Prof. Jackie Hunter visits Plant Sciences to discuss strategic priorities for UK plant and microbial science (Nov. 21st 2014)
Professor Jackie Hunter, CEO of BBSRC, led a delegation from BBSRC to the Department of Plant Sciences,
to discuss the future of plant and microbial and to learn more about how the Department’s discoveries can contribute to the UK economy
and contribute to sustainable economic development world wide.
Jackie was keen to highlight the importance of curiosity-driven fundamental research and the importance of identifying ways to
maximize the impact of the discoveries that emerge from blue skies research.
Jackie got a flavor of the science and discovery from academic staff members, post docs and research students. Three areas of research
and innovation were showcased. These demonstrated how investment in research can help humanity address current and future challenges.
Professor Phil Poole and his team demonstrated how understanding the biology of nitrogen fixing bacteria can contribute to the development
of cereals that make their own nitrogen and would need less nitrogen-containing fertilizer. He also highlighted recent technical breakthroughs
in his lab that has allowed the assessment of bacterial diversity in farmers’ fields for the first time. This led to a discussion on precision
agriculture and how the UK can harness the potential of research like Phil’s to enhance UK crop yields at the same time as decreasing environmental
Professor Renier van der Hoorn highlighted how research being carried out on his European Research Council-funded award called GREEN PROTEASE,
will increase the efficiency of protein production in plants. Given that the first vaccine against the Ebola virus was produced in plants, his
technology has the potential to increase proteins yield and decrease waste during the production process.
John MacKay highlighted the potential of capturing natural genetic variation in trees using genomics to protect forests from disease and to
support tree improvement. John described his recent discovery of a gene that controls the resistance of white spruce to bud worm, a major pathogen
of North American conifer forests. John highlighted how there is no need for genetically modified spruce - there is sufficient genetic variation
in wild populations of trees to breed for resistance. John outlined his strategic vision in using genomics to develop strategies for dealing with
important invasive diseases such as ash dieback in the UK.
The Department's partnership with the Business Development team and Isis Innovations Ltd (the University of Oxford owned technology transfer company)
featured in the discussions about maximizing research impact. Examples of the Department's research funded by the BBSRC Sparking Impact program demonstrated
how relatively small financial inputs could build on blue skies discoveries to stimulate entirely new areas of industrial research and collaboration.
Graduate Symposium Prizes 2014
This week the Department’s annual Graduate Symposium took place, showcasing the breadth of research across Plant Sciences. Our third year D.Phil. students gave research seminars, and the second year students presented posters.
Congratulations go to Ivey Geoghegan and Olga Sedelnikova who won the prizes for best talk and best poster, respectively.
Ivey Geoghegan’s project investigates the role of chitin deacetylation in the rice blast fungus, Magnaporthe oryzae.
Olga Sedelnikova’s project aims to identify developmental regulators of C4 Kranz anatomy.