Global challenges: What can plant science do to help?

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Plant sciences must provide solutions for sustainable agriculture to feed the wo
Plant sciences must provide solutions for sustainable agriculture to feed the world’s population.
Plants transform light into sugar and are thus the foundation of all ecosystems as well as the food supply for humanity. In a global initiative, plant researchers together with representatives from civil society have now compiled the 100 most pressing questions for plant science.

100 questions for the future of plant science

An international panel of scientists have identified 100 of the most important questions facing plant science.

Whether it is breeding plants, assessing the response of forests to climate change or seeking solutions to pest control: Plant research will play a crucial role in whether and how humanity can cope with climate change, slow the loss of biodiversity and sustainably feed a growing world population. An international jury with members from all continents has now selected the 100 most pressing questions for this branch of research. They were published today in the journal New Phytologist.

The initiator is Claire Grierson from the University of Bristol. She launched a call in 2022 to members of academia and industry, interested lay people as well as stakeholders, which brought together over 600 questions. A panel of 20 plant researchers, including Arthur Gessler of the Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL, condensed them down to 100. The top ten, the most pressing questions, include: How will climate change impact plant abundance, productivity, bioregions, and ecosystems? How can we ensure that the varied goals and needs of our diverse societies are understood and fulfilled by plant scientists? Could plant-defence priming be a platform for a new green revolution?

"The initiative is a call to science: these are the most important and urgent problems to be addressed by plant research," says WSL forest ecologist Arthur Gessler. "Our research field has the responsibility and the opportunities to make a real difference in the areas covered by the questions."

An outstanding feature of the initiative, apart from its bottom-up approach, is the effort to involve the whole world. Jury member Shyam Phartyal from India’s Nalanda University says the high degree of diversity distinguishes this study, "not only in the collection of questions, but also in the selection of panel members from the global South." And jury member Ida Wilson from Stellenbosch University in South Africa adds: "My work is solution-oriented and must directly address the challenges faced by farmers in South Africa and Africa."

This was the second such call to identify research priorities for plant sciences worldwide. In the first edition of "100 Important Questions for Plant Science Research" in 2011, also led by Claire Grierson, the term climate change appeared much less frequently than this year. "This is an appeal that we need to better understand what will happen if global environmental conditions continue to change," says Gessler.

Armstrong, E.M., et al. (2023) One hundred important questions facing plant science: an international perspective. New Phytologist. doi: 10.1111/nph.18771

Larson, E.R., et al. (2023) One hundred important questions for plant science - reflecting on a decade of plant research. New Phytologist. doi: 10.1111/nph.18663