#plantbiology14 Day Two

Again, it’s late and I’m tired, so stream of conscious kind of writing that’s quick is happening tonight. I may even be more tired. 

Today at the conference there were two major symposia, one on synthetic biology (making drugs from plant processes/engineering cheaper ways to make medicines) and the first in a series of 2: Feeding 9 Billion (nourishing 9 Billion is tomorrow). It sort of continued on Don Ort’s talk about heat waves and how it’s going to be hard to grow more food on less land.

Both concerned genetically modified organisms, especially the second one (sponsored by Monsanto). And I tweeted up a storm again today.

I went to a minisymposia talk Malia Gehan (@maliadong) gave on the phenotyping robot system they have at the Danforth Center to do mass imaging of plants over time.

I talked to my Ph.D. advisor which was good. I socialized a bit at the iConnect booth. I talked over digital future issues with some DFUG members, including Nate, a guy who develops software at ac company that’s going to help change the website of plant biology, the face of plant biology and indeed hopefully strengthening the community of plant biologists to enable us to do better work to feed those projected 9 billion people in the face of climate change.

I went out with some younger scientists too—the future plant biologists of America/the world, amongst others. It was all amazing!

I was thinking about Brian Larkins advice about competition being your friend; and indeed, it does make us tend to do better, but healthy competition; compete over ideas and work, and make it great, but don’t get to a point of hating anther human. Or try competing by outthinking; collaborate with someone outside your sub discipline that can do something your competitor can’t/hasn’t thought of. I’m not reinventing the wheel here, I’m sure. After all scientists do compete and collaborate all at the same time. We race to get things done before someone else (I don’t, and I’m not a particularly great scientist because of it).

Hearing the talks today, including one from the amazing Pam Ronald (@pcronald) on ecological farming practices, how GM has its place/role within that framework and how to stop the panic about GM technology; in some cases it’s the only thing that can solve the problem (some gross diseases plants get, e.g.).

There are really smart people at Plant Biology. Doing amazing work. Ann Amtmann talked about a stress priming mechanism in plants in response to an early salt stress that then was repeated later and the plant ‘remembered’ it’s first stress event and hyper-responded.

I walked around the exhibitor booths too. The technology out there is impressive. The education booths are amazing too; education is key as teaching is a great way to learn, but also bring along new people who will bring new ideas into the field. We need those too.

So with that, I feel a little optimistic; the young scientists are clever, hardworking and dedicated (while not taking themselves too seriously). In fact, today, I had the biggest case of impostorism ever; what am I doing at this conference with all these amazing people who are doing really fundamental research into plants at many levels (from the not currently ‘hot’ research to the incredibly so). Plants are amazing organisms we need to live, survive and thrive and they’re fascinating organisms with a lot more going on than would meet the eye normally.

So I am a bit more optimistic. There’s a timeline at ASPB that included the 90 year history of the society. I was a rebel and put two on the outer fringes: 1860′s Gregor Mendel and one beyond 2014; “We help feed, cloth and shelter the world.” We have the brains, some great technologies and hopefully the resources (again, competing might diminish this precious commodity) to solve the looming problems of feeding more people on less arable land with lower input of water and nutrients.

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