Why Are Plants Important?

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A recent online news item entitled Why We Need Plant Scientists attracted my attention a few days ago.

It’s mostly about a paper published in the scientific journal New Phytologist (see ref. 1 below) that prioritizes research questions currently facing “the few, the proud and the chronically underfunded” (my quote) scientists that work primarily on plants.

Included in this paper is a succinct explanation of why plants are important:

“Plants are fundamental to all life on Earth. They provide us with food, fuel, fibre, industrial feedstocks, and medicines. They render our atmosphere breathable. They buffer us against extremes of weather and provide food and shelter for much of the life on our planet. However, we take plants and the benefits they confer for granted. Given their importance, we should pay plants greater attention and give higher priority to improving our understanding of them.”
(from ref. 1 below)

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In addition to this is a call for more respect for plant scientists:
“Everyone knows that we need doctors, and the idea that our best and brightest should go into medicine is embedded in our culture. However, even more important than medical care is the ability to survive from day to day; this requires food, shelter, clothes, and energy, all of which depend on plants.

“Plant scientists are tackling many of the most important challenges facing humanity in the twenty-first century, including climate change, food security, and fossil fuel replacement. Making the best possible progress will require exceptional people. We need to radically change our culture so that ‘plant scientist’ (or, if we can rehabilitate the term, ‘botanist’) can join ‘doctor’, ‘vet’ and ‘lawyer’ in the list of top professions to which our most capable young people aspire.” (from ref. 1 below)

It would be nice if this turned out to happen, but, sadly, I sincerely doubt that it will, especially in the USA.

For decades plant research in this country has not been very well funded. Relatively little money has been available to plant scientists from the NSF and the NIH.

Unfortunately, the main funding source for plant research in the USA is the USDA, which has received criticism from the scientific community over the years for not supporting much innovative research.

But I’ll save my diatribe regarding this subject for another day. Instead, I’ll refer you to ref. 2 below.

References

1. Grierson, C. S., et al. (2011) “One hundred important questions facing plant science research.” New Phytologist, Vol. 192, pp.6-12. (Full Text)

2. Law, M. T., G. J. Miller and J. M. Tonon (2005) Earmarked: The Political Economy of Agricultural Research Appropriations. (PDF)

3. Wood, C. and N. Habgood (2010) Why People Need Plants

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