New Phytologist next generation scientists 2017

In a guest post for the New Phyt blog, Plant epigeneticist Matthias Benoit sums up his experience of the New Phytologist next generation scientists 2017 meeting. Check out the website for the latest updates from the meeting.

Set in the world-class John Innes Conference Centre (JIC) in Norwich, UK, New Phytologist next generation scientists 2017 (#NPNextGen on Twitter), held on 24–26 July, attracted over 100 Early Career Researchers (ECRs) in plant sciences as well as established leading scientists from all over the world. This three-day meeting covered a wide variety of cutting-edge research topics in plant sciences, through seven plenary lectures, nine talks including Tansley Medal winners from 2014 and 2015, five poster flash talks and more than a hundred posters. In addition, there were also two career-development workshops tailored for ECRs, focused on publishing and ethics, and featuring panellists from editorial boards, publishers and COPE (Committee On Publication Ethics –

The seven plenary speakers covered a wide range of hot topics ongoing in plant sciences. Caroline Dean (John Innes Centre) gave the opening plenary discussing how molecular genetic approaches used in Arabidopsis have allowed a better understanding of the epigenetic basis of vernalization. David Beerling (University of Sheffield) amazed the audience with his lecture on how harnessing croplands could be used to tackle climate change and food security.

Image: David Beerling presenting at #NPnextgen 2017
David Beerling presenting at #NPnextgen 2017

Liam Dolan (University of Oxford) described the evolution of rooting systems for over 100 million years using a combination of palaeontology, genetics and development in order to understand how plants successfully colonised land. Dominique Bergmann (Stanford University) discussed recent evidences for stomata adaptation to environmental changes as well as rewiring of transcription factor networks to produce new stomata patterns in grasses. Beverley Glover (University of Cambridge) showcased her group’s work on understanding the influence of petals on pollinator behaviour. With a combination of developmental genetics, evolutionary and behavioural approaches, her work pinpoints tight co-evolution between plants and pollinators.

Image: Beverly Glover presenting at #NPnextgen 2017
Beverley Glover presenting at #NPnextgen 2017

June Medford (Colorado State University) presented her stunning work in synthetic biology focusing on using plants as phytodetectors and engineering plants for a potential synthetic desalination circuit. The final plenary lecture was given by Ian Baldwin (Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology). In this highly stimulating and engaging talk inspired from his own personal experience, he discussed what it takes to be an ECR today, and how we should nurture our curiosity and love towards science.

I particularly enjoyed the talks from the Tansley Medal winners 2014 and 2015, William Anderegg (University of Utah) and Alexander Jones (Sainsbury Laboratory Cambridge University). William Anderegg discussed the latest advances in the predictive understanding of plant responses to drought, while Alexander Jones presented recent data describing the importance of gibberellin for plant growth patterning using phytohormone biosensors.

Of particular interest to me were the talks by Jonathan Cocker (John Innes Centre) for his original work on floral heteromorphy in Primula, Scott Hayes (Utrecht University) on the intimate link between soil salinity and shade-avoidance, Charlotte Gommers (CRAG) for her engaging talk on the regulation of photomorphogenesis at the chromatin level, Peter Marhavy (University of Lausanne) for his presentation about cell-to-cell communication in wounded Arabidopsis roots and finally Ann Carla Staver (Yale University) for her work on the evolution on flammability among grasses.

Altogether the second New Phytologist next generation scientists meeting was a wonderful success. This meeting concentrated everything ECRs are looking for – there were engaging discussions, exciting cutting edge research, great diversity of topics and plenty of opportunities for interactions with leading scientists. Congratulations to the poster prize winner Matouš Glanc, PhD student in Jiri Friml’s lab (IST) for his on work on the re-establishment of cell polarity following cell division, as well as the runner-up Gabriela Doria (University of Cambridge) for her work on petal epidermal morphology and plant-pollinator interaction. The success of this meeting is largely due to the fantastic job of the organising committee as well as funding from the New Phytologist Trust, and Wiley, allowing ECRs from all over the world to attend this meeting. They have our gratitude for the engagement required in organising such an event. The New Phytologist next generation scientists meetings will definitely become a landmark in nurturing the ECR community worldwide.

Matthias Benoit

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