Scientists identify 100 important questions facing plant science

By: Stellenbosch University on 04 April 2023

Scientists identify 100 important questions facing plant science

An international panel of scientists that included a researcher from Stellenbosch University (SU), have identified a list of “100 of the most important questions facing plant science. This international initiative has determined key research priorities and highlights the importance of diversity, collaboration, and funding for plant research to tackle climate change, the biodiversity crisis and sustainable food production.

These 100 questions were published in A Viewpoint in New Phytologist.

An original list was published more than a decade ago and included questions such as What are the key research priorities that will help tackle the global challenges of climate change, and the biodiversity crises and feed a growing population in a sustainable way? 

Now, ten years after these priorities were first debated and summarised by a panel of scientists and published in New Phytologist, the panel reflects on the changes to plant science and the progress made to address these research areas, published today as a Letter in New Phytologist.

To re-evaluate research priorities, a new panel of 20 plant scientists from 15 nations was formed in 2022 to provide an international perspective on the important areas for plant science research. Led by Prof. Claire Grierson from the University of Bristol in the UK, the scientists gathered over 600 questions about plant science from botanically curious members of the public to scientific and industrial leaders around the world. They then identified 100 of the most important questions facing plant science in this project.  

The top ten questions identified in the study published today include questions on climate change, community collaboration in science, food security, biodiversity, sustainable plant production, plant-plant interactions, plant disease management, plant-microbe interactions, plant adaptation and plant stress responses.

These 100 questions highlight how climate change, biodiversity loss, and interdisciplinary and international collaborations are critical global priorities across diverse plant science research fields.

The study* demonstrates how critically important plant scientists believe the fight against climate change is, highlights global disparities in science funding and showcases a diverse range of important future research topics. This study also showed how a global community of plant scientists, with a wide range of expertise, view the strategic priorities for plant research and offers insight into how different areas of research are important to different global regions. The research emphasises how an international exercise can be used to identify diverse research questions.

Prof. Claire Grierson said: “These two papers form a unique and valuable resource for researchers and newcomers to plant science, including collaborators on interdisciplinary projects, students and early career researchers, and for policy development”.

Dr Ida Wilson from the Department of Agronomy at SU, South Africa, said: “My work is solution driven and needs to directly address the challenges that farmers in South Africa and Africa face. As part of the Africa panel, I am also very proud of the African inputs and grateful for the opportunity to have our voices heard. I mentor young scientists too, and the excitement the publication has generated is tangible”.

Another panellist, Dr Shyam Phartyal from Nalanda University in India, said, “One of the most significant steps of this study is maintaining a high level of diversity – not only in question gathering but also in the selection of panellists from the Global South.”

Together, these two papers provide an excellent introduction to how plant science is developing and the significance, range and depth of research that needs to be addressed.

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*This study was funded by the Bristol Centre for Agricultural Innovation.