President's Letter Autumn 2018

01 October 2018 - By: Christine Raines

President's Letter Autumn 2018

By Professor Christine Raines, University of Essex, UK

For me the summer of 2018 was filled with travel, attending a number of meetings, not least of all, our own Annual Meeting in Florence. I hope you all enjoyed the excellent array of scientific presentations and the social events. I would like to thank the SEB team for the great organisation and smooth running of the meeting, all of the speakers and - of course - our attendees.

At all the meetings I attended, a major theme in plant sciences was the rapid development of CRISPR/Cas9 for gene editing. This technology is advancing at pace and provides approaches to introduce novel traits into crops, providing a new hope for achieving rapid improvements in yield, as well as resistance to biotic and abiotic stress. However, a major decision taken this summer by the EU court is that plants (or animals) produced using the new technologies of gene editing will be classified as genetically modified and therefore will be subject to stringent regulations. This negative focus on technologies is very disappointing, particularly given that it is not based on any evidence that novel traits introduced using genome engineering pose any additional threat to health or the environment, when compared to more conventional breeding approaches. This is a significant and detrimental step that will have repercussions for the Biotechnology industry across Europe and beyond. What can we do as scientists to counter the often ill - informed views held on these new technologies? It is a challenge but it is important that as scientists we maintain a balanced view and base any arguments in fact.

We should not hide from opportunities to discuss the new technologies and the potential benefits, at the same time as realising that these approaches will not solve all the issues faced by agriculture and that any newly introduced traits do need to be subject to rigorous testing, regardless of the methods used to produce them.

On a different topic Open Access has been a live debate for a number of years and is gathering pace, with many Universities in Europe cancelling subscriptions to major publishers - and some now discussing the development of their own publishing platforms. A recent article highlights plans by the European Commission and the European Research Council to make it mandatory for the recipients of their funding to publish the resulting outcomes in open access1. The aim of open access is to allow the findings from research to be shared rapidly and widely, free of charge and thereby to increase understanding and enable use of the most recent findings by government, business and the public. Although there has been a steady growth in open access journals in which the author pays to publish, it would be wrong to think that this is the only model. Most conventional journals also have open access options. The relevance of this debate to SEB is that we have five journals, three of which use a full author pay open access model and two have a mixed approach. Any profit arising from our journals is used to support our charitable activities – which sets Society journals apart from those that operate solely for the benefit of the owners.

As a Society we are in support of the open access principles and as our strategic review gets underway this topic will be high on our agenda. As we head towards the winter months, plans for Seville 2019 are well underway, so do check out the website and save the dates! The sessions are already up and it promises to be another exciting year for hearing the latest results from research in experimental biology!

References:

1. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2018.00037/full

Category: SEB Magazine
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Christine raines

Christine is currently Professor of Plant Molecular Physiology in the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Essex.  She studied for her PhD in the Department of Botany, University of Glasgow investigating photosynthetic electron transport function. This was followed by 3 years at what was the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambrdige where she started to explore the use of molecular techniques to manipulate photosynthesis. Since that time Christine’s main area of research is the photosynthetic carbon reduction cycle which is the primary pathway of carbon fixation in plants. 

This important pathway continues to be a priority area for study with the aim, of identifying targets for manipulation, to improve crop yields. During the past 15 years she has worked on a number of aspects of this cycle. Christine is particularly interested in the integration of this primary carbon fixation pathway and wider plant metabolism.