The world faces great challenges in the 21st century - food security, biodiversity, global health and climate change. Plant science will play a major role in finding many of the potential solutions. But is the UK's plant science community ready for the challenges?
"Plant scientists have a vital role in developing better food and non-food production systems, biodiversity management and conservation of the natural environment."
The UK is internationally recognised as a leader in the field of plant science, particularly in the area of fundamental research. (The UK is ranked second in the world in global rankings of plant science publication impact.) UK plant science research currently contributes to a diverse range of key industries including agriculture, pharmaceuticals, forestry and industrial biotechnology. The application of plant science knowledge offers unique benefits to the UK economy, international development and trade.
However, a recent report from the UK's Plant Science Federation concluded that there is still unmet potential to unlock the social, commercial and economic impact of our current research.
"To address the research challenges identified in our survey, it is critical that we produce successive generations of adaptable, diversely skilled plant scientists."
Given sufficient support, UK plant scientists are well-positioned to respond to critical challenges of the 21st century. Nevertheless, the report argues that the magnitude of these challenges must not be underestimated.
As teachers and educators, we play a specific role in meeting these challenges. Educating and inspiring the next generation of plant scientists was identified in the report as the top strategic priority to be addressed at the UK level. The report recongised that teachers may find it difficult to encourage school students to appreciate its importance as a thriving area of bioscience which they should aspire to study. However, high-quality teaching with a focus on plants has already been shown to have a major impact on the number of students opting to specialise in this topic.
We hope that the teaching resources available on the SAPS website, developed by talented teachers from across the UK, will continue to inspire young biologists to tackle the challenges of tomorrow.
To develop your own contemporary plant science knowledge, why not apply for a fully-funded teacher place on the annual Gatsby Plants Summer School?
To read the report in full, see the UK Plant Science Status Report
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