Blog – Fascination of Plants Day
Let me share my learnings from this event
Eighteenth of May is “Fascination of Plants” day, which, as I have learned, is an initiative of the European Plant Sciences Organisation (EPSO) and is celebrated internationally https://plantday18may.org/. The PlantLink (https://www.plantlink.se/ ) organized a panel discussion around the theme “Plants to the rescue?” – roles plants can have in mitigating the climate crisis
The theme was approached from a variety of angles: the high level, ecological system viewpoint, the molecular level, plant breeding/genome engineering view, the role of regulation and policy, the societal, and the consumer plant-derived products view
There is urgency in finding the corrective measures for the current climate crisis. Growing a forest takes time, so while the trees grow and while we look after the existing forests (another long discussion theme!), are there further, faster ways to use plants to mitigate the climate crisis?
IPlants are also the basis for the human food chain and with the expected increase in population and the global changes in climate, we need to produce more food. In this context, we discussed the vulnerability of current monoculture practices and how that could be addressed; “perennial genes” that might be useful to make a “perennial cereal”, with a more balanced life cycle than our current reliance on annual crops; how new technological developments in genome analysis, genome data mining, and genome engineering can be used and how regulation impacts on the development of the new solutions. The matter of coherence and competitiveness of European rules about genome engineering was also touched upon.
The discussion will be chaired by science journalist. There are here two aspects – what plants can do, and how humans use plants.
We discussed the importance of taking the whole ecosystem in consideration, when introducing new, higher yield crop varieties that perhaps are not as attractive to important insect populations (bees were mentioned, of course). We also discussed the importance of developing more exciting and attractive plant-based foods, to reduce the current reliance on animal protein. This is a multi-stakeholder challenge, where breeders, farmers, agriculture and other relevant policies, food companies, ingredient companies and consumers have all a role to play. (Personally, I loved the Veg of Lund products that were available for sampling!).
We spoke of novel attempts to use the plant rhizome as carbon storage in the soil (an new initiative from the Salk Institute, USA0 https://www.salk.edu/harnessing-plants-initiative/) and the relevance of these practices to the current climate challenges in the medium term.
The problem is multi-faceted and needs a multi-discipline approach. We discussed the challenges in transfer of knowledge from the scientists to government, rules and practices and the need for clear communication at many levels of scientific and societal understanding. Consumers (all of us) and farmers can have an important role, even if economic concerns drive certain behaviours. More awareness about why certain practices are what they are could help in providing the impetus for adapting to a reality that has changed since those practices were introduced.
Energy sources and water scarcity were mentioned as core aspects when designing new plants, new agronomical practices, new supply chains and novel plant-derived products.
In conclusion – plants do have a very important role to play in mitigating the climate crisis and they need a little help from all of us, scientists, farmers, politicians, regulators, entrepreneurs, local and global citizens.
Thank you, PlantLink, the panel and the moderator for a thought-provoking afternoon. The future is challenging and we and “our” plants have a lot to do.