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Agroforestry and open innovation at BioResources Open Evening

Momah Turay, Alexa Varah, Boo Lewis

8 Jul 2013

The BioResources Group Open Evening on 18 June 2013, which followed the group AGM, had a good attendance of members and representatives of some of the group's collaborating organisations, including the Royal Society of Chemistry and AGRI-net.

Joanne Lyall, SCI Executive Director 2010-13, welcomed the audience and outlined the aims of SCI to inspire members to come together, share networks and become ambassadors for both science and the society. She went on to highlight the multi-disciplinary community of interest that is the BioResources Group.

This was a point reiterated by the group's chair, Dr Alan Baylis, who outlined the purpose of the evening - for members to meet each other face to face and share knowledge. It was noted that 'you don't know what you don't know'; but it's highly likely that one of your fellow BioResources members will know, and events such as this are precisely where knowledge can be exchanged. Alan also recommended the Group's annual Young Researchers in Agrisciences event, where one can catch up on the latest research activity and also spot the upcoming talent in the next generation of researchers.

One such scientist was our first speaker. Having won the prize for best oral paper at last year's event (picture, centre), Alexa Varah, a PhD student at the University of Reading, presented some of her work on agroforestry. She introduced us to the concept of growing trees on land primarily used for arable crop production, highlighting some of the benefits - reduced soil loss, reduced water loss, nutrient mining and the possibility of nitrogen fixation. Some preliminary results suggest that the use of trees may improve crop yield and quality, and also encourage greater insect biodiversity. With an assured manner and engaging delivery, it was clear to see why Alexa was a worthy winner.

The second speaker was Dr Deborah Keith, Head of External Collaborations and Adjacent Technologies at Syngenta, who discussed the use of open innovation in commercial R&D. The principle of this concept is to harness the knowledge, expertise and creativity of both the company's staff and people in the wider scientific community, in order to innovate.

Dr Keith believes that in today's markets open innovation is essential to establish and maintain a competitive advantage. She noted that the concept has been a little slow to take-off in agribusiness, but has been adopted in other fields like pharma - with collaborations between GSK and McLaren Group, and AstraZeneca and Jaguar, and with the online game Foldit being used to solve protein-folding problems. The website ideaconnection.com is one forum that encourages such knowledge transfer, whilst Syngenta has its own (links below).

The event concluded with a number of BioResources Group members presenting posters of their research.

Some exciting group events will be taking place later this year and early next. These will include conferences on mitigating greenhouse gases in agriculture, control of vector borne diseases and processing ligno-cellulosic biomass, and possibly neonicotinoid insecticides. We hope to see many of you there.

Philip Sellars,
SCI BioResources Group

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