President’s Letter: Roll Up Your Sleeves!

Sally MackenzieI consider it a tremendous privilege to serve you as president of ASPB this year. Because I have participated for the past several years as chair of the Publications Committee and member of the Science Policy and Executive Committees, I feel as though the start of this year provides an invaluable opportunity to take a step back and reflect on the Society as a whole with you, its membership. ASPB is moving in so many exciting new directions, it can be difficult to keep up.

In 2016, ASPB finds itself in a rapidly evolving environment, one dominated by social media and web-based community interactions. To help ensure that we continue to support the plant science community as it moves into this space, ASPB has developed a powerful new platform called Plantae. Plantae is an online digital ecosystem that is evolving almost monthly as we learn more about the needs of the community. But Plantae can become a fully active conduit for information and exchange only if we all participate in defining its capabilities and growing its participant population. I hope that this year we will see our interlinking Society grow, both domestically and internationally.

For my own part, I envision Plantae to be the place where the community can openly discuss emerging science, technologies, future-looking student training, and the politics of the current funding climate for research and education. Perhaps Plantae will also become a facilitator of more rapid online publishing and of postpublication discussion. But you may have your own vision of where Plantae will grow (pun intended). One way you can make your voice heard is to join Plantae and get active in helping ASPB improve and refine its spectrum of offerings. A steering committee chaired by Alan Jones is helping oversee this expansion and would welcome useful input.

To join Plantae, visit and register.

To provide input or feedback regarding Plantae, email Alan Jones, chair of the Plantae Steering Committee, at, or post a comment directly in our feedback forum at

Over the past year, we have continued to circulate widely the Decadal Vision (see Unleashing a Decade of Innovation in Plant Science: A Vision for 2015–2025 at as we prepare for the transition to actively pursuing its goals. The Decadal Vision is a document produced collaboratively by ASPB and a dozen other professional societies that is designed to help focus the conversation on national plant science research and training directions in support of the U.S. economy. If you have not read the Decadal Vision, I recommend that you do so now. The document does a nice job of reminding us all that some of the most fascinating research challenges of plant science exist at a systems level, focusing more on networks than the effects of individual genes. Understanding a plant’s responses to its environment is as much computational as cell biology. And some of our greatest efforts need to be directed at properly creating and managing the associated large data sets to make them useful to the entire community while training students to think in very new ways as they prepare for a future career in plant science. Important activities are under way that address these issues.

Decadal Vision Workshops

David Stern, president of Boyce Thompson Institute and a primary author of the Decadal Vision, has overseen the development of two workshops sponsored by NSF and the Research Coordination Network that were held October 18–20, 2016, in Rockville, MD under the auspices of the Plant Science Research Network. This network is a more formal collaboration among many of the societies involved in generating the initial Decadal Vision.

The first workshop, Modern­izing Postgraduate Training in the Plant Sciences, centered on ways in which the training of plant science students needs to adjust for a future in which students will encounter a much greater demand for sophisticated skill sets and a broader range of job opportunities. These opportunities will span academia, industry, government, and international development and will include science writing, policy, and entrepreneurship. The students of today and tomorrow are as likely to spend their careers in front of a computer screen as they are at the bench or in the field. Future students must be good communicators, broad thinkers, interdisciplinary collaborators, and creative revenue generators. A national dialogue within the plant science community can help formulate a consensus on these priorities and practices that will be central to future student training efforts around the country.

The second workshop, Cyberinfrastructure for Plant Systems Research over the Coming Decade, focused on managing big data in the plant sciences. Cyberinfrastructure, data management, standardization, and powerful mining capabilities are areas in which the plant science community must come together to plan and coordinate resources of immense value to us all. Visionary thinking and careful planning in the current environment will be essential in laying the groundwork for a future in which entire research paths can be pursued entirely from in silico data sets.

A third workshop—planned for next spring—will focus dedicated attention on the vital issue of inclusivity in the plant sciences. Ensuring that the discipline is welcoming and accessible to individuals from all backgrounds and ethnicities is essential.

National Plant Science Council and Phenomics

Also called for in the Decadal Vision was the formation of the National Plant Science Council (NPSC) to help give voice to plant science national priorities. The NPSC, whose membership can be found on the Plantae website (, has begun its work by launching a new annual meeting in the area of plant phenomics. Phenome 2017, to be held in February 2017 in Tucson, Arizona, is the first annual U.S.-based meeting in phenomics, and its primary aim will be to foster interdisciplinary collaboration among plant biologists, agronomists, ecologists, engineers, and computational scientists in academia, government, and industry to accelerate the science in this emerging field.

U.S. research in phenomics currently lags behind work in Australia and Europe, so this meeting is an important step to help push things forward. It is also an important venue for forging the interdisciplinary alliances that will be essential for rapid technology innovation. ASPB will help power this meeting and, along with the NPSC, is partnering with the nascent North American Plant Phenotyping Network to ensure its success. You can learn more about it at Over the next several years, the expectation is that this meeting will energize biology–computation–engineering connections in a whole host of research directions.

Other Efforts

Over the coming year, there are other places where ASPB can have an even greater impact in helping foster plant science. Although many graduate students and postdocs are able to attend the annual meeting to present their work, this opportunity might happen only once or twice in their postgraduate careers because of the expense. For most undergraduates with an interest in plant science, it may not happen at all. Regional ASPB-affiliated section meetings are held annually as well, but unfortunately, most regions associated with any given meeting are quite large, encompassing unrealistic driving distances.

One goal I hope that ASPB will pursue in the coming year is to consider ways to allow an ASPB regional meeting to be held each year within driving distance of any undergraduate or graduate student wishing to attend. Imagine plant science students having the opportunity to attend an ASPB meeting in each year of his or her training and how conducive this would be to creating stronger, more cohesive and vibrant plant research communities in each region of the country.

The Year Ahead

I hope you will give consideration to some of these ideas and offer your feedback. This year promises important progress in growing Plantae, the new Phenome meeting, vigorous dialogue on big data, and student training directions. Of course, we also hope for greater attention from Congress with a new administration to the importance of plant science to national food security priorities in the United States and for greater consideration in Europe of the impact of Brexit on European plant science priorities.

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