Presidents Letter: A Challenging Time to Assume the Presidency
A Challenging Time to Assume the Presidency
BY HARRY KLEE
University of Florida
It seems like only yesterday that the members of ASPB entrusted me with the presidency. My year as president-elect has flown by. When I was elected, I wondered, what exactly does a president-elect actually do, and is it necessary? A year later, I am pleased to say that the system devised by my predecessors is amazingly effective. It took literally a year for me to understand the breadth of the Society, the roles of its many committees, the budget process, and the amazing job done by the permanent staff.
My year started off when I was thrust into the Program Committee before I was even officially the president-elect. I am still in awe at how hard this committee, led by Alice Harmon (and now Andrew Bent), works with the staff to organize virtually every aspect of the annual meeting. That meeting is our showcase, and a tremendous amount of work goes into every little detail.
No sooner is the annual meeting planning finished than the president-elect is tasked with appointing members to sit on all of the governance and award committees. But of course, to do that, you must understand what all of these committees actually do. It was a wonderful experience to meet with all of the chairs of the governance committees in Honolulu, hear their perspectives, and see what each committee is doing to fulfill the Society’s mission.
This is a very special Society, in large part because of the voluntary contribution of time by its members. Committee members and chairs do a tremendous amount of work because they believe they can make a difference. To appreciate just how special ASPB is, you should know that of the dozens of people I recruited for committee service this past summer, not a single person turned me down. There is a special sense of community among our members, and I am very grateful for that.
And now my real work begins. I inherited a very challenging time to assume the presidency. You will certainly hear more details in upcoming letters. But let me touch on a few of the focal points for me in the next year.
Membership has been declining by, on average, 5% per year over the past several years. This is very disturbing, and I want to understand why this is occurring and what we can do to halt the trend. We are a very diverse Society, covering public and private educational institutions of all sizes, government, nonprofits, and industry. Fully one-third of our membership now resides outside the United States. We are not just an “American” society. We need to understand what drives people to join ASPB, what they value in membership, and why, all too often, they choose not to renew their membership. We must understand what you, as members, value in our Society and deliver the best possible product to you.
Historically, membership fees and publications have supported all of the good work we do. Journal subscription revenues help keep the lights on. But the journal landscape is changing rapidly. There is increased competition from for-profit journals for the best submissions. And the increasing emphasis on open access puts us ever closer to a tipping point after which libraries will no longer pay for subscriptions. All of this means that we need to find new sources of revenue to continue to deliver all of the products you expect from us. Those new revenues, in turn, incur start-up costs that strain the bottom line. How we reinvent our Society is intimately tied to membership, and the products you expect from us and the choices we make today will impact the Society for many years.
We spend much effort representing the plant biology community nationally and globally. It has become somewhat of a cliché to say that these are trying times for science. But I believe that having a strong voice for plant science is one of our most important duties. We have a vigorous and not inexpensive effort in place to educate our legislators, their aides, and you about issues regarding science policy. ASPB has been and must continue to be a leader in advocacy not just for plant biology, but for all science.
Over the next year, you will hear more from me on all of these topics. Please be an active participant in ASPB and in all aspects of public policy. Be a part of the solution to the challenges we face together.
A Look Back at the First Season of the TapRoot Podcast
A Look Back at the First Season of the TapRoot Podcast
July 2017 marked the debut of a new podcast that digs beneath the surface to describe how plant science publications are created. The TapRoot Podcast was developed and is hosted by Elizabeth (Liz) Haswell (Washington University in St. Louis) and Ivan Baxter (USDA–ARS Plant Genetics Research Unit, Donald Danforth Plant Sciences Center, and editor-in-chief, Plant Direct [plantdirectjournal.org]). Each episode focuses on a primary research article from the plant biology literature. Ivan and Liz discuss both the science and the story behind the science with their guest, an author of the article.
Through this podcast, the hosts expose early-career scientists to the real world of scientific publications. Behind every article are other narratives that aren’t represented in the final manuscript—stories of perseverance, serendipity, humor, integrity, and resilience. They are the experiences of individuals and teams, of following your instincts or living your principles, of inspiration and discouragement.
In the first season, Ivan and Liz chatted with six scientists.
EPISODE 1 Extreme Open Science and the Meaning of Scientific Impact, with Sophien Kamoun
In Episode 1, the hosts talk with Sophien Kamoun, senior scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, U.K. They discuss a collaborative article (Islam et al., 2016) that embodies the concepts of open science. It addressed the source and characterization of a newly discovered Bangladeshi wheat blast and showed that RNA from the infected leaves from Bangladesh aligns with the genome of a Brazilian wheat blast strain. The authors concluded that the Bangladeshi isolate of wheat blast is phylogenetically related to the Brazilian wheat blast, rather than an unknown or new lineage.
Listen to this episode at https://tinyurl.com/yaqs6gqv to hear Sophien, Ivan, and Liz discuss the science in this article, how the project started, and how it developed into a peer-reviewed publication. Also discussed is the importance of redefining what is meant by scientific impact and new ways to do science in the plant pathology community and beyond.
EPISODE 2 Normalizing Nomenclature and the Idealism of Youth, with Carolyn Lawrence-Dill
In Episode 2, Ivan and Liz talk with Carolyn Lawrence-Dill, associate professor of genetics, development, and cell biology and of agronomy at Iowa State University. They discuss an article (Lawrence et al., 2004) from Carolyn’s grad school days that has a great back story about how to bring a large number of people together to agree on a common system of nomenclature. It turns out that this is both important and challenging to do, and the conversation touches on egos, politics, and grad student projects.
Listen to this episode at https://tinyurl.com/ybzyvb8v to hear Carolyn explain why she felt compelled to take on this “kind of crazy” project and how she navigated conventions, egos, and standard protocol to make the changes in her field that she knew needed to be made.
EPISODE 3 Academia, Industry, and Pivoting on Projects, with Luca Comai
In Episode 3, Ivan and Liz talk with Luca Comai, professor of plant biology at the Genome Center at University of California, Davis. They discuss an article (Koenig et al., 1992) published as part of Luca’s transition from industry to academia that he feels illustrates a mistake he made in choosing a research direction. They talk about the power and the peril of striking out in new research directions, and Luca gives advice on grant writing.
Listen to this episode at https://tinyurl.com/yau4284l to hear Luca, who won the 2017 ASPB Innovation Prize for Agricultural Technology, share stories and wisdom drawn from over 30 years of experience in both industry and academia.
EPISODE 4 Embracing Uncertainty in Science and Science Careers, with Siobhan Braybrook
In Episode 4, Ivan and Liz talk with Siobhan Braybrook, a newly appointed assistant professor of molecular, cell, and developmental biology at University of California, Los Angeles. They discuss two articles (Braybrook and Peaucelle, 2013; Peaucelle et al., 2011) as a launching point for a conversation about how to handle the gray areas of science such as doubt and impact and how they affect scientific careers.
Listen to this episode at https://tinyurl.com/ydhhtq9x to hear Siobhan describe her recipes for balancing research career steps with real-world concerns, as well as her famous Kanban boards.
EPISODE 5 Finding GLOry: The Power of New Technology to Spur Innovation, with José Dinneny
In Episode 5, Ivan and Liz talk with José Dinneny, a staff member at the Carnegie Institute for Sciences in Palo Alto, California. They discuss an article (Rellán-Álvarez et al., 2015) that describes a novel system for imaging root growth that balances the need for visualization with the need for more physiological growth conditions.
Listen to this episode at https://tinyurl.com/y7kpolmo to hear what inspired José to tackle the challenge of developing the GLO-Root system, how methodical trial and error as well as serendipity led to the final technology, and how this system is at the forefront of a range of new technologies for studying roots.
EPISODE 6 Population Genetics, Authorship Lists, and Work–Life Balance, with Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra
In this episode, Ivan and Liz talk with Jeffrey Ross-Ibarra, professor in the Department of Plant Sciences and faculty member of the Center for Population Biology and the Genome Center at University of California, Davis. They discuss an article (Hufford et al., 2012) from Jeff’s lab that illustrates the pros and cons of planning authorship lists in advance.
Listen to this episode at https://tinyurl.com/y9mkgq3f to hear honest discussion about publishing in high-impact journals as a pretenure professor and how Jeff’s lab members made deliberate trade-offs in work–life balance to get experiments done quickly.
Stay Tuned for a New Season
The enthusiasm with which this podcast has been received has convinced Ivan and Liz to plan another season. “We had six great conversations and are really looking forward to more next season,” said Ivan. The second season of the TapRoot Podcast is due out in early 2018.
The Time to Recognize and Honor Excellence Among Our Fellow Plant Scientists Is Approaching
The 2018 Call for Award Nominations will open to ASPB members on January 3, 2018. Nominations will be due by Wednesday, February 14. ASPB encourages you to participate in the 2018 awards program by nominating highly deserving individuals. For more information regarding past winners and the streamlined nomination process, please visit https://awards.aspb.org.
Awards to be given in 2018 include the Charles Albert Shull Award, the Charles F. Kettering Award, the Charles Reid Barnes Life Membership Award, the Corresponding Membership Award, the Dennis R. Hoagland Award, the Early Career Award, the Excellence in Education Award, the Fellow of ASPB Award, the Lawrence Bogorad Award for Excellence in Plant Biology Research, the Robert Rabson Award, and the Stephen Hales Prize.
Support for Early-Career Researchers
Support for Early-Career Researchers
ASPB has been working hard on several new and continuing initiatives to support early-career researchers. The following are some of these initiatives:
The Plant Cell Profiles of First Authors
For several years, The Plant Cell has invited the first authors of articles selected for coverage in an In Brief to submit a first author profile (https://tinyurl.com/ycpoqmr7). Since 2015, these first author profiles have been featured in monthly compilations on our blogs. Beginning this autumn, each profile is posted individually, and in recognition of the important contributions that all first authors make to the discipline, this popular option has been extended to the first authors of all articles accepted for publication in The Plant Cell.
Plantae Community Pages and Networks
The community pages (https://community.plantae.org) of Plantae.org provide a place for plant scientists to share resources and network. The community is open to all, and we’re working with several scientists to develop interest-based networks. For example, we’re starting a network for the sharing of Methods and Protocols (see the call for contributions at https://tinyurl.com/yb9clfdu). In the next few weeks we’ll also be rolling out networks focused on Abiotic Responses, Careers in Industry, and other topics. If you haven’t yet, fill in your profile and explore the networks. If you don’t see a network that reflects your interests, email community manager Melanie Binder (email@example.com) about starting one!
Travel Awards for Plant Biology Meetings
Although not exclusively awarded to early-career scientists, most Plant Biology travel awardees are students and postdocs. Applications for travel awards are due December 6, 2017. See more at https://aspb-travelgrants.secure-platform.com/a/.
Women’s Young Investigator Travel Award
The goal of the Women’s Young Investigator Travel Award program is to increase attendance of female investigators who are within the first five years of their appointment in academic faculty-level positions, government research positions, or industry research scientist positions, as well as experienced postdocs. Applications must be submitted by December 13, 2017. For more information, see https://aspb-wyita.secure-platform.com/a/.
Discounted Registration Fees at ASPB-Supported Meetings
It may seem like you’ve just finished shaking the sand out of your shoes from Plant Biology 2017 in Hawaii, but it’s time to start thinking about Plant Biology 2018 (plantbiology.aspb.org). To be held in beautiful, historic Montreal, Quebec, July 14–18, 2018, Plant Biology 2018 will be jointly hosted by ASPB (www.aspb.org), the Canadian Society of Plant Biologists/Société canadienne de biologie végétale (http://www.cspb-scbv.ca/about.shtml), and the International Society of Photosynthesis Research (photosynthesis research.org).
Genome Evolution Gibbs Medal Symposium
Organized by Ralph Bock. Featuring talks from Eva Nowack, Jeffrey D. Palmer, and Pamela S. Soltis
Translational Science ASPB President’s Symposium
Organized by Harry Klee. Featuring talks from Ian Graham, Marty Yanofsky, David Mackill, and Sherri Brown
Opening Research Avenues Through New Technologies
Organized by Anja Geitmann and Phil Taylor
Ecophysiology of Photosynthesis from the Leaf to Global Scale
Organized by Tom Sharkey
Cell Biology and Development: From Transcription to the Cell Wall CSPB President’s Symposium
Organized by Geoff Wasteneys. Featuring talks from Elizabeth Haswell, Mark Estelle, Daphne Goring, and Karin Schumaker
Join the Plantae Network (https://tinyurl.com/y8ojj45x) for ASPB conferences, follow #plantbio18 on Twitter, and keep an eye on developments in the Plant Biology 2018 program.
Register and submit your abstract, keeping in mind these key dates:
Early December 2017: Registration and abstract submission open
February 19, 2017: Last day to submit an abstract to be considered for a talk
July 14–18, 2018: Plant Biology 2018, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
Travel Grant and Awards for Plant Biology 2018
ASPB 2018 Sharon Gray Women’s Young Investigator Travel Award Program for Plant Biology 2018 in Montreal, Canada Travel grant applications for eligible women are now being accepted.
The submission deadline is December 13, 2017.
All applications must be submitted electronically at https://wyita.aspb.org.
Recipients will be notified by mid-January.
ASPB Recognition Travel Award Program for Plant Biology 2018 in Montreal, Canada
Travel grant applications for eligible candidates are being accepted now.
The submission deadline is January 31, 2018.
All applications must be submitted electronically at https://rta.aspb.org.
Recipients will be notified by April.
ASPB Travel Grant Program for Plant Biology 2018 in Montreal, Canada
Travel grant applications are now being accepted.
The submission deadline is December 6, 2017.
All applications must be submitted electronically at https://travelgrants.aspb.org.
Recipients will be notified by mid-January.
ASPB Salutes Legacy Society Founding Members
ASPB Salutes Legacy Society Founding Members
ASPB launched its Legacy Society in 2016 by inviting current and former leaders to commit to donating $5,000 each. The generosity and commitment of these Founding Members, listed below, are greatly appreciated, and the Society looks forward to extending the invitation to join the Legacy Society as a Founding Member to Emeritus, Corresponding, and Life Members, as well as those who first joined the Society 30 or more years ago. Investment income generated by Legacy Society funds will be used to support innovative programs and activities at ASPB related to education and outreach, publishing, community expansion and engagement, and, of course, professional development for future generations of plant biologists.
Full or partial donations and legacy commitments have been received as of October 30, 2017, from the following Founding Members:
Mary Lou Guerinot
ASPB/AAAS 2018 Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program
ASPB/AAAS 2018 Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program
Are you interested in science writing? Do you want to help people understand complex scientific issues?
Apply for the ASPB/AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellows Program and learn how to increase public understanding of science and technology. Fellows in the 10-week 2018 summer program will work as reporters, researchers, and production assistants in mass media organizations nationwide. Deadline: January 15, 2018.
Some former host sites CNN en Español Discover magazine KQED Science The Los Angeles Times The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel National Geographic National Public Radio (NPR) NOVA PBS NewsHour The Raleigh News & Observer Scientific American Slate Smithsonian Magazine STAT Univision Voice of America The Washington Post Wired Magazine
Gloria Coruzzi Appointed Distinguished Counselor at New York Botanical Garden
Gloria Coruzzi Appointed Distinguished Counselor at New York Botanical Garden
The New York Botanical Garden is a world leader in plant research and conservation, using traditional and cutting-edge tools to discover, understand, and preserve Earth’s vast botanical diversity.
On November 16, ASPB member Gloria Coruzzi, New York University, will be inducted as a Distinguished Counselor to the Board of the New York Botanical Garden (NYBG). Distinguished Counselors represent the fields of botany, plant science, horticulture, and education, the principal areas of focus of the NYBG. Gloria’s professional accomplishments in the field of plant science and her work as a collaborator with, and friend to, the NYBG faculty for many years were key factors in this appointment. Gloria added a few words of her own about NYBG and this recent honor:
“It has been my extreme pleasure to advise NYBG on its Pfizer Plant Genomics program since its inception. I have also had the pleasure of collaborating with NYBG scientists in plant science and education through an NSF training grant, and on genome projects funded by NSF Plant Genome and a recent DOE–BER sustainability grant. Our collaborative work to develop phylogenomic approaches to discover and explain the genes that underlie plant biodiversity is an accomplishment that none of us could have done in isolation; it involved working together as a team of plant systematists in field and lab, plant genomicists, and bioinformaticians.
“I am overwhelmed by the honorary appointment as Distinguished Counselor to the Board of the New York Botanical Garden. I am especially humbled to be on a list that includes such luminaries in science and education as E. O. Wilson; Sir Ghillean Prance, FRS, VMH; Sir Peter Crane, FRS; Vartan Gregorian, PhD; Helen Dillon; Penelope Hobhouse, VMH; and the late Oliver Sacks.”
ASPB members share a common goal of promoting the growth, development, and outreach of plant biology as a pure and applied science. This column features some of the dedicated and innovative members of ASPB who believe that membership in our Society is crucial to the future of plant biology. If you are interested in contributing to this feature, please contact ASPB Membership at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Title: Graduate Student Place of Work or School: United Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences, Iwate University, Japan Member Since: 2015 Research Area: Plant hormones, root development, model plant Arabidopsis thaliana
What would you tell colleagues to encourage them to join ASPB?
I especially encourage undergrads to become a student member of ASPB because it is the largest community of plant biologists and has two of the best plant science journals, The Plant Cell and Plant Physiology. The annual Plant Biology meeting is an awesome place to meet people, and having a travel grant to join this meeting was an excellent opportunity for a young researcher like me.
Was someone instrumental in getting you to join ASPB?
I used to follow ASPB, The Plant Cell, and Plant Physiology via Twitter. It seems really cool to me to be part of this. Later, I observed that my supervisor, Dr. Abidur Rahman, received the ASPB News. He inspired me to become a member of ASPB and the Japanese Society of Plant Physiologists (JSPP).
Why has being a member of ASPB been important?
It is like a family, in that we help and get support from others at the same time. Because of ASPB, I’ve connected with lots of researchers, postdocs, and students like me. I’m working as a graduate student ambassador, and it is helping me make connections for my future career. I translated My Life as a Plant into my native language (Bengali) hoping to encourage schoolchildren to become plant biologists in the future. I received a travel grant fellowship this year for Plant Biology 2017 and was really excited to meet some well-known researchers in person for the first time. None of these things would have happened without being a member of ASPB!
How has being a member of ASPB helped you in your career?
I became a member at the beginning of my graduate study, which I think was the perfect time. The most amazing thing was getting access to The Plant Cell and Plant Physiology. Through my involvement in ASPB as a graduate student ambassador, I have interacted with prominent scientists, which would literally have been impossible by any other means. These connections may help me go further after the PhD.
What advice would you give to a plant scientist just starting out?
Observation is the key to everything. Everyone does science, uses the same plant materials, and has access to technologies, but not everyone can take their story to Nature, Science, or Cell. After reading high-impact journals, one realizes that one can also do the same work, but the way one observes an event and applies critical thinking to experiment design determines whether one produces good science or merely average observations. Keep in touch with your plants, observe what’s going on, keep going when things get tough, and persevere when no one else believes what you are trying to explain. Eventually, you will succeed.
What person, living or deceased, do you most admire? Why?
Three people and three events have inspired me. The first is the observation of phototropism by Charles Darwin. I recommend the book The Power of Movement in Plants by Charles Darwin and his son Francis to every student.
The second is the discovery of the principles of genetics by Gregor Mendel. The way most textbooks represent his story is quite awful. People should read how he combined his knowledge of biology with statistical analysis along with rigorous observation. Being a biologist doesn’t mean we can avoid mathematics, statistics, and computing.
Last is the discovery of transposons by Barbara McClintock. The comprehensive biography A Feeling for the Organism by Evelyn Fox Keller covers McClintock’s life and scientific insights. This book is inspiring for everyone. McClintock’s quote “If you know you are on the right track, if you have your inner knowledge, then nobody can turn you off, no matter what they say” helps me a lot when things are tough.
What are you reading these days?
I’m afraid that the answer is long. I read several books at the same time. Recently I finished the biography Born a Crime by Trevor Noah, comedian and host of The Daily Show, and a book of poems, Egghead: Or, You Can’t Survive on Ideas Alone by Bo Burnham, comedian, poet, and singer. I’m trying to read a political book, Ahmadinejad: The Secret History of Iran’s Radical Leader, by Kasra Naji. It’s tough to get insights because of my lack of background in that field. An amazing book about writing is The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker.
Sometimes on weekends, I like to read fiction. I’m reading a collection of short stories, Nocturnes, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Recently I learned from Joe Kieber’s interview (ASPB News, July/August 2016, p. 12) that fellow ASPB member Eric Schaller is also a fiction writer. I was so excited I started his book Meet Me in the Middle of the Air and hoped to get his autograph during Plant Biology 2017 in Hawaii. Because of similar research interests, I follow both Joe Kieber and Eric Schaller. It’s amazing to read scientific and fiction writing by the same writer. Finally, I keep track of all recent journal articles and try to keep myself up-to-date on recent research. I like the ASPB blog series “What We’re Reading” by Mary Williams.
What are your hobbies?
I love to watch football (“soccer,” as you say) and am a great fan of Real Madrid. I feel that the life of a researcher is like that of a professional footballer; we move from lab to lab as a postdoc, work, and learn until we end up as principal investigators. As I said, I spend a good amount of time reading. Over the past few years, I’ve been trying to spread my own words through blogging about plant science at www.aribidopsis.com. I also play cricket during summer weekends and badminton with lab mates twice a week.
What do you think is the most important discovery in plant biology over the past year?
EIN2-directed translation regulation of ethylene signaling seems one of the major areas of work to me. I may like this work more than anything else because I am biased and inclined toward ethylene signaling. The impressive work of two groups, those of Hongwei Guo and José M. Alonso, was published in the same issue of Cell (Vol. 163, Issue 3, 2015). I was glad to attend a talk and spend some quality time with Hongwei Guo after that publication during the JSPP annual meeting in March 2016.
What do you think is the next “big thing” in plant biology?
Undoubtedly, CRISPR has huge promise for plant biologists. Big data from phenomics, genomics, and proteomics will open other paths for plant biologists to explore. Obviously, the next big thing in science is unpredictable. We should work hard “not for prizes, but for surprises,” as we learned from the movie Piled Higher and Deeper 2 (https://www.phdmovie.com/).
What do you still have to learn?
I have basic knowledge about coding in C, Python, and R. I wish I could master programming skills to build some tools on my own. I really love mathematics. I would love to spend some time off at some point to fit my real-life experimental data into mathematical equations. That’s the thing I dream of learning and doing in the future.
BY LAUREN BROCCOLI
Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC
House Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on University Research
On June 22, the House Committee on Agriculture held a hearing on university research. Whereas the Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on June 15 (detailed below) featured a panel of USDA federal officials, the House hearing focused exclusively on university leaders and the challenges and opportunities of agricultural academic research.
Witnesses included Robert Duncan, Texas Tech University System chancellor; Jacqueline Burns, dean for research, University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; Glenda Humiston, vice president, Agriculture and Natural Resources, University of California, Oakland; Walter Hill, vice provost for land grant affairs at Tuskegee University; Steven Tallant, president, Texas A&M University–Kingsville; and Carrie Billy, president and CEO, American Indian Higher Education Consortium.
In his opening remarks, Chairman Michael Conaway (R-TX) emphasized the role that universities play as drivers of innovation and efficiency. Unlike the bipartisan discourse in the Senate hearing regarding maintaining funding for USDA research programs despite the president’s fiscal year (FY) 2018 budget request, committee leadership did not posture on the budget. Chairman Conaway mentioned the $104 billion savings achieved by the 2014 Farm Bill and alluded to the agriculture community having already achieved austerity measures for many programs. Ranking member Colin Peterson (D-MN) emphasized that agricultural research at universities is the foundation of agricultural innovation for the country.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D-MA) was the exception, offering a scathing statement on the proposed cuts to USDA research, specifically the 17 ARS facilities that were proposed for termination. He questioned the panel on the importance of these collaborations and cited the Senate hearing testimony from ARS administrator Chavonda Jacobs-Young about the necessity of these collaborations to meet the USDA mission.
Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL), chair of the Research Subcommittee, questioned Burns on both the safety and promise of biotechnologies, an exchange that highlighted gene editing and CRISPR as safe technologies that are being used to address citrus diseases and would be key to producing more nutritious foods. Chairman Davis most recently announced a new bipartisan Agriculture Research Caucus cochaired by another member of the committee, Rep. Jimmy Panetta (D-CA).
Reps. Ted Yoho (R-FL) and Tim Walz (D-MN) made statements regarding public perception of GMOs and inquired whether academic researchers were addressing the disconnect with the general public. Rep. Rick Crawford’s (R-AR) exchange with Chancellor Duncan emphasized the need to increase funding for the capacity-building grants for the Non–Land Grant Colleges of Agriculture (NLGCA) program. Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA) stated his intent to increase the NLGCA authorization and to modify the multistate requirement for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative. Finally, Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL) inquired about the impact on academic research if a proposed 10% cap was instituted on the indirect costs of USDA research grants.
Witnesses’ testimony touched on a wide range of topics but emphasized deferred maintenance costs and recommended that the next Farm Bill authorize a dedicated infrastructure funding stream that would require matching funds. Many of the witnesses discussed the need for additional programs that support diversity in agricultural sciences and workforce development for Hispanic-serving institutions. With respect to the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative, many commented on the need to work with appropriators to achieve funding at the authorized level.
Senate Agriculture Committee Holds Hearing on Agriculture Research
On June 15, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry held a hearing on federally funded agricultural research at USDA, the fourth in a series of Farm Bill–related hearings this past year. The hearing consisted of two panels. The first comprised USDA officials and academic researchers, including Ann Bartuska, acting deputy undersecretary for Research, Education, and Economics (REE), USDA; Sonny Ramaswamy, director, National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), USDA; Chavonda Jacobs-Young, administrator, ARS, USDA; and Sally Rockey, executive director, Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR).
In his opening remarks, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) praised agricultural research as the backbone of agricultural productivity and a necessity in preparing for the demands of a growing global population, and he acknowledged the importance of strong public–private partnerships in the strained federal funding environment. Both Chairman Roberts and Senate Agriculture Appropriations Chairman John Hoeven (R-ND) were critical of the president’s FY2018 budget request, which proposed drastic cuts to the REE mission area, including a 22% cut to ARS, the proposed closure of ARS facilities, and the elimination of several NIFA programs. Senator Hoeven offered blunt remarks stating the importance of agricultural research and his intent to continue support for these research programs. Nearly all members of the committee were in attendance and expressed universal support for federal investments in agriculture research, pressing witnesses to explain proposed cuts that would have significant impacts on their constituents.
Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO) expressed outrage at the proposed cuts to ARS as an “insult” and a “war on agriculture.” He pressed Jacobs-Young to explain the proposed closure of the ARS facility in Colorado, one of 17 included in the budget request. Jacobs-Young noted that the decision to cut or eliminate ARS facilities was “data driven” based on the following criteria: minimizing the impact on ARS employees, preserving ARS infrastructure, and maintaining a balanced portfolio. Sen. Bennet emphasized that the proposal, regardless of being data driven, would not be supported by him or other committee members. Chairman Roberts voiced his support for the exchange, stating that “the president proposes, and Congress disposes.”
Similarly, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) inquired about the proposed cut for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, a NIFA program that supports research on emerging animal diseases. Ramaswamy responded that the federal government dedicates $75 billion to cybersecurity efforts, but USDA programs that support the security of the food supply amount to only $38 million, which would be largely insufficient in the event of an attack or pathogen outbreak. Sen. Klobuchar also questioned Jacobs-Young about emerging plant science techniques, such as the phenomics research being conducted at the University of Minnesota. Jacobs-Young spoke about agriculture being a high-tech industry, the importance of developing data that can “speed up the process,” and the reasons all the -omics are important to agricultural innovation.
Notably, during Rockey’s oral testimony, she indicated that by the end of the year, FFAR will have awarded a total of $100 million, half of the $200 million in mandatory funding that created FFAR in the 2014 Farm Bill. Chairman Roberts questioned Rockey about plans to generate new money to be sustainable, to which Rockey responded that FFAR is working on this but that the model developed in the last Farm Bill works best with additional federal investment.
The second panel of academics and industry representatives included John Floros, dean and director, College of Agriculture and K-State Research and Extension, Kansas State University; Gary McMurray, division chief, Food Processing Technology Division, Georgia Tech Research Institute; Kerry Hartman, academic dean and sciences chair, Environmental Sciences, Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College; and Steve Wellman, farmer, Wellman Farms. Testimony illustrated the importance of USDA’s relationship with land grant institutions through formula funding, as well as opportunities through the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) for non–land grant institutions to be competitive. Most notably, McMurray’s testimony emphasized the need for an Advanced Research Projects Agency–Agriculture to support large, multidisciplinary projects.
The hearing captured the continued growing bipartisan support for USDA agricultural research, evident in the $25 million increase for the AFRI program for FY2017 and the recent establishment of a new, bipartisan Agriculture Research Caucus in the House. The Trump administration had not yet announced nominees for either undersecretary of REE or USDA chief scientist, and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue had not made specific comments on agricultural research to date.
Trump Announces Sam Clovis as USDA REE Undersecretary Nominee
The Trump administration announced Sam Clovis as the nominee for USDA undersecretary of Research, Education, and Economics (REE). The undersecretary of REE oversees the National Institute of Food and Agriculture and is technically the USDA chief scientist, a position that requires Senate confirmation.
The 2008 Farm Bill mandates the qualifications of chief scientist as a “[leader] among distinguished scientists with specialized or significant experience in agricultural research, education and economics.” Clovis holds a PhD in public administration from the University of Alabama and was a conservative radio host before joining the Trump campaign and serving as USDA adviser during the transition. On July 24, a coalition of 22 commodity groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, the American Soybean Association, and the National Corn Growers Association sent a letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee formally endorsing Clovis’s nomination and urging the committee to confirm him.
Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) released a statement citing “concerns” with Clovis’s qualifications and noted a “troubling view on climate change.” Additionally, Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) alluded to Clovis’s past statements that crop insurance was unconstitutional and stated that any nominee with those views “might as well not show up” before the committee. USDA secretary Sonny Perdue has formally endorsed Clovis’s nomination.
FY2018 Appropriations Update
Entering August, the House of Representatives passed four of the 12 FY2018 spending bills in a minibus package that included the FY2018 Energy and Water Development appropriations bill (detailed below). The remaining eight appropriations bills had been approved in committee. Meanwhile, the Senate Appropriations Committee approved six of its FY2018 spending bills. Congress was to remain in recess until after Labor Day, returning to Washington with only 12 legislative days before the new fiscal year begins October 1. Congress was expected to pass a short-term continuing resolution to avoid a government shutdown and attempt to negotiate a bipartisan budget agreement that would allow FY2018 bills to progress.
Provided below are topline funding levels for both the House and Senate FY2018 appropriations bills that fund federal agencies of interest to ASPB.
House FY2018 Appropriations Bills
Agriculture: The National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) would receive $1.34 billion, a 1.6% decrease compared with the FY2017 enacted level of $1.36 billion. The House bill would reject the president’s proposed closure of 17 ARS facilities and laboratories and would provide $1.192 billion to ARS overall, a 6.1% cut compared with the FY2017 enacted level. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive flat funding of $375 million, a $25 million increase compared with the FY2016 level and the president’s proposed FY2018 level.
Energy and Water: Basic Energy Sciences (BES) would receive flat funding compared with FY2017. Climate and earth sciences were not targeted for cuts; although the bill proposes a $30 million reduction compared with the FY2017 enacted level for the Biological and Environmental Research (BER) program, it does not specify how the cuts would be applied. The Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) would be terminated.
Commerce, Justice, Science: NSF would receive $7.34 billion, 1.8% below the FY2017 level but $686.6 million above the president’s FY2018 budget request. Research and Related Activities would be flat, whereas Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction would be reduced by 63%.
Senate FY2018 Appropriations Bills
Agriculture: NIFA would be funded at a level of $1.37 billion, a $10.3 million or 0.8% increase compared with FY2017. It is also 2.4% higher than the House mark. AFRI would receive flat funding of $375 million, consistent with the House bill. ARS would receive $1.18 billion for salary and expenses, a decrease from the FY2017 enacted level of $1.27 billion and slightly lower than the House mark of $1.19 billion. It would also reject the proposed closure of 17 labs and facilities.
Energy and Water: BER would receive $633 million, or 3.4% above FY2017 and $51 million above the House bill. The Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences subprogram would also be funded at $188 million above the request. ARPA-E would receive $330 million, an increase of $24 million compared with the FY2017 enacted level, and in sharp contrast to the House bill that proposes eliminating the agency. BES would receive $1.98 billion, $108.8 million or 5.8% above the FY2017 enacted level and the House bill.
Commerce, Justice, Science: NSF would receive $7.31 billion, 2.2% below the FY2017 level but $658 million above the president’s FY2018 budget request. Research and Related Activities and Education and Human Resources would both be reduced by 2% compared with the House and FY2017 levels, and the Senate would fully fund construction projects under the Major Research Equipment and Facilities Construction account.
To see bill text and report language, visit the Senate Appropriations Committee at http://bit.ly/2gQ9rUw.
Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act Signed into Law
On June 30, President Trump signed the Securing Our Agriculture and Food Act into law, which directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to coordinate agroterrorism efforts. The bill was introduced by Rep. David Young (R-IA) in February and cosponsored by Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS) in response to the 2015 avian influenza outbreak.
The legislation amends the Homeland Security Act of 2002, directing DHS to coordinate programs to prepare and secure the country’s food, agricultural, and veterinary systems against terrorist attacks. The DHS assistant secretary for health affairs is directed to create a program that will integrate and provide oversight of domestic preparedness for food and agricultural systems. This effort includes coordinating screening procedures and leading policy objectives to increase DHS’s ability to respond to stakeholders and to agroterrorism.
ASPB Works with Other Ag Organizations to Forge Consensus Community Priorities for the Next Farm Bill
ASPB Works with Other Ag Organizations to Forge Consensus Community Priorities for the Next Farm Bill
BY TYRONE SPADY
Director of Legislative and Public Affairs
The agricultural research community, long recognized for both its diversity and its lack of cohesiveness with regard to advocacy, is coming together like never before. Early this year, ASPB led a group of prominent ag organizations, including the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities and the Supporters of Agricultural Research (SoAR), to organize a congressional exhibition of ag research that featured the work of researchers, educators, and extension specialists from across the country. This event and other community initiatives have laid the foundation for the community to better coordinate congressional advocacy in support of the research title of the next Farm Bill.
The Farm Bill is particularly important to the plant science community because it sets the policy and programmatic priorities and funding targets for most of the USDA Research, Education, and Economics (REE) mission area. These programs include the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and its Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) program, the Agricultural Research Service, the Office of the Chief Scientist, and other research-related units.
Among other provisions, the 2014 U.S. Farm Bill, formally known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, authorized $700 million for AFRI, an onerous matching requirement for non–land grant institutions receiving USDA grant dollars, and the creation of the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) with $200 million in matching funds. Although congressional appropriators failed to meet the funding goals of the 2014 Farm Bill, this was an important statement of priority and served as the basis for the steady growth of AFRI while other research programs across the federal government saw stagnant or reduced budgets. The take-home message: the Farm Bill is tremendously important to the ag research community!
Despite the hard-fought legislative victories that ASPB and other research-focused organizations were able to get included in the 2014 Farm Bill, the community has struggled to develop a cohesive set of priorities. Individual segments of the community instead have pursued more parochial interests, at times to the detriment of the other sectors of the ag research enterprise (the above-mentioned matching requirement is one example).
By contrast, the biomedical research community has traditionally operated in a much more coordinated and disciplined fashion, advocating for the entirety of the National Institutes of Health, the primary federal funder of U.S. biomedical research. Though one could argue that the NIH budget has ballooned to over $33 billion and at a more rapid rate than any of the other federal agencies supporting life science research for a complex variety of reasons, one can’t ignore the relative lack of public infighting within the biomedical research community.
But the ag community may finally be recognizing the importance of coming together in support of the whole. To this end, ASPB participated in a series of facilitated discussions as part of a broad coalition of food and ag organizations convened by SoAR with the goal of developing consensus community priorities for the next Farm Bill. The following 10 recommendations are the product of those efforts and will be shared with Congress:
1. Establish an annual $6 billion goal (in fiscal year 2019 dollars) for USDA food and agricultural research over FY2019–FY2023.
This figure would be expressed in the Farm Bill as the sum total funding of the following agencies and their respective programs: ARS, NIFA,
Economic Research Service, and National Agricultural Statistics Service.
The goal of $6 billion for USDA REE would double the baseline of each agency from the FY2017 enacted appropriations. Each agency would work with Congress to allocate their respective budgets across their programs and lines using measures of increased efficiency and high impact as guiding principles.
2. Renew and make permanent USDA competitive grant programs currently receiving direct mandatory Farm Bill funding.
Renew the permanently funded Specialty Crop Research Initiative at no less than its current $80 million annual direct funding level.
Renew both the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative with permanent direct funding set at no less than $50 million annually.
3. Renew FFAR with direct funding of $250 million, with $50 million obligated annually over FY2019–FY2023.
4. To increase the competitiveness and quality of applications, eliminate across-the-board matching requirements for competitive grants programs within NIFA currently selectively applied to some institutions.
5. Continue the current law designation of the REE undersecretary as the chief scientist of the department.
6. Establish a Strategic Investment Fund (SIF) to be under the direction of the REE undersecretary to improve collaboration in addressing emerging opportunities with respect to pressing social challenges, especially those requiring urgent emergency responses, those that may be high risk but have extraordinary potential impact, and those that require interdisciplinary systems approaches that involve more than one agency.
The SIF shall be funded via a 0.5% assessment on all NIFA and ARS funding, with the exception of NIFA capacity funding (including capacity grants for non–land grant colleges of agriculture) and ARS buildings and facilities, repair and maintenance, transfers, trust funds, and the National Agriculture Library.
SIF funding shall start in the first fiscal year in which the total funding increase (relative to FY2017 enacted levels) for the to-be-assessed funding lines exceeds the dollar amount of the assessment.
7. Retain the staff positions authorized by current law for the Office of the Chief Scientist as a means of increasing oversight and efficacy and avoiding potential research duplication. Clarify that these positions shall be filled through transfer of personnel from the program planning and evaluation offices and other appropriately trained personnel within the four REE agencies, with a term of service of at least three years, or through advertising and hiring through regular channels.
8. Establish enhanced stakeholder engagement opportunities on a no less than annual basis to strengthen the functioning and utility of the National Agricultural Research, Education, Extension, and Economics Advisory Board (NAREEEAB) and reinvigorate engagement of researchers and end users.
Expanded stakeholder sessions should be held on a rotating basis in different regions of the country, and the recommendations of the stakeholder sessions should be reviewed by the board, forwarded to the secretary along with additional recommendations of the board, and responded to by the secretary or deputy secretary within 60 days of submission as well as in person at the next board meeting.
Establish a new Science and Technology Assessment standing committee of the NAREEEAB to undertake the current law duty of the board. The Science and Technology Assessment committee should include no fewer than two members of the board, but also draw additional members from among experts in the field of science and technology assessment.
9. Mandate that the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (NASEM) produce a periodic report to identify scientific opportunities in food and agriculture and to institutionalize long-term strategic planning and priority setting for food and agricultural research.
This report should be undertaken every 10 years and include a midpoint assessment.
This report should be developed in conjunction with NAREEEAB and effectively engaged end users and other stakeholders.
10. Establish an Agricultural Cyberinfrastructure, Data, and Statistics Committee within the secretary of agriculture’s office for the purpose of building a national strategic vision for cyberinfrastructure, data, and statistics that enables use of the data for the benefit of producers, consumers, and taxpayers. The committee should include USDA leaders, subject matter experts in economics and other sciences, and strategic stakeholders.
ASPB Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF)
ASPB’s Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship (SURF) funds promising undergraduate students so they can conduct research in plant biology during the early part of their college careers. SURF recipients must present their research at ASPB’s annual Plant Biology meeting in the year following the fellowship award.
Application is open to all full-time undergraduate students in a degree-granting program. Students completing their second year are preferred, but well-prepared first- and third-year students who provide evidence of a strong interest in plant biology may apply as well. Undergraduates needing more or less than the standard four years to earn a degree may still be eligible. International students or students following nontraditional academic calendars are welcome. In order to provide support to the maximum number of students, SURF awards are limited to students without other sources of stipend or salary for the proposed research. Supplemental funds for room and board are acceptable.
Students must secure a mentor before submitting an application. The proposed research project must be pursued in the mentor’s laboratory. Mentors must be a member of ASPB, have an ongoing research program of high scientific merit, and demonstrate a commitment to undergraduate education and research. Mentors are expected to attend Plant Biology 2018 in Montreal, Quebec, with their SURF student.
Need a Mentor? Students may work with a mentor at their own institution or at another institution. Additional guidance is available by contacting ASPB (see below).
A complete application will include a research project statement and personal statement from the student, a research and mentoring statement from the mentor, a letter of recommendation from another faculty member (not the mentor or in the mentor’s lab), and official undergraduate transcripts.
Competitive student applicants should have high academic achievement, strong motivation and skills for conducting research, and career objectives showing interest in or relevance to plant biology. Reviewers also will consider the contribution of the project to the mentor’s research program, institutional commitment to the proposed research, and the mentor’s commitment to undergraduate research.
Successful applicants receive a $4,000 summer stipend, a one-year membership in ASPB, and $700 (paid to the mentor or institution) for materials and supplies. Each fellowship also provides student travel support to Plant Biology 2019, the ASPB annual meeting, to be held August 3–7, 2019, in San Jose, California. These travel funds are sent only to the 2018 SURF recipients who (1) register for the meeting, (2) submit proof of using social media or other outlets to communicate with the public or peers about the SURF project, and (3) author and submit an abstract about their SURF project to present as a poster at the meeting.
A Successful SURF Applicant’s Sample Timeline
Contact potential mentors: NOW Discuss research topics: NOW Request a reference letter: by January 2018 (from college/university faculty member who is not the mentor) Submit SURF application: by the deadline, March 15, 2018 (11:59 p.m. ET) Look for emailed decisions: by mid-April 2018 Conduct research: over 10 consecutive weeks when classes are not in session Present research: August 3–7 at Plant Biology 2019 in San Jose, California.
Applications will be accepted December 1, 2017, through March 15, 2018 (11:59 p.m. ET).
D.C. Teachers’ Night at the United States Botanic Garden: An Evening of Plant-astic ASPB Outreach
D.C. Teachers’ Night at the United States Botanic Garden: An Evening of Plant-astic ASPB Outreach
BY WINNIE NHAM
ASPB Education Coordinator
On September 22, ASPB participated in an evening of outreach at the United States Botanic Garden (USBG) in Washington, DC, as an exhibitor at the annual D.C. Teachers’ Night. This event is hosted by USBG and the District of Columbia Environmental Education Consortium.
The evening featured dozens of exhibitors with hands-on activities, lesson plans, and resources for K–12 teachers to bring back to the classroom. Teachers learned about student and teacher field experiences, professional development opportunities, and more.
At the ASPB booth, teachers planted Arabidopsis garden cup necklaces and learned how to use the plant as a teaching tool in their classrooms. Other hands-on activity resources included creating solar dye cells and extracting DNA from strawberries. ASPB volunteers shared the ever-popular My Life as a Plant activity and coloring book for young scientists, the 12 Inquiry-Based Labs CD and bookmarks to explore the 12 Principles of Plant Biology, and picture books that teach about the plant sciences.
The booth was staffed by Winnie Nham (ASPB). She was joined by Tyrone Spady (ASPB) and Hemayet Ullah (Howard University), both D.C. Teachers’ Night veterans and outreach superstars. Many thanks to Hemayet Ullah for supplying Arabidopsis seedlings and providing teachers with an enthusiastic overview of the plant’s many uses for teaching in the classroom.
Teachers at the event praised the variety and quantity of resources available at the ASPB booth for use in their classrooms. They enthusiastically engaged with ASPB volunteers, conversing about best practices for implementing hands-on activities and expressing enthusiasm for the materials they would bring back to their students. This energy and productive interaction are what make ASPB’s outreach at the D.C. Teachers’ Night a perennial hit.
New Staff: ASPB Welcomes Clara Woodall as Director of Finance and Administration
ASPB Welcomes Clara Woodall as Director of Finance and Administration
Clara Woodall joined ASPB on August 2 as director of finance and administration. Clara will lead the financial operations of the Society, including activities related to accounting, financial reporting, audit, budgeting, compliance, investment management, and operational strategy, and will provide executive leadership to the ASPB Council and Board of Directors.
Clara has over 17 years of experience working for nonprofit organizations. In her prior roles, Clara was chief financial officer at the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. She was director of finance and operations at Gavi Alliance/Gavi Campaign and director of finance and administration at the American Health Lawyers Association.
In addition, Clara has four years of public accounting consulting experience. She served as interim chief financial officer and interim chief operating officer on a long-term basis exclusively to nonprofit organizations when she worked for Tate & Tryon CPAs and Consultants and Vault Consulting. Some of her most notable clients were Public Company Accounting Oversight Board, National Park Foundation, Population Action International, Flight Safety Foundation, Council for Exceptional Children, Council for Advancement and Support of Education, and US–China Business Council.
Clara has experience building a SharePoint Wiki Library, managing the implementation of association management systems and customer relations management systems, and working with several accounting systems.
Clara is married and has two adult children. In her spare time, she loves to engage in obstacle training with her Standard Poodle, travel, and meet up with friends to watch and engage in lively discussions about popular shows such as Game of Thrones, Stranger Things, and The Walking Dead, to name a few.
Clara is a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi. She has a master’s degree in accounting and information technology from the University of Maryland University College and a bachelor of science degree in business and administration–accounting from Chicago State University.