Printer friendly version
Think globally, act locally
03 August 2012
International scientists discuss possible societal benefits of plant research in Freiburg
How will plant biodiversity on our planet react to an increasing amount of carbon dioxide being blown into the atmosphere? How can researchers help to limit the resulting climate change? How can they contribute in battling global problems like hunger and hidden hunger? This week, 1,000 researchers from more than 60 countries discussed aspects of plant growth, biotechnology, bioenergy, global climate change, and applied nutritional science at the University of Freiburg. Focal point of more than 600 scientific contributions was the question of how researchers can apply their results to benefit society. “We are not interested in ivory towers,” says Freiburg biology professor and fellow at the Freiburg Institute of Advanced Studies (FRIAS) Ralf Reski, who organized the congress together with Heinz Rennenberg, professor at the Faculty of Forest and Environmental Sciences. “We strive to let the public profit from our work.” The potential of plant research seems to play an increasing role in politics as well: At the congress, an EU official announced that the European Union plans on doubling its funding in this field.
For the scientists, the central point of discussions was identifying ways to provide plants with new properties to farmers and their fields, based on excellent basic research. Opportunities for this development were debated together with representetives from the European Commission and the German Farmers’ Association, among others. The dialog with industry was especially fruitful, since it was the first time that so many experts from various fields of plant research had come together at the Plant Biology Congress. “With this congress, we succeeded in creating a forum for European plant scientists. Thus, they are represented with a unified voice in science and politics”, says Heinz Rennenberg. Among researchers, there was also general consent that topics such as alternative energy generation or the battle against hidden hunger are global problems without universal solutions. Reski points out: “We will never find a single plant that can be cultivated everywhere, which can be used for the production of energy everywhere, or which can feed people all around the world.” Hence, he emphasizes the need to develop concepts for concrete solutions in local communities. According to Reski, a prognosis about the sort of tree that will produce an optimal yield in 100 years in the Black Forest cannot be transferred to other regions with different vegetation. The same is true for the so-called Golden Rice, which is enriched with a precursor of vitamin A in order to prevent malnourishment in developing countries. Since there are hundreds of local rice varieties that adapted to the conditions of their individual sites, it would require extensive cross-breedings in order to transmit the new properties in the local varieties.
The Plant Biology Congress is the first joint congress of the Federation of European Societies for Plant Biology (FESPB) and the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO). Both societies are the biggest organisations for plant research in Europe. The congress was supported financially by the German Research Foundation, which also offered advice to researchers on how to apply for funding. Several organizations provided information on the European initiative “ERA-CAPS”, which promotes sustainable collaborations in plant sciences. Additional workshops covered plant biology in space, new teaching methods, and career options for young plant scientists. The congress was rounded off with an industrial exhibition, including several publishing houses.