Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Review calls for national strategy for crop science research

BBSRC Review of Crop Science Research: Media Release 12/05/04

An independent review panel is calling for a national strategy for crop science research in order to help UK agriculture benefit from breakthroughs in the laboratory. In a review commissioned by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the UK's largest funder of plant science, and published today, the panel proposes a stronger national focus on research underpinning "public good" plant breeding.

"Agriculture is changing quickly and is under a range of influences that will place many demands on crop science over the next 20 years," says Professor Chris Gilligan from the University of Cambridge, head of the review panel and a member of the BBSRC Council. "This is happening at a time of rapid advances in the fundamental understanding of plant science, enabled by developments in molecular biology, which offers great scientific opportunity. Whilst the UK is a world leader in plant science and genomics, we now need a national strategy for crop science research that will help us make better use of the advances in the research arena and help UK agriculture deal with the changing demands it will face over the coming years."

The report highlights a number of new challenges faced by UK agriculture caused by climate change, international competition (particularly in an expanded European Union), the threat of new pests and diseases and changing food demands from the public. In addition, the report outlines the ongoing demands to reduce inputs to farming systems, understand the links between diet and health and develop novel non-food crops for biofuels and biopharmaceuticals. The UK's position as a world leader in many areas of plant and crop science places the country in a strong position to deal with these challenges effectively.

"A national strategy for crop science research will help focus efforts on key targets and technologies for the future, and will bring together funders of research, end users and the public to discuss the ways to take advantage of the output from the excellent plant science base in the UK," says Gilligan. "We advocate greater focus on the dietary value of food crops and the development of non-food uses for crops. We also recommend a national plant breeding initiative for public benefit in the UK, along with research on generic problems of drought, pest and disease resistance that will help developing nations as well as the UK. We must also strike a clear balance between the appropriate and acceptable use of GM and non-GM technologies, assessing the benefits and costs on a case-by-case basis."

"As the UK's largest funder of plant science, BBSRC plays a key role in supporting the basic research which underpins our understanding of crops and transferring these advances to beneficial applications," says Dr Alf Game, head of the plants, microbes and genetics branch at BBSRC. "We recognise the need for closer links between research funders and will be discussing with funders and users in this area, to see how we may take forward some of the proposals contained in the report." The report is available in full at:

Andrew McLaughlin or Matt Goode, 01793 413 301

BSBRC annually spends around £65 million on plant and crop science research. BBSRC Council set up the Crop Science Review panel in July 2003 to take a medium to long-term (10-20 year) view of future crop science research. In preparing the report, the panel has sought a wide range of views in the UK and overseas from academia, research institutes, industry, government departments, non-government organisations. The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £300 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors.

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