Posted By Adam Fagen,
Friday, November 12, 2010
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The November 2010 issue
of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's HHMI Bulletin
includes several items on the importance of plant science, building on the announcement by HHMI and the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation (GBMF) of the HHMI-GBMF plant science investigator competition.
HHMI president Robert Tjian
describes the context for HHMI's investment in plant science. As he says, "Plant scientists have tremendous potential to help us understand--and possibly find solutions to--some of the most pressing concerns that face society: food production, human health, protection of the environment, identification of renewable resources.
Dr. Tjian also describes the challenges plant scientists experience in gaining support for their research: "For too long, fundamental plant science has
been something of an afterthought in the U.S.—where substantial resources are
dedicated to applied agricultural research—and represents about 2 percent of
overall life sciences spending by the federal government. At the turn of the millennium, for example, of
some 24,000 scientists working with Arabidopsis as their model organism,
fewer than five dozen received NIH research project grants.
The issue also features an interview with GBMF Chief Program Officer for Science Vicki Chandler
(a former ASPB president) about her own background working with plants and the funding challenges in plant science:"I often say that because plants don't bleed or run, they get overlooked. Most people don't realize that plants like corn (maize) and thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) are excellent model organisms for key areas of biomedical science.""...tight plant
science funding consistently limits our ability to turn early theoretical gains
into on-the-ground advances. Scientists doing absolutely core work in
plant genetics, cell biology, biochemistry, and other areas have to vie for
scant federal support—and, frankly, it holds us back.""The fact that HHMI
and the Moore Foundation are contributing a total of $75 million to advance a
key model system will put a spotlight on the huge research gap—and the
opportunities. I hope our investment, and the research it genetics,
becomes a tool that federal agencies—including NIH, NSF, USDA, and DOE—can use
to secure more support from Congress for fundamental plant science. We
are sending a signal: plant science matters."
"Basic plant research—even top-notch
research—falls between the funding cracks. Because NIH focuses on humans and animal model
systems, it has not traditionally supported plant science. USDA leans
heavily toward applied science, while DOE focuses on bioenergy. At NSF,
basic plant science competes with other biology fields for funds. Even at
HHMI—with its track record of supporting innovative, interdisciplinary research
across model systems—the number of researchers specializing in plant science
can be counted on one hand.
(HHMI President's Letter
; Vicki Chandler interview