Universidad de Chile, Cristina Barrero-Sicilia from Rothamsted, and our very own Amelia Frizell-Armitage from the John Innes Centre!

Day 2 – the discussion forum

StressResAttendeesBut the Stress Resilience Symposium didn’t end there… The next day a smaller group of invited experts returned to the meeting venue for some in depth discussion and debate. The aim of the day was to prepare the ground for a forthcoming GPC report, which will highlight the specific challenges facing plant science in terms of developing stress resilient crops and cropping systems, and outline some potential solutions that the plant science community – and those beyond it – can initiate to meet these challenges.

After hearing some presentations about successful large-scale, international projects such as DROPS, IDuWUE, IWYP and others, attendees split off into breakout groups to discuss what they felt to be the key challenges facing stress resilience research today, and the areas in which plant scientists around the world need to come together to mitigate these challenges. Unsurprisingly, this session was lively and animated, with several differences of opinion, but each thought was a valuable and useful contribution to the assessment of the global landscape. Participants talked about the current regulatory climate, particularly surrounding GM and gene edited crops; the need for silos of knowledge to be linked and shared, and for effective technology transfer to make sure that the science we do in the lab has impact in the field – and in the fields where that science is most needed.

After a long but fruitful two days of great science, effective knowledge and ideas sharing, the Stress Resilience Symposium ended with a team photo and further opportunities for “networking” by the hotel pool (or for the Australian participants among us, the Argentina vs. Australia Rugby World Cup Semi Final!). The GPC is now compiling an official report, based on the discussions at the meeting, which we hope will provide a powerful and realistic call to action for stress resilience scientists across the globe to come together. Watch this space!

Thanks to Oliver Kingham and Paul Hutchinson from the SEB, Professors Vicky Buchanan-Wollaston and Jim Beynon from the University of Warwick, Professor Bill Davies from Lancaster University and Andrew Borrell from the University of Queensland for their help in making this symposium possible.

Stress Resilience: Call for papers for a JXB Special Issue!

GPC banner Without linkFollowing the recent Stress Resilience Symposium and Discussion Forum that we co-hosted in Brazil last month with the Society for Experimental Biology, we are pleased to announce a call for papers for a forthcoming Special Issue of the SEB’s Journal of Experimental Botany.

Achieving food security in a changing and unpredictable climate urgently requires a better understanding of the mechanisms by which plants interact with and respond to their environments. This special issue will bring together a collection of papers highlighting the best current research in stress resilience contributing to global efforts to develop crops and cropping systems that are better able to deal with fluctuating and stressful environmental conditions.

Proposals are invited for the submission of new and innovative research papers that contribute to this goal (submission before the end of January 2016 will guarantee inclusion in the special issue pending positive peer review). Confirmed contributors already include: Andrew Borrell (University of Queensland, Australia), Elizabete Carmo-Silva (Lancaster University, UK), Scott Chapman (CSIRO, Australia), Bill Davies (GPC President and Lancaster University, UK), Lyza Maron (Cornell University, USA), Jianbo Shen (China Agricultural University), and Roberto Tuberosa (University of Bologna, Italy).

If you would like to contribute a paper, please email a title and short abstract to Mary Traynor: [email protected].

Plant Biology 2015: Introducing Plantae.org

Minneapolis skyline. Photo by 'zman z28', Flickr, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Minneapolis skyline. Photo by ‘zman z28’, Flickr, used under a CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 license.

Ruth and I recently flew out to Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA, to attend the American Society of Plant Biologists’ (ASPB) annual conference, Plant Biology 2015.

Ruth did a sterling job of live-tweeting the scientific sessions she attended. She also spent some time stationed at the ASPB booth to talk to people about the Global Plant Council (GPC), as well as a big project we’re helping to bring to life: Plantae.org. I’ll talk more about what I did at the conference later… But first, what is Plantae.org?

The Evolution of Plantae.org

Some time ago, here at the GPC, we thought it would be a great idea if there was one, online location where plant scientists and teachers could go to look for and share new ideas, tools and resources for research and education. We tentatively called it the ‘Plant Knowledge Hub’, and set about looking for people or organizations that might be able to help us make it a reality.

In doing so, we discovered that the ASPB was interested in creating a kind of community networking and collaboration platform, for which they had the working title ‘Plant Science Exchange’. Joining forces, we decided to combine the two ideas into one big portal, now called ‘Plantae’. Extending beyond the ASPB membership, Plantae will be for plant scientists and educators all over the world. We hope it will become the leading plant science resource hub and community gathering place.

Lisa modeling her Plantae t-shirt!

Lisa modeling her Plantae t-shirt!

At this point, I should also mention the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB), without whose help the GPC would not have been able to move forward with this project. The SEB generously provided enough funding for my post! I joined the GPC in February as the Outreach & Communications Manager, so as well as looking after the GPC’s internal and external communications and helping to spread the word about the work of the GPC, one of my main duties is to identify and curate tools, resources and plant science information to upload to Plantae.

Building Plantae.org

I’ve made a few simple websites in the past, but nothing as complicated as an entire ‘digital ecosystem’ so taking the ‘Plant Science Knowledge Exchange Hub’ from an idea to the reality of Plantae.org was going to be a mammoth task. Fortunately we have had a lot of help!

Susan Cato, the ASPB’s Director of Member Services and Digital Marketing, and her team, have been doing a stellar job of pulling different stakeholder groups together to build and develop the Plantae platform. As well as a group of web architects to build the portal’s infrastructure, an agency called LookThink has been involved, with the unenviable task of optimizing the user experience. It’s no mean feat to take our ideas about what the platform should do, and the practicalities of how it can be built, to ensure that the final online product actually does what users want and need it to do in an intuitive, user-friendly way!

Ultimately, Plantae.org will have features such as Facebook or LinkedIn-style user profiles and groups, with the ability to ‘connect’, interact and send private messages. It will have public and private discussion boards where scientists can collaborate, talk about issues in science, or ask questions to the community and have them answered. It will eventually contain hundreds and thousands of pages of content including research papers, teaching resources, videos, posters and much more, some of which will be curated by groups like the GPC, and others uploaded directly by members. Underlying all of this, the portal needs a robust, intuitive search engine to allow users to find exactly the contact they are looking for.

User Testing the Beta Version

PlantBiology2015logoSo during the ASPB conference, I was to be found in a meeting room with Clare Torrans from LookThink, helping her to conduct some user experience analysis on an early beta version of the Plantae site. We recruited a range of potential Plantae users – from students through to senior professors – and asked them to tell us what they thought of the idea of Plantae, whether they would use it and find it useful, whether the icons, buttons and links on the screen did what they expected, and what else they would like Plantae to do.

I’d never consciously considered the ‘user experience’ of a website before, but having spent time with Clare, I now realize it’s a vital part of the build process – and now I’m analyzing every website I visit!

The feedback we received was varied: there were some clear patterns related to age, academic level, or previous experience with social media, some people pointed out elements of the site I hadn’t even noticed, or misinterpreted buttons I’d thought were obvious, but – positive or negative – all of the feedback we received was useful and will be fed back into the site development process.

When can I start using Plantae?

The site isn’t quite ready yet, but taking into account all of the data we obtained from the user testing sessions at Plant Biology 15, we will hopefully be ready for launch in the Autumn. Watch this space for more news!

“So what does the Global Plant Council actually do?” – SEB Prague 2015

Dobrý den!

 View across the Vltava river of Prague's Old Town and the Charles Bridge.


View across the Vltava river of Prague’s Old Town and the Charles Bridge.

Last week I attended the Society for Experimental Biology (SEB)’s Annual Main Meeting in the wonderful city of Prague in the Czech Republic.

Armed with a banner, a new batch of hot-off-the-press leaflets, some of our infamous GPC recycled paper pens, and a map of the world, the purpose of my trip was to staff an exhibitor’s booth at the conference to help raise awareness of the GPC and the projects and initiatives we are involved with.

2015-07-03 09.50.14To encourage delegates to speak to the exhibitors, there was a chance to win prizes in exchange for a ‘passport’ filled with stickers or stamps collected from each of the booths. This gave me a fantastic opportunity to meet people from all over the world and tell them about the Global Plant Council – even the SEB’s Animal and Cell biologists!

Many visitors to the booth were from Europe, but I also met people from as far away as Argentina, Australia, China and Vietnam. Thanks to everyone who visited the booth and gave me their email addresses to sign up for our monthly e-Bulletin newsletter!

“So what does the Global Plant Council actually do?”

This was the question I was most frequently asked at the conference. The answer is: many things! But to simplify matters, our overall remit falls into two main areas.

1) Enabling better plant science

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Visitors to our booth at SEB 2015 were asked to put their plant science on the map!

Plant science has a critical role to play in meeting global challenges such as food security, hunger and malnutrition. The GPC currently has 29 member organizations, including the SEB, representing over 55,000 plant, crop, agricultural and environmental scientists around the world. By bringing these professional organizations together under a united global banner, we have a stronger voice to help influence and shape policy and decision-making at the global level.  Our Executive Board and member organization representatives meet regularly and feed into international discussions and consultations.

The GPC also aims to facilitate more effective and efficient plant-based scientific research. Practically speaking, this means we organize, promote, provide support for, and assist with internationally collaborative projects and events. A good example is the Stress Resilience Symposium and Discussion Forum we are hosting, together with the SEB, in Brazil in October.

This meeting – which will be a satellite meeting of the International Plant Molecular Biology 2015 conference – will bring together scientists from across the world who are studying the mechanisms by which plants interact with and respond to their environments, particularly in the face of climate change. It will provide an excellent opportunity for researchers of all levels and from different regions to network and learn from each other, fostering new relationships and collaborations across borders. Registration and abstract submission is now open, so why not come along!

Importantly, as well as learning from researchers all over the world about the fantastic research they are doing, we also want to identify important research that is not being done, or which could be done better. Then, we can come together to discuss strategies to fund and fill these gaps.

You can find out more about our other current initiatives by going to our website.

2) Enabling better plant scientists

2015-07-03 12.42.41As well as physically bringing people together at meetings and events, the Global Plant Council aims to better connect plant scientists from around the world, promote plant research and funding opportunities, share knowledge and best practice, and identify reports, research tools, and educational resources.

Plant scientists have created an amazing diversity of assets for research and education, so by facilitating access to and encouraging use of these resources, we hope that a desperately needed new generation of plant researchers will be inspired to continue working towards alleviating some of the world’s most pressing problems. For example, we’re translating plant science teaching materials into languages other than English, and are helping the American Society of Plant Biologists to curate content for Plantae.org, an online resource hub and gathering place for the plant science community that will be launched later this year – stay tuned!

My #SEBSelfie! Other updates from the meeting can be found by following the hashtag #SEBAMM on Twitter.

My #SEBSelfie! Other updates from the meeting can be found by following the hashtag #SEBAMM on Twitter.

In addition, the GPC website is full of useful information including research and funding news, an events calendar, reports and white papers, fellowships and awards. We operate a Twitter account (@GlobalPlantGPC) for up-to-the-minute news and views, and a Spanish version @GPC_EnEspanol. We also have a blog (obviously!) that is regularly updated with interesting and informative articles written by the GPC staff, our two New Media Fellows, and plant scientists from across our member network. A Facebook page will be coming soon!

If you would like any more information about the projects and initiatives mentioned here, or more details about the GPC’s work, please do contact me (Lisa Martin, Outreach & Communications Manager): [email protected].