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Early career bio-scientists: inter-disciplinary networking

Asenath Silong and Melanie Tuffen

4 July 2011

The BioResources Group's third annual Young Researchers Conference was held at the University of Reading on Friday 8 July 2011. PhD and post-doc researchers presented their work in all areas relevant to increasing crop productivity and sustainability in food and non-food sectors. This event offered the chance for early career scientists to network with peers working in universities and research institutes across the country and exchange knowledge and ideas that will give new perspectives and spur innovation.

There were also opportunities to make oral or poster presentations and to win cash prizes. In addition, presenters are usually offered the chance to write papers or features for SCI's scientific journals and Members' News.

2011 event
BioResources Young Researchers 2011 was held at the University of Reading in July with nearly 60 delegates attending from 17 universities and research institutes.

A keynote paper from Syngenta's senior scientific advisor Dr Ray Elliott opened the 2011 event. Ray outlined how Syngenta's R&D programmes in chemical crop protection and plant breeding are targeted at meeting the global challenges in sustainably increasing food production to feed the burgeoning population. Not only does contemporary agriscience comprise a wide range of disciplines, but they must all work together in order to innovate.

Prize winners
Conference delegates voted for the best presentations on the basis of the quality of science and on how well they were understood by a multidisciplinary audience. The winners came from many different disciplines. First prize for an oral paper went to Alex Wealleans (University of Reading) for her presentation on her research involving a new look at the traditional agro-forestry system of pannage.

The two runners-up were Matthew Obande (University of Loughborough) who discussed the effects of UV-C light on the quality and shelf-life of strawberries and Melanie Tuffen (University of Nottingham) whose research involves the molecular biology of pathogenic phytoplasma and the plants they infect.

Winner of the poster competition was David Richards (University of Nottingham). David is researching the mode of action of insecticidal compounds secreted by ladybirds when attacked by predators.

Runners-up were Fadil Al-Swedi (University of Plymouth) whose poster was on genetic transformation technology, Asenath Silong (University of Reading), who described plans for her project on production efficiency on small farms in Nigeria and Guy Thallon (University of Cranfield) who is working on mapping systems to monitor soil health. Asenath Silong, University of Reading and Melanie Tuffen, University of Nottingham, are pictured above.

A wealth of science
Many other presentations were of a very high standard. Charlie Worthy (Rothamsted Research) described the potential to genetically engineer oilseed crops to produce nutritionally essential long chain poly-unsaturated fatty acids normally found in algae; and Callie Seaman (Sheffield Hallam University) reported on the benefits of a micronutrient seed treatment in a hydroponic growing system.

One theme involved insecticides. Mark Burton (University of Nottingham) described how resistance to insecticides affecting sodium channels in insect nervous systems is being better understood by characterising the effects of various mutations. BartekTroczka (Rothamsted Research) is investigating how new classes of insecticide interact with ryanodine receptors to control insects by affecting calcium physiology. Lucy Fray (Imperial College) is researching the affects of thiamethoxam insecticide on the feeding behaviour of aphids.

Another theme of presentations from researchers at universities including Aberystwyth, Lancaster, Plymouth and Reading covered the biochemistry, genetics and physiology of plants subjected to abiotic stresses such as heat, drought and frost. Wheat is a common target crop for such research and dwarfing genes continue to attract much interest, eg their effects on stress tolerance and nitrogen-use-efficiency. One way in which greater genetic variation may be created in wheat in future was described by Boo Lewis (University of Bristol).

This involves understanding and manipulating DNA repair systems that normally correct mutations.

Several presentations covered non-food topics. These included contributions from Graciela Rocha (University of Newcastle) on the pain-relieving effects of a tropical plant used in traditional medicine in South America and Africa; and from Leticia Chico-Santamarta (Harper Adams) who is working on high density fuel pellets from oilseed rape biomass.

It was also pleasing to see posters from new PhD students outlining their research plans. These included Caitlin Burns (University of Warwick) who is researching the symbiotic association between mycorrhiza and the roots of Miscanthus and the benefits for this bioenergy crop.

Get involved!
The BioResources Group plans to run regular events for early career scientists and is developing an Early Career Network. The group welcomes anyone who wants to get involved. Please contact the SCI Membership Communications Team: communications@soci.org. You can also join our open groups on LinkedIn and Facebook.

Alan Baylis, Chair, BioResources Group.

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