ASPB News
September/October 2020

Volume 47, Issue 5
Contents

The Transparency Project: Not the Final Episode

BY JUDY CALLIS
ASPB President, University of California, Davis

ASPB has made progress in increasing transparency in its activities. Although we have a ways to go, we are on the right track, and with your continued interest, ASPB will respond by initiating changes to better serve you.

Way back in San Jose in the summer of 2019, multiple suggestions were put forward during the Town Hall to increase the accessibility and transparency of ASPB’s activities. We welcomed this interest and hope that you will all work to make this your organization, one of which you can be proud. A list of suggestions was made, and in the past year we have been working through this list.

The progress we have made is due in large part to the work of our dedicated staff: Crispin Taylor, CEO; Shoshana Kronfeld, senior membership manager; Katie Rogers, community engagement administrator; and Mark James, web systems manager.

Judy Callis

Looking back over the past year, what follows are items on the list and our progress to date. New information can be found on the ASPB website (https://aspb.org): click on “Membership Benefits,” located in the main menu at the top, and select “Committees & Leadership” from the drop-down menu (you will need your member log-in information); you will then see the heading “Welcome ASPB Members!” The menu on the right of this page leads you to lots of new goodies, described below.

1. Publish redacted minutes of Council, Board of Directors, and other standing committee meetings.
Update: Addressing this suggestion has been initiated and is ongoing. On the “Welcome ASPB Members!” page, click on “ASPB Committees” in the menu on the right to view redacted meeting summaries. A standardized agenda was developed to facilitate this documentation and has been used by a subset of committees already. The form will be rolled out to all committees in fall 2020.

2. Publish short video interviews of ASPB committee chairs and what they do.
Update: Well, we did not get far with this project. Laura Wayne, chair of the Women in Plant Biology Committee, was interviewed (see the President’s Letter in January/February 2020 ASPB News, and view the video at https://vimeo.com/37743716), and another interview was in progress. Unfortunately, this project was derailed by COVID-19. But we did complete Suggestion 3 (below), providing the same information, just in a more boring format.

3. Provide short written descriptions of each committee’s activities on the website—when they meet, how often, and what activities they sponsor.
Update: Done. On the “ASPB Committees” page (again, reached through the right menu on the “Welcome ASPB Members!” page), each committee has a FAQ sheet that describes the committee’s composition, main goals, meeting frequency, current activities, and main outputs. If you want to know which activities a committee is responsible for, this is the place to get that information.

The names of current committee members are also available through the “ASPB Committees” page. Remember, new appointments will start in October, so check this page to see new committee members for 2020–2021.

4. Make the job description and qualifications for ASPB president available, and provide a clear description of how nominees are selected.
Update: Done. Detailed descriptions of all elected positions, including president, are now available. It should come as no surprise by now—they are linked from the “Welcome ASPB Members!” page and listed in the right menu under “ASPB Presidents,” “ASPB Secretary,” and “ASPB Elected Member of Board of Directors.” If you are interested in nominating yourself or someone else to run for one of these elected positions, please take a look.

Finally, under “FAQ for ASPB Members” is a wealth of practical information about being an ASPB member.

Thank you for your suggestions. Stay safe and well. And I hope you’re able to maintain safe distancing and be outdoors this fall.

Maureen McCann Assumes Presidency October 1

Maureen McCann becomes ASPB president on October 1, 2020. She succeeds Judy Callis, who becomes immediate past president. In the following article, Maureen tells us her thoughts for ASPB over the next few years.

Maureen McCannA career in academic research is, in equal measures, hard work and great fun. But I believe deeply that academic life is a privilege and that we have a collective responsibility to entrain science for the public interest. As president, I would like to amplify the voices of our early career scientists throughout ASPB, on Capitol Hill, and beyond. Global trends of increasing population, increasing urbanization, and climate change will impact the global economy and agricultural system to an unprecedented extent over the next few decades. The remarkable metabolic diversity and plasticity of plants will be critical to mitigate and meet these challenges in production of food, feed, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, fuels, and materials for a robust and sustainable bio-based economy. To paraphrase Matt Damon’s character from The Martian as he contemplates surviving on Mars until and if he is rescued, we’re going to have to “science the hell” out of this.

One of our key assets is our Society. Free exchange of knowledge at the forefront of scientific disciplines, the development of interdisciplinary collaborations across the research community, and, most critically, the next generation of the best and brightest minds rooting their careers in the plant sciences are prerequisites that ASPB facilitates. ASPB is our voice for the importance of plant biology, the value of the research enterprise, and the impact of our science in the world.

I am a professor of biological sciences at Purdue University, a member of Purdue’s Center for Plant Biology, and director of the NEPTUNE Center for Power and Energy Research, funded by the Office of Naval Research. At the national level, I am a member of DOE’s Biological and Environmental Research Advisory Committee and served on the National Academies’ Committee on Safeguarding the Bioeconomy. I have previously served on the USDA-DOE Biomass Research and Development Technical Advisory Committee and the DOE Office of Science, Council for Chemical and Biochemical Sciences. In 2017–2018, I participated, as one of 14 nominated individuals, in DOE’s Oppenheimer Science and Energy Leadership Program to provide potential future leaders with an overview of DOE and the National Laboratory system.

I was born in Edinburgh, Scotland, and am among the first generation in my family to attend college. I obtained my undergraduate degree in 1987 in natural sciences from the University of Cambridge and a PhD in 1990 in botany from the University of East Anglia, United Kingdom. I was a postdoctoral researcher at the John Innes Centre, a government-funded research institute for plant and microbial sciences, and remained there as a project leader from 1995, funded by The Royal Society with a University Research Fellowship. This 10-year fellowship allowed me to develop my research interests in how the molecular architecture of the plant cell wall contributes to cell growth and differentiation, and thus to the final stature and form of plants. I moved to Purdue in 2003. As an instructor, I teach eukaryotic genetics to juniors and seniors.

As a plant biologist with a passion for sustainable production of food, feed, fuel, chemicals, and materials from lignocellulosic biomass, I have 113 peer-reviewed publications, 24 of which are published in The Plant Cell and Plant Physiology, and an h-index of 60, with more than 16,500 citations. I first joined ASPB in 2002. I was a monitoring editor for Plant Physiology from 2008 to 2013 and a member of the ASPB Science Policy Committee (formerly Public Affairs) from 2010 to 2014. In 2015, I was elected by the Society as a member of the Board of Directors and, in 2018, as a Fellow of ASPB.

From 2009 to 2018, I was director of the Center for Direct Catalytic Conversion of Biomass to Biofuels (C3Bio), an Energy Frontier Research Center funded by the DOE Office of Science. C3Bio was a team of chemical engineers, chemists, and plant biologists focused on building the scientific knowledge base to convert plant materials (fast-growing trees, crop residues, dedicated bioenergy crops) into liquid hydrocarbon fuels and high-value chemicals. Within C3Bio, my lab explored synthetic biology and genetic engineering approaches to optimize cell wall architecture and biomass structure for novel chemical conversion processes. I am proud that, although C3Bio was funded to conduct grand-challenge science at the atomic and molecular scale, the center also produced 11 patent applications and the start-up company Spero Energy and engaged more than 100 early career scientists in interdisciplinary research.

Between 2010 and 2018, I also served as director of Purdue’s Energy Center, representing more than 200 affiliated faculty with energy-related research interests. During my tenure, the Energy Center received direct proposal credit from its affiliated faculty for over $500 million in proposals and $100 million in funded awards.

Since the world turned upside down this year, I’ve been so proud of how our Society kept on track—from building our publications partnership with Oxford University Press; to creating discussion spaces on equity, diversity, and inclusion; to moving our annual meeting online—when so many other organizations were postponing into 2021. Looking forward into the coming year, a strategic planning exercise has begun for ASPB, the organization. There is an existing strategic plan for ASPB, the members, reflecting our aspirations as plant biologists, but that doesn’t speak to the business of managing and operating all that is done by the staff and CEO. What staffing, governance, and fiscal structures will ASPB establish to ensure sustainability of the organization in its second century? What revenue-generating activities could better support the work of our members? How will we make sure that the product portfolio is integrated, interconnected, and leading edge? And how will we amplify ASPB’s reputation for thought leadership within and outside of the plant science research community?

We will follow through on a renewed commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion. Like many institutions and organizations, ASPB has engaged in reflection and reevaluation prompted by the murders of George Floyd and others. There’s a lot of discussion going on now about what actions we should take—and we will act—but the end goals here couldn’t be clearer. We need to take a careful look in the mirror to make sure our own leadership structures reflect the diversity we want to see in our community; we need to make sure that addressing diversity and inclusion is everyone’s business; and ultimately, we need to change cultures and climates throughout the plant biology community.

As we approach our centennial in 2024, this is also a good time to ramp up the fundraising activities that are so important in supporting the good works of our members: providing travel awards, creating online resources and tools, and honoring individuals for their contributions to plant biology. The Legacy Society Leadership Committee is charged with developing the Centennial Challenge, even as we begin rolling out the Pioneer Program.

Following creation of the new Early Career Plant Scientists Section, we hope to expand the participation of our early career researchers into the governance and leadership of the Society. Finally, as a new bioeconomy enabled by recombinant DNA and rooted in plant and microbial science emerges, we aim to engage more deeply with scientists in industry. So look for new initiatives to increase industry membership and participation in the months ahead, and for all these topics we will be looking to gather your ideas and inputs.

After this year of upheaval, here’s hoping that we all get to meet in person at Plant Biology 2021 in Pittsburgh.

Katie Dehesh to Lead ASPB in 2021–2022

Katie Dehesh becomes ASPB president-elect on October 1, 2020, and will assume the office of president in October 2021, succeeding Maureen McCann.

Katie DeheshFrom its inception in 1924, ASPB has met daunting challenges but has never ceased to serve the global scientific community, aiding our common scientific quest to explore uncharted waters and providing a vehicle for our shared bond that transcends national, ethnic, gender, and social divides. In the current era of increasingly unexpected political and economic uncertainties, ASPB once again will rise to the occasion in dealing with the unprecedented hurdles that have emerged. These hurdles are likely to disproportionately impact our early career and underrepresented groups. As president, I would like to increase the career-focused opportunities for our students, postdoctoral fellows, and early career colleagues by amplifying the voice of ASPB in various public and private sectors and by enhancing our engagement in society at large. Toward this goal, I will initially form an advisory council representing educators, government granting agencies, politicians, businesspeople, and farmers to formulate approaches to implementing this endeavor.

I am currently the director of the Institute for Integrative Genome Biology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), and a distinguished professor in molecular biochemistry. My research focus is on the evolutionarily conserved stress signaling and transduction pathways shared between plants and other organisms, such as eubacteria and Apicomplexa, as a means to providing an integrated view of the origins and patterns of divergence in adaptive networks. Previously, while at UC Davis, I served as chair of the Plant Biology Graduate Program and chair of the Emphasis in Biotechnology Program, where we expanded our educational program to include industrial experience by actively involving various industrial partners in agricultural and medical fields. Prior to joining the academic ranks, I worked for 10 years in the plant biotechnology sector, generating 11 patents.

I obtained my BSc from Pahlavi University in Shiraz, Iran, where I was introduced to salt-loving plants (halophytes) that grow on unimaginably high salt-containing ground. This initiated an interest that led me to continue my higher education at Sussex University, United Kingdom, an institute well known for its work in this area. Upon receiving my PhD, I traveled back to Iran for a visit with the intention of continuing my postdoctoral training in the United States. Upon arrival, however, I applied for and was offered an assistant professorship at the National University, Tehran. I accepted, planning on only a short stay. But soon after that, I was notified that I was banned from travel because of the compulsory military service for all MD or PhD women. In consequence, I remained in Iran, performing my service duties at the military barracks in the mornings and teaching classes at the National University in the evenings. Shortly thereafter, in 1979, I heard the bells of revolution, but did not anticipate the outcome. In 1980, because of my personal beliefs and convictions, I left Iran and went to Germany, where I eventually obtained a Habilitation (German equivalent of tenure track) position at the University of Kiel, working on chlorophyll biosynthesis enzymes. Being the only foreigner and only woman Habilitant in the institute, although intimidating, offered me a unique opportunity to positively impact and empower the female graduate students in the institute. Later, I was granted a sabbatical leave to go to the University of Wisconsin–Madison to learn much-needed molecular techniques. After a year there, I resigned from my position in Germany and continued as a postdoctoral fellow in Madison, and later at the Plant Gene Expression Center in Berkeley/Albany, working on the transcriptional regulation of phytochrome. Upon gaining experience in both molecular and biochemical techniques, I joined Calgene, a small but powerful biotech company in Davis, California, where I began working in the area of lipid biochemistry with the aim of identifying novel enzymes for production of medicinal oils in plants. In 1999, Calgene was acquired by Monsanto, and I continued my research as the lead lipid scientist for three more years before resigning to join UC Davis as a full professor. There, I initiated de novo several funded research programs based on plant general stress responses. In 2016, I moved to UCR as the director of the Institute for Integrative Genome Biology, where I have initiated and established new core facilities focused on metabolomic analyses. It is my intention to expand the core activities to the training of undergraduate students in analytical techniques as a way to educate them and provide a path to employment.

In the course of my career I have been honored with various awards, including Monsanto Fellow; several teaching awards at UC Davis; and election to the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina in 2017.

I first joined ASPB in 1998, and I am currently serving on the Dennis R. Hoagland Award Committee. I previously (2013–2019) served on the ASPB Publications Committee, which administers the ASPB/AAAS Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship.

My mantra is POWER, as my dream is to empower the young and strengthen their belief in the power of determination and positive thinking. And yes we can!

My vision is to embrace and expand the inclusive culture of ASPB. I will broaden the participation of our national and international colleagues and further engage potential collaborators within the private sector, philanthropic organizations, universities and other educational institutions, and the agricultural sector. I will grow recognition of ASPB by soliciting private funding sources while continuing ASPB’s efforts toward engaging Capitol Hill.

I respect the technological revolution and its inevitable need for the continuous reskilling and reshaping of our approaches. To better align ASPB with the pace of our Society’s future needs, I will actively seek participation from our junior generations to develop ASPB as a platform that promotes the enduring yet dynamic power of the plant sciences.

Stacey Harmer Is Secretary-elect

Stacey Harmer becomes secretary-elect on October 1, 2020, and will assume the office of secretary in October 2021, succeeding Wayne Parrott.

Stacey Harmer became secretary-elect on October 1, 2018, and will assume the office of secretary in October 2021, succeeding Wayne Parrott.

Stacey HarmerStacey is a professor in the Department of Plant Biology at the University of California, Davis. She received a BA in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley, and was awarded a PhD in biochemistry at the University of California, San Francisco, where she studied B cell signal transduction. She then converted to the green side of biology, carrying out postdoctoral studies in the lab of Steve Kay at the Scripps Research Institute. There, she was introduced to circadian biology, molecular genetics, and the then-nascent field of genomics. She joined the faculty at UC Davis in 2002, where she has remained since.

Stacey’s lab studies plant adaptations to the abiotic environment as seen through the lens of circadian biology. Specifically, her lab studies both the molecular nature of the oscillator that generates daily rhythms and multiple aspects of plant physiology affected by the circadian system. She is particularly interested in exploring relationships between clock, light, and growth signaling pathways in the control of vegetative and reproductive development in Arabidopsis thaliana and the Asteraceae crop sunflower.

Stacey’s services to the greater scientific community have been varied. Contributions to postgraduate education include serving as lead instructor for the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s Plant Course for three years and as guest instructor for many other courses on plant and circadian biology. She is currently treasurer for the Society for Research on Biological Rhythms and an editor for the Journal of Biological Rhythms and for Plant Physiology. She has been a member of ASPB since 2003 and is currently serving on the ASPB Program Committee. Other experiences in meeting planning have included serving on the scientific advisory board for the International Conference on Arabidopsis Research.

The main function of the ASPB secretary is to oversee the Program Committee in the planning for the annual meeting. With so many specialty meetings now available, Stacey sees a key role for the ASPB annual meeting in bringing together plant biologists at diverse career stages and with different expertise to learn from each other and create a greater sense of community. While excellent and groundbreaking science is now and should remain a cornerstone of the meeting, Stacey would like to continue to promote the professional development and career enrichment activities that set this meeting apart from other, more narrowly focused conferences.

ASPB Holds Its First Virtual Plant Biology Meeting

BY LORENA VILLANUEVA-ALMANZA
Freelance Science Writer

Virtual Plant Biology

ASPB held the Plant Biology 2020 Worldwide Summit, its first virtual annual meeting, July 27–31. Although ASPB’s Program Committee originally planned to gather plant biologists in Washington, DC, at the Marriott Wardman Park hotel, they switched to a digital interface in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Plant Biology annual meetings have been held for over 90 years, canceled only during World War II, according to Wayne Parrott, Program Committee chair and current secretary of ASPB. The decision to go virtual this year was shared on ASPB’s website on May 18 (https://bit.ly/3hshRMJ), after a poll showed members would rather connect through their devices than have no meeting at all.

Plant Biology 2020 kicked off on Monday, July 20, with the plenary symposium “Navigating Science Policy: Effective Advocacy for Science.” Although not planned as such, it doubled as a test run; Wayne said the Program Committee used it as an opportunity to know what to expect the following week and make adjustments.

As it turns out, the conference was a success. The Plant Biology 2020 Worldwide Summit brought together 2,639 attendees—almost double last year’s attendance of 1,400. The numbers reflect one of the biggest perks of the virtual format: greater accessibility.

Avoiding travel, passport, and visa costs meant that many people outside the United States could attend the conference more easily. Several plenary symposia, all with subtitles, brought together more than a thousand attendees. Plenaries were rebroadcast in the evening, allowing people in different parts of the world to tune in, almost as if live.

Being able to follow the summit almost from anywhere, some opted for—safely—taking it to the lab. After months of staying home following shelter-in-place orders, Karl Haro von Mogel, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), was able to go back to his tissue cultures. Time away from the lab is now precious for restarting research, so the virtual format made the impossible possible: to be in two places at the same time.

“I had some Bluetooth headphones fully charged and set them up with my laptop, and I could do my work in the sterile laminar flow hood and listen to the talks,” Karl said. “If there was something I really wanted to see, I knew there was a recording.”

The scientific gathering included presentations with live discussions, poster sessions, networking events, workshops, and even pub trivia. All talks were recorded and will be accessible on demand for a year to registered participants. “I was quite surprised that all the talks were recorded and reviewable within the year, which meant you didn’t have to run around to the talks,” said Brandon Le, an assistant project scientist at UCR. He also found that having the recordings was a good way to work around the times when streaming went offline.

Going virtual prompted creative ways of using technology. Ying Sun, a postdoctoral associate at UCR, Zoomed in with other colleagues from her institution during the plenary sessions. They used the chat box to comment and discuss in real time aspects relevant to their own research. “Afterwards, we all got together and talked, which is similar to what we would normally do during the breaks at a normal conference,” she said. “We got a lot from those discussions.”

Karl, who also presented a poster, set up Zoom hours for attendees to talk to him directly and advertised these in the rotating image slider of his poster. Among those who Zoomed in, entering “citrus” as the password, was a graduate student from Uruguay. “We were talking about our citrus tissue cultures. And we were able to talk about it in depth, more than I have ever done in an in-person poster session,” Karl said.

Natalia Guayazán Palacios, a PhD student at the University of Washington, attended Plant Biology 2020 for the first time and presented a poster. She noted that she would have preferred more interaction with people attending the poster session; few people reached out to her through the chat box to ask questions. Thinking back, she wished she had advertised her poster more.
Some attendees also used technology to socialize. Ying hosted a happy hour connecting former lab mates from Stanford and current colleagues at UCR through Zoom. “We didn’t talk necessarily about the science, but more about topics around science. We talked about science policy, trade issues, diversity—common chitchat that you would normally do at a conference,” Ying said. As Karl noted, “We can work around these sorts of things.”

The job of moderators during the sessions was hugely appreciated by attendees. The moderators not only curated and read questions from the audience but also provided technical support through the chat window when glitches arose. Several mentioned that Natalie Henkhaus, executive coordinator of the Plant Science Research Network, did a wonderful job of sorting through the chat box and combining similar questions to squeeze in as many as possible. Brandon believes the chat box was useful to collect more questions than in the traditional format because there was no time limit on interacting with the presenter. He also liked seeing other people’s questions.

The chat box helped relieve the stress that might come when grabbing the microphone to ask questions in an in-person meeting. Natalia felt less intimidated asking questions in writing. “It was a lively discussion, even when we were not seeing each other’s faces,” she said. Natalia also voted for some questions to increase their chances of being asked. Brandon also felt this was a more relaxed way of interacting with the speakers. “In this type of forum, there’s really no bad questions,” he said. However, for Natalia Dudareva, distinguished professor of biochemistry at Purdue University, the chat box limited interaction. She said it forced presenters to give strictly to-the-point answers, restricting discussions sparked from in-person interactions.

Going virtual brought other challenges in interaction and engagement. Brandon, a loyal Plant Biology attendee, said he missed catching up with people he hadn’t seen in years. In previous years, he rekindled connections with people at Plant Biology meetings from which research collaborations resulted.

Similarly, some at the exhibit hall missed the interaction of an in-person summit. Four days into the conference, Steve DiFazio, program director at NSF, had had only two people visit the virtual booth, and one arrived by mistake while looking for another exhibitor. Although NSF’s booth suffered a decrease in attendance, however, NSF’s workshop, offered the last day of the conference, hit record attendance numbers.

Higher attendance resulted partly from reduced registration costs and the option of registering as a group, which Brandon’s research group took advantage of. Nine of the 11 people in his lab were able to attend through this modality. Costs associated with the conference would have made it difficult for them to meet in DC because travel awards were limited.

Registration of attendees helped cover conference costs, but it also helped assure the speakers that their data would be shared only with people who had signed up for the summit. As with in-person conferences, organizers asked attendees to tweet and blog unless speakers explicitly requested them to refrain in order to protect unpublished data from being shared through social media (https://bit.ly/2EDQLDu).

Although serendipitous encounters during coffee breaks will have to wait until our next in-person meeting, ASPB’s first virtual Plant Biology meeting was a successful experiment for those who are used to setting up experiments: scientists themselves.

Announcing the Plant Science Decadal Vision 2020–2030

BY NATALIE HENKHAUS
Executive Coordinator, Plant Science Research Network

The Plant Science Research Network (PSRN) announces the publication of the Plant Science Decadal Vision 2020–2030, an aspirational road map for the plant science community and policy makers. The updated Decadal Vision was written by representatives of a broad range of plant science societies and professional organizations to provide an inclusive, common vision for the research community, in recognition that the integration of research, people, and technology is critical to our success.

The Decadal Vision represents the culminating document of the PSRN, which was funded by an NSF Research Coordination Network award in 2015. The PSRN set out to instigate discussions across the plant science community; encourage new collaborations; identify priority investment areas; and highlight frontiers in plant science research, people, and technology for the next 10 years. The Decadal Vision sets the stage for a decade of discoveries through eight specific goals to advance plant systems science and reimagine the potential of plants to contribute to a healthy and sustainable future.

Goals 1 through 4 are cross-cutting objectives that integrate research in areas such as ecology, evolution, agriculture, soil science, molecular biology, plant chemistry, and nutrition. Key to each of these goals is the development of new tools and computational analysis to integrate data across scales.
Decadal Vision 2020-2030

Goals 5 and 6 support the people in plant science. As described in the Decadal Vision, “Our institutions must foster more equitable, diverse, and inclusive environments that support all individuals, especially early career researchers, through formalized policies and access to resources. . . . Over the next 10 years, addressing the disparity between faculty composition and U.S. demographic shifts will require a concerted effort by the plant science community.” Goals 7 and 8 address the technology needed for transformative discoveries in plant science, such as improvements in imaging, remote sensing, data management and standardization, analysis in the field, and other technologies not yet imagined.
Decadal Vision 2020-2030

Since the PSRN was established, ASPB has demonstrated leadership, with many ASPB members participating in PSRN workshops and report writing. ASPB members are also taking an active role in translating the Decadal Vision into policy white papers, which will be shared with policy makers and funding agencies.

The Plant Science Decadal Vision 2020–2030 is available online at https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/pld3.252. All ASPB members are encouraged to read and share the Decadal Vision report and presentation materials available at plantae.org/PSRN. If you are interested in organizing an event or webinar on the Decadal Vision, please reach out to Natalie Henkhaus (PSRN Executive Coordinator, nhenkhaus@aspb.org) for assistance in recruiting speakers and tailoring the discussion to specific audiences.

People

2020 ASPB/AAAS Mass Media Fellow Reports In

BY LORENA VILLANUEVA-ALMANZA
Freelance Science Writer

More than a report, I would like to think about this as a letter of gratitude to ASPB for helping me achieve one of my most yearned for goals: writing about science. During 10 weeks, I became a science reporter for the Indianapolis Star, crafting stories about hand sanitizers made by local distilleries, the endangered Indiana bat, fireworks, a deadly virus affecting African and Asian elephants, Asian honeysuckle, and how to apply for free trees to plant around Indianapolis—this last one in English and Spanish.

Lorena Villanueva-AlmanzaThis experience has changed me. It boosted my confidence to realize that my story pitches were interesting to my editor, my fellow reporters, and our readers. I received emails from researchers I had interviewed letting me know that people were stepping up to help Indiana bats and Twitter messages thanking me for bringing attention to the problems invasive plants create.

I was lucky to get the chance to take part in this program in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, as I had seen similar opportunities fall through. Writing for a local newspaper during the health crisis also gave me a glimpse of some of the challenges journalists face. Furlough was a common word in my newsroom, and having fewer people to report on crucial issues that may help people make decisions is tough. I not only experienced being a journalist myself but also became a keener advocate of journalism.

I first started reporting remotely, but then I decided to fly to Indianapolis, even when the newsroom was still closed. I am glad I did, as this helped me understand better what the audience in Indy was interested in reading. It also gave me the chance to take part in a field trip expedition with scientists who have been studying a bat population living close to the airport. The trip led me to the rural fields of the Midwest, a region I had not visited before, and I marveled at the beauty of smooth bromegrass landscapes illuminated by orange sunset light.

This fellowship also gave me a platform to write about issues that, as an immigrant, are personally important to me. While working on a story about communication in a species of frog living in the rain forest of Panama, I interviewed a researcher from Colombia, who shared her interest in taking students from the United States to Latin America. She believes it is important for them to know how to conduct research outside of their own country, where the culture and language are different. One of the reporters at the paper also found out about my personal interests. She suggested that I work on a short story about a local nonprofit that was providing guidance to the Spanish-speaking community in Indianapolis to apply for trees to plant in their neighborhood. These experiences highlight the responsibility that comes with writing for a wide audience, as my editor quickly told me, and feeling part of a team despite navigating the fellowship almost entirely virtually.

My mentors at the Indianapolis Star were key in making this an amazing experience. They helped me refine my ideas for stories, highlight the novel aspects of the research, and provide solutions to our readers. They gave me the freedom to explore my own interests, while suggesting angles that our readers would enjoy and words that made my stories shine. As I look back on the stories I wrote, I can see how their mentorship helped me improve the way I think, report, and write stories about science.

I am immensely grateful to ASPB and AAAS for providing this experience to scientists and honored to be an alum of this program. I am also deeply grateful to the Indianapolis Star for its interest in supporting scientists to learn how to communicate science effectively, and especially to my experienced mentors Alvie Lindsay, Sarah Bowman, and London Gibson, as well as Grace Hollars and Jenna Watson, both visual journalists who made my words vibrate with their photographs. I sincerely appreciate ASPB’s longtime support of this program and look forward to reading about the next cohort of fellows.

Report from the 2020 AAAS Ralph W. F. Hardy Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellow

BY KATHERINE DYNARSKI
University of California, Davis

Katherine DynarskiI sincerely thank the Ralph W. F. Hardy Endowment, AAAS, and ASPB for the opportunity to spend my summer at The Wichita Eagle. When I applied for the AAAS Ralph W. F. Hardy Mass Media Science & Engineering Fellowship last fall, I imagined spending my fellowship working in a bustling newsroom or magazine office. I didn’t anticipate instead spending the summer writing from my tiny home office in Vermont, hundreds of miles from my Kansas newsroom, while interacting with colleagues and sources exclusively from my laptop and phone.

Like everything else during the pandemic, at first my remote fellowship was uncertain and challenging. I had been hoping to get out to the local universities to scout for science stories; without traveling to Wichita, however, that was no longer possible. I was also nervous about writing for a local newspaper without being able to get to know the area in person.

Thanks to my editor’s nose for a good story and some helpful university public information officers, I found more than enough to write about. And as I spoke to more and more community members by phone and by Zoom during my reporting, I started to get a feel for the lay of the land, even though I couldn’t be there physically.

Although I was disappointed to miss out on the newsroom experience, it was more than made up for by the privilege of getting to provide local science journalism at a time when it was so sorely needed. I got to cover everything from local water quality to the science of lawn care and, of course, more than a few stories on the COVID-19 pandemic.

My favorite stories from this summer were those that highlighted people working creatively to solve a complex problem. Luckily, there is no shortage of such stories in science journalism, especially this year! My first story was about a geology field class that shifted to an online format because of the pandemic. The professor re-created the whole field area with a specially designed map in Minecraft (a free-form “sandbox” video game). His creativity and dedication to his students were striking, and I loved getting to tell such a human story.

Another of my favorite stories focused on a research facility at Kansas State where veterinary researchers were leading incredible COVID-19 medical and public health research. To me, this story highlighted how blurry the line between animal and human health can be, and the importance of diverse scientific perspectives in the face of huge challenges.

Working with a fantastic editor made my writing sharper and clearer. Writing for a regional audience taught me a lot about how to frame and structure my pieces so that they are interesting, accessible, and relevant for my readers. I found it especially valuable to write articles on so many topics that were very much out of my area of expertise. Writing those stories forced me to pick up the phone and call people up to ask questions, even though I wasn’t an expert in the topic—something that is challenging for me as a trained scientist!

I also learned how incredibly hard the staff at local newsrooms work to continually provide high-quality journalism and keep the public informed, often with limited resources. I felt truly lucky to work alongside dedicated and skilled journalists.

I am grateful for the support of the Ralph W. F. Hardy Endowment, AAAS, and ASPB for this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. My time at The Wichita Eagle has reaffirmed my love for and dedication to science communication. Sharing complex information in an accessible way remains one of my favorite challenges, and I look forward to continuing to make science communication a focal point of my career.

Where Are They Now?

As the years churn on, many esteemed members of ASPB have passed the torch to their younger colleagues and stepped out of the limelight to allow others to bask in its glory. Yet, many continue their good works to the benefit of plant biology and the world. Edited by Rebecca Dickstein, University of North Texas, “Where Are They Now?” is part of the ASPB News suite of columns focused on the personal and scientific life and insights of ASPB members at all stages of their career. This column offers a look into the current activities of influential members of ASPB who continue to make a positive mark on our Society. We hope you all enjoy this addition to your newsletter.

Please feel free to submit your own article to “Luminaries,” “Membership Corner,” or “Where Are They Now?” For details, contact José Dinneny. As always, we are open to suggestions for articles or features of interest to readers of the ASPB News.

Bijay K. Singh

Retired from BASF Corporation, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

Bijay SinghAs I write this from my kitchen table in Cary, North Carolina, I look out at the garden and reflect on my professional journey. Inevitably, my mind is filled with memories of all the people with whom I collaborated, as well as colleagues and mentors with whom I was able to do fascinating work. I spent over 30 years at Cyanamid/BASF, beginning as a bench scientist and eventually becoming department head and finally the administrative leader of the entire research team in Research Triangle Park.

During these years, I had the opportunity to work on a variety of projects with a number of extraordinarily talented people. Through our efforts, three projects continue to have a significant impact on agriculture globally: the family of imidazolinone herbicides, discovery of saflufenacil (a protoporphyrinogen oxidase inhibitor marketed under the Kixor trademark), and CLEARFIELD crops (crops resistant to imidazolinone herbicides). We developed more than a dozen commercial products that continue to be a part of global food production. Through the relationships I developed, I was able to do exciting and rewarding work that gave me a great sense of satisfaction.

Given my personal background, it seems almost impossible to imagine that I would be where I am today. I was born in a small village in Bihar, India. Neither of my parents had a science background, but I was fascinated from a young age by plants. Consequently, I decided to pursue my education in agriculture and attended G. B. Pant University of Agriculture and Technology, the first land grant university set up in India in collaboration with the University of Illinois.

In 1975, I enrolled in an MS program and after completion received a full scholarship from the University of Adelaide, Australia. I accepted it immediately, and in a few weeks I was off to Australia, in May 1978. The atmosphere in the Department of Plant Physiology allowed me to spread my wings and develop the skills to think on my own and become an independent researcher.

My PhD work on wheat grain development helped me secure a postdoctoral fellowship with Jack Preiss, and I came to the University of California (UC), Davis, in June 1982. After a year, Jack was set to leave UC Davis, so I moved to Eric Conn’s lab in the same department. I thought I was on track to further my career in academia, but life had other plans for me. While attending the annual ASPB meeting in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1985, I was introduced to Mark Stidham from American Cyanamid Company. He was looking for a biochemist to work on acetohydroxyacid synthase, a key enzyme in branched chain amino acids biosynthesis, the target site of their recently discovered blockbuster family of imidazolinone herbicides. Despite some misgivings about leaving academia, and feeling the pressure of the imminent expiration of my visa, I accepted the job offer and joined Cyanamid, moving with my family to New Jersey in 1986. It was one of the best decisions I ever made.

Working in industry was a tremendous, eye-opening experience. I was astonished by the research focus on well-defined commercial product goals. Even more enriching was the opportunity to learn about other disciplines by working closely with an amazing group of chemists, weed scientists, soil scientists, toxicologists, attorneys, and marketing managers, among others. The exposure to these bright and creative minds, and the deepening understanding of how science, in a very tangible way, could transform the lives of people around the world, ensured my commitment to industry science.

The ASPB family has been an important part of my career since 1982 and has allowed me to give back to a community that has given me so much. For instance, although I spent less than two years in Eric Conn’s lab at UC Davis, it was one of the most productive periods of my career. Eric and his wife Louise had a tremendously positive impact not only on me personally, but also on my family, my lab mates, and extended members of the UC Davis community. I always wanted to do something to thank them for their generosity and also recognize Eric’s remarkable career. Although he was initially resistant because of his well-known humility, he eventually agreed to the establishment of an award in his name, with the condition that the award be for young scientists. Through much teamwork, the first Eric E. Conn Young Investigator Award was awarded in 2011.

I also realized that industry scientists kept a low profile in ASPB because they couldn’t talk about the confidential nature of their work. Furthermore, the academic community couldn’t recognize industry scientists because of their limited publication records. In order to bridge this gap and bring more industry scientists into the mainstream at ASPB, I suggested the establishment of an award in recognition of industry scientists’ contributions. Alan Jones, then president of ASPB, supported the idea, and the first Innovation Prize for Agricultural Technology was awarded in 2015.

In December 2016, after much reflection, I retired from BASF. This new stage of my life has brought much excitement and adventure. My wife and I have circled the world twice as we actively pursue our goal of visiting 70 countries before we turn 70. Last year, along with a group of friends, I began playing golf on a regular basis. Although several initial months were spent looking for balls in the woods or fishing them out of ponds, I am now able to have an occasional good round during which I do not lose a single ball. The highlight of my retirement, however, has been the time I spend with my grandkids. It brings a sense of satisfaction that is hard to match. My love for plants abides, but now my experiments are performed on my indoor plants, ornamentals in the yard, and vegetables growing in the kitchen garden.

Science Policy

The information in this article is accurate at the time of writing.

Policy Update

BY VICTORIA HABER
Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC

House FY2021 Appropriations

With unprecedented speed, the House Appropriations Committee advanced all 12 fiscal year (FY) 2021 appropriations bills in July. The House bills would increase most research, health, and education programs of interest to the research and higher education community. However, almost all of the House bills have policy and funding issues opposed by House and Senate Republicans and the White House and will not pass in their current form.

Meanwhile, the Senate has not advanced any of its appropriations bills and is unlikely to do so until September. In the interim, with a bipartisan vote of 359-57, the House passed a Continuing Resolution (CR) to fund the government at mostly fiscal year 2020 funding levels through December 11. Congressional leaders and the White House reached a bipartisan agreement September 22 to add additional funding for farm payments sought by Republicans and the White House and new money for nutrition assistance to children and low-income families favored by Democrats.  The Senate is expected to pass the CR early this week and President Trump has signaled his intent to sign the bill into law, averting a government shutdown Below are summaries of FY2021 House appropriations for ASPB priorities.

National Science Foundation
The House Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies appropriations bill would provide NSF with $8.548 billion, which is $270 million or 3.3% above the FY2020 level and $807 million above President Trump’s FY2021 budget request. As in the FY2020 report, the FY2021 report highlights the committee’s support of NSF infrastructure investments to expand scientific understanding and inspire students. It also highlights the committee’s support for basic research and directs NSF to maintain support of fundamental scientific disciplines while using the 10 Big Ideas as a focusing tool. Of the total funding, the committee recommends that $7 billion be used for research and related activities.

U.S. Department of Agriculture
The FY2021 Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, which funds USDA and FDA, would provide a total of $23.98 billion in discretionary funding, an increase of $487 million above the FY2020 enacted level.

  • USDA’s Research, Education, and Economics (REE) program would be funded at $5.8 million. Of note, the committee directs the Office of the Chief Scientist to complete a strategic plan for the Agriculture Advanced Research and Development Authority (AGARDA), authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, 180 days after enactment of the legislation. The language makes clear that this report should include how AGARDA can collaborate with ARS and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA). In addition, the committee provides $4 million to REE to establish, in coordination with NIFA and ARS, a competitive grant program for a land grant university for a “Farm of the Future” test bed focused on “precision agriculture, smart automation, resilient agricultural practices, applied socioeconomics, and improved crop varieties from advanced genomics and phenotyping.”
  • The ARS salaries and expenses account would receive $1.45 billion, an increase of $37.3 million over the FY2020 enacted level. The committee notes that it supports the redirection of $35 million to “support new research initiatives in precision agriculture, long-term agroecosystems research, artificial intelligence innovations for agricultural production, and managing excess water and controlling erosion.” Also of note, the committee makes clear that this redirection of funding should not reduce overall research funding at any ARS facility; instead, “it will refocus ongoing research activities to support these new initiatives while maintaining each participating ARS facility’s current funding level.”
  • NIFA would receive $1.6 billion, an increase of $122 million or 8.3% over FY2020. The Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) would receive $435 million, an increase of $10 million over the FY2020 enacted level. The committee also notes its strong support of AFRI research goals. Genome to Phenome would receive flat funding of $1 million, with the committee urging additional focus on root stocks that increase carbon capture and can support grain crop covers. The committee also requests that the National Academy of Sciences conduct a symposium on the effects of the relocation of NIFA and the Economic Research Service from the DC area to Kansas City, a request intended to demonstrate House Democrats’ disapproval of the move.

Department of Energy
The House Energy and Water bill would provide $40.9 billion for DOE, which is $2.3 billion or 6% above the FY2020 enacted level, and $5.1 billion above the president’s budget request. The House bill would provide the Office of Science with $7.05 billion in FY2021, a relatively small increase of $50 million or 0.7% above FY2020. This amount would be $1.2 billion or 20.8% above the administration’s request, demonstrating Congress’s continued rejection of the deep cuts President Trump has routinely proposed.

  • The House would provide $760 million for Biological and Environmental Research, $10 million or 1.3% above FY2020. Within that amount, Biological Systems Science and Earth and Environmental Systems Sciences would be funded at $390 million and $355 million, respectively. The bill would fully fund the Bioenergy Research Centers at $100 million and provide $30 million for land–water interfaces.
  • Basic Energy Sciences would receive an additional $29 million, or 1.3%, for a total of $2.24 billion in FY2021.
  • Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy (ARPA-E) would receive $435 million, an increase of $10 million over the FY2020 enacted level. The House Appropriations Committee included report language preventing DOE from using any appropriated funds to plan or execute the termination of the agency. As in previous years, the House report included language highlighting the scientific and economic value of research supported by ARPA-E and called previous proposals to eliminate the agency shortsighted.
  • Report language also supported taking steps to reduce dependence on traditional fuel sources, including expanding research into biofuels and other renewable sources.

National Institutes of Health
The Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill would provide a total of $47 billion for NIH, an increase of $5.5 billion above the FY2020 enacted level. Within this increase, the bill would provide a $500 million (1.2%) increase in annual appropriations and $5 billion in emergency appropriations available through FY2025. The bill notes that this $5 billion in emergency funding could be used “to offset costs related to reductions in laboratory productivity resulting from interruptions or shutdowns of research activity” in FY2020. The bill would direct this emergency funding to the Office of the Director and would require that at least $2.5 billion of the total amount be distributed across NIH proportionate to the FY2020 funding level of each Institute and Center, with each receiving an increase of at least 7% above the FY2020 enacted level.

Sources and Additional Information

  • A full analysis of the House Commerce, Justice, Science appropriations bill can be found at https://bit.ly/3ji97Jh.
  • A full analysis of the Agriculture, Rural Development, Food and Drug Administration, and Related Agencies appropriations bill can be found at https://bit.ly/3lkU7MD.
  • A full analysis of the House Energy and Water Development appropriations bill can be found at https://bit.ly/31rQtbV.
  • A full analysis of the Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education appropriations bill can be found at https://bit.ly/2QrVdb6.
Senate Republicans Release $1 Trillion COVID-19 Relief Package

On July 27, Senate Republicans unveiled several pieces of legislation aimed at addressing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, including a package of $306 billion in supplemental appropriations and provisions related to unemployment insurance, tax and health care provisions, liability protections, and small business loans. This legislation, dubbed the Health, Economic Assistance, Liability Protection, and Schools (HEALS) Act, includes roughly $1 trillion in spending and is a direct response to the $3 trillion Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act drafted and passed by House Democrats in May. The HEALS Act is a starting point for negotiations between Republicans and Democrats in Congress, and discussions on a final bill are likely to be contentious and to continue through August.

Source and Additional Information

  • A comprehensive analysis of the HEALS Act can be found at https://bit.ly/34yUmOu.
Science Policy Featured at the Plant Biology 2020 Worldwide Summit

The Plant Biology 2020 Worldwide Summit was held online July 27 through July 31. One week before the summit, on July 20, ASPB’s Science Policy Committee organized a preview symposium, “Navigating Science Policy: Effective Advocacy for Science.” The symposium spoke to how plant scientists can affect government policies and priorities through advocacy. Plant scientists are impacted by science policy in a number of ways, from funding for research and training programs to regulations governing the use of certain plants and technologies, and it is imperative that the community understand how to effectively communicate and build relationships with policy makers. Speakers at the event included the following:

  • April Burke, founder of Lewis-Burke Associates, LLC, a leading advocacy and consulting firm in Washington, DC, that represents universities, research organizations, and scientific societies, presented a talk entitled “The New World: Science Funding and Advocacy.”
  • Rob Horsch, former deputy director for agricultural research and development at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, advocated for innovation and equity in applied plant biology in his talk “Innovation and Equity Are Key Drivers of Progress and Are Driven by Good Policy.”
  • Jane DeMarchi, vice president of government and regulatory affairs at the American Seed Trade Association, spoke on “Making the Connection Between Innovation and Advocacy” and provided concrete strategies for successful advocacy for scientists and their allies.
  • Tom Kalil, chief innovation officer at Schmidt Futures, has served in the White House under Presidents Obama and Clinton, as special assistant to the Chancellor for Science and Technology at the University of California, Berkeley, and as chair of the Global Health Working Group for the Clinton Global Initiative. He was interviewed by Shandrea Stallworth, early career representative on the Science Policy Committee, on “The Role of the Policy Entrepreneur in Science Policy.”

The Plant Biology 2020 Worldwide Summit, which took place the following week, offered a variety of content in plenary talks, concurrent symposia, virtual posters, professional development workshops, a virtual exhibit hall, and small-group networking for participants. A highlight from the summit’s science policy programming was a workshop entitled “Communicating for Impact: Conversing with Congress,” held July 31. This session featured a moderated discussion with congressional staffers Janie Costa and Riya Mehta, who work for the coleaders of the Congressional Agriculture Research Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives. The conversation provided a broad perspective on what motivates Capitol Hill and equipped participants with a better understanding of how they can more meaningfully engage with their elected officials.

Trump Administration Continues to Issue Guidelines Restricting Entry of New International Students

On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a directive that would have prohibited continuing international students from remaining in the United States if their courses were taught online because of campus closures related to COVID-19. Although the Department of Homeland Security rescinded the July 6 directive on July 14 in response to litigation, questions remained as to whether new international students could enter the United States if they would attend schools with 100% of their classes online. On July 24, ICE released new guidance in the form of a Student and Exchange Visitor Program update that affirmed that new international students cannot come to the United States if they are enrolled only in online courses. In addition, ICE stipulated that new international students enrolled in hybrid programs, which combine online and in-person learning, are eligible for F-1 and M-1 visas and would not have their visas revoked or be deported if their program switches to online learning only because of COVID-19.

Although the rescission of the July 6 directive was a victory for the academic community, the latest guidance falls short of requests from universities to allow new international students to enter the United States this fall. Immigration issues will remain a major focus of policy making as the next academic year begins in fall 2020.

Sources and Additional Information

  • More information about the Student and Exchange Visitor Program can be found at https://bit.ly/3li0ekT.
  • More information about the community response to the change in ICE guidance can be found at https://bit.ly/2YyGmR0.
Parag Chitnis Serving as Acting Director of NIFA

Following Scott Angle’s departure, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue announced that Parag Chitnis will serve as NIFA’s acting director effective July 10. Chitnis brings 31 years of scientific research and experience to the director’s office, having served as associate director for programs earlier this year and as deputy director for NIFA’s Institute of Food Production and Sustainability. Before his time at NIFA, which began in 2014, Chitnis worked as a research administrator at NSF in the Division of Molecular and Cellular Biosciences within the Directorate for Biological Sciences.

Chitnis received a BS in botany and plant breeding from the Konkan Agricultural University in India, an MS in genetics and biochemistry from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, and a PhD in biology from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Source and Additional Information

  • The press release announcing the leadership transition can be found at https://bit.ly/3aTFhrT.
IPBES Seeks Reviewers for the Assessment of Invasive Alien Species

The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), the multilateral organization established to improve the interface between science and policy on issues of biodiversity and ecosystem services, is seeking technical experts to serve as reviewers of the first order draft of the chapters of the Assessment of Invasive Alien Species. Ultimately, the assessment will be used to evaluate the current status of and trends in invasive alien species and their impacts, drivers, and management, as well as options for policy to address the challenges they pose. The review process will run from August 31 to October 18, 2020.

Source and Additional Information

  • ASPB members interested in reviewing and providing comments on the first order draft can register at https://bit.ly/31tp35m.
Education Forum

Recap of the Inclusive Pedagogy Workshop at Plant Biology 2020

VALERIE HAYWOOD
Case Western Reserve University

The Inclusive Pedagogy workshop, organized by the ASPB Education Committee for the Plant Biology 2020 Worldwide Summit, was held Wednesday, July 29, and featured three speakers who shared their experiences and expertise in creating an inclusive teaching environment. Workshop participants then had the opportunity to participate in breakout sessions with one of the three speakers.

Christien Russell, member of Minorities in Agriculture, Natural Resources and Related Sciences, discussed the value of creating an inclusive environment to help retain underrepresented groups in the plant sciences. Christien emphasized that the responsibility of establishing an inclusive classroom lies with the course professor, with support from the institution’s administration.

Mary Heskel, assistant professor of biology at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, shared her strategies for making personal connections with students in large classess, including required office hours and short “minute mingle” interactions in the classroom. When teaching about climate change and ecology, Mary stresses to her students the importance of environmental justice, bringing awareness to impacts and inequities.

The final speaker was Jennifer Robison, visiting assistant professor of biology at Manchester University in North Manchester, Indiana. Jennifer uses classroom strategies not only to increase awareness of current research, but also to highlight the diversity of researchers in biology.

For more on inclusive pedagogy, the following articles are suggested:

Education & Outreach Concurrent Session at Plant Biology 2020 Highlights Individuals Making a Difference in Plant Science Education

SUSAN BUSH
Metropolitan State University

The Education & Outreach concurrent session at Plant Biology 2020 featured presentations from four scientists making a difference in plant science education at different stages of their careers.

Tina Lai, who is enrolled in a master’s in bioinformatics program at New York University, shared her work with Genspace  in New York City on a community project called Open Plant. Through the Community Biology Lab, Tina and her colleagues are working with community members to express insulin in the liverwort Marcantia polymorpha. To carry out this project, the Community Biology Lab developed a DIY incubator and lab monitoring system, using algorithms to take pictures, identify barcoded plates, link to databases, and observe growth and color of the plants.

Marcela Tello-Ruiz, a computational scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, shared her education-focused work on the Gramene database. Jamboree workshops to teach methods for improving annotation of gene models have led to development of multiple course-based undergraduate research experience (CURE) opportunities at primarily undergraduate institutions (PUIs) and larger institutions. The Jamborees would normally happen in person; however, Marcela moved the 2020 Jamboree online and had participation from 20 scientists at 17 institutions. She expects to see more upcoming CUREs from PUIs.

Caitlin Cridland is a graduate student at Virginia Tech. She is also a graduate teaching scholar, and her planned work to develop a mentorship program for graduate students working with summer undergraduate researchers was modified when the program moved online. Caitlin and her peers worked to maintain the experiential learning goals of the research program (follow @securingourfood on Twitter. Students regularly engaged online with one another and with their graduate mentors and other members of the lab. The students also received an at-home Arabidopsis research kit and analyzed computational transcriptome data related to their research questions. We can all relate to the fact that a challenging part of moving the program online was maintaining the structure for the students’ time.

Jason Rauscher at Corteva Agriscience spoke about his work with Corteva’s Plant Sciences Symposia Series, which he described as a novel model for industry to support graduate education. The symposia are designed by teams of student organizers who invite the speakers, decide on the topic of focus, and build their own professional skills. Students across the globe have used the symposia as a stepping-stone to develop their own plant science student council, to build virtual symposia in 2020, and to join a student advisory council at Corteva. Hundreds of students and speakers have participated since 2008, so you likely know someone who has been positively impacted by the Plant Sciences Symposia Series.

Many thanks to all who spoke at and attended Plant Biology 2020. The Education Committee looks forward to hearing from more of you in the research labs and fields, on Twitter, and at Plant Biology 2021!

Tribute

Thomas Kinraide
1942–2020

BY R. FORD DENISON and HIROYUKI KOYAMA

Thomas KinraideThomas Bassett Kinraide, 78, died July 12, 2020. He was a leading authority on the mechanisms of metal ion toxicities in acid soils. He published 27 papers in Plant Physiology and served on the editorial board. He was married for 48 years to Beverly (Brookfield) Kinraide, an ordained minister in the Unitarian Church, who died in 2013. Survivors include his daughters Rebecca, a historian of science, and Jerusha, a chemistry teacher, and four grandchildren.

Tom was born in Bridgeport, Connecticut, on January 20, 1942, to Thomas Kinraide and Claudia (Bassett) Kinraide and graduated from Waltham High School in 1960. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from Boston University, a master’s degree from Clark University, and a PhD in plant physiology from the University of Montana in 1972. He published on plant ecology while teaching at Colorado College, then did a postdoc with Bud Etherton at the University of Vermont in a bid to return to full-time research. Their papers in the early 1980s on the use of microelectrode measures of membrane potential to monitor ion transport across membranes laid the foundation for a 1995 paper with Ford Denison on the mechanism of gas permeability control in legume root nodules, key to plant responses to less beneficial rhizobia, soil nitrogen, and various stresses.

In 1981, Tom began a 30-year career as a plant physiologist at USDA’s research laboratory in Beaver, West Virginia. His primary research focus was aluminum toxicity to plants in acid soils. With David Parker and L. W. Zelazny, he made improvements to the program GEOCHEM, which helped identify Al3+ as the main toxicant. He proposed three different mechanisms for alleviation of ion toxicity by other ions, particularly calcium. Of these mechanisms, displacement of toxic ions (e.g., Al3+ or H+) at the plasma membrane by nontoxic ions (e.g., Ca2+ or Mg2+) was found to be the most universal. Negative charges on the plasma membrane attract positive ions, resulting in differences between ion activities in the bulk solution and those at the plasma membrane.

Recognizing this difference led to surprising insights into plant mechanisms for tolerance of acid soils. For example, collaboration with Hiroyuki Koyama and others (Tom’s last paper in Plant Physiology) showed that although wild-type Arabidopsis plants replace some phospholipids with less negative lipids under phosphate deficiency, a mutant that fails to do this becomes more sensitive to aluminum toxicity.

Tom’s work was widely appreciated in Japan, resulting in several speaking tours there and visits by Hiroyuki to his lab in West Virginia. On one of his trips to Japan, he was joined by agronomist and fellow acid soils expert Susan Miyasaka, who was impressed that he ate a wider range of Japanese food than she did, including sashimi. A sabbatical year with Leon Kochian and his postdoc Peter Ryan was also highly productive.

Later in his career, Tom became highly interested in the public understanding of science, particularly among high school students. He felt that it was essential that students understand the methods and process of science from an early age. With Ford, he organized a series of workshops for West Virginia teachers on how to do hands-on science without expensive equipment and collaborated on a paper on strong inference for The American Biology Teacher to help high school teachers introduce students to the scientific method. His daughters said that he was as proud of that paper and its impact as of any of the more technical works in his career.

Natural selection has often favored plants that outcompete their neighbors for light and soil resources rather than plants that use resources more efficiently. Similarly, exuberantly funded labs typically produce fewer publications per dollar yet tend to attract even more funding (the “Matthew effect”). Tom was a great counterexample to today’s definition of a “successful” scientist. Although the USDA lab where he worked was relatively well funded because of political patronage, Tom’s own experiments mainly used wheat seedlings floating in beakers and inexpensive chemicals. He used a bicycle inner tube, rather than an expensive floating table, to protect his electrophysiology system from vibration. He was never PI on a grant and never had a graduate student or postdoc, although both were involved in his many collaborations. But working in a remote mountain laboratory had its benefits, including relatively few distractions. He actually disconnected the public address speaker outside his office to keep an endless stream of inane announcements from interrupting his thinking. Unfortunately, the officious administrator responsible for many of those announcements made him reconnect it. Imagine what he might have accomplished otherwise!

The Plant Cell Call for Papers

2022 Focus Issue on Cell Biology

Editors: Dolf Weijers, Magdalena Bezanilla, Liwen Jiang, Adrienne Roeder, and Mary Williams

Deadline for Submission: May 1, 2021
Publication: January 2022

Plants have been a source of fundamental discoveries on the nature, organization, and function of cells, from the first description of cells to the dissection of the secretory system, and from insights into the role of the cytoskeleton and cell wall in morphogenesis to the discovery of novel membrane-less organelles.

This Focus Issue of The Plant Cell will celebrate the many insights into cell biology that have been gained through studying plants. We are commissioning reviews and seek from the community submission of primary research papers that present new data of special significance in cell biology. Authors interested in contributing should indicate this in the cover letter when submitting papers online at tpc.msubmit.net.

Please select “Cell Biology” from the Focus Issue list in the online submission system. Articles published in The Plant Cell on this topic within 1 year before and after the Focus Issue publication date will be collected in an online Focus Collection.

For more information contact:

Dolf Weijers
Magdalena Bezanilla
Liwen Jiang
Adrienne Roeder
Mary Williams

Plant Physiology Call for Papers
Plant Physiology Call for Papers

2021 Focus Issue on Sensors and Controllers: for and from Plants

Editors: Markus Schwarzländer and Matias Zurbriggen

Deadline for Submission: February 1, 2021
Publication: August 2021

This focus issue on Sensors and Controllers will capture up-to-date views and perspectives of these and related devel-opments and their applications and will highlight important gaps in the available techniques, approaches, and insights to catalyze future studies. Invited Updates will review areas that continue to add new and pertinent insights and high-light nascent and transformative areas that are now expanding rapidly. Additionally, we encourage submissions of primary research articles, reports, and short letters on all aspects of engineering and applications, especially as it applies to fluorescent biosensors and optogenetic switches for plants, novel optogenetic switches derived from plant sensors, novel approaches of using those proteins for monitoring and manipulation of cellular processes, as well as plant bio-logical studies that shed light on in vivo signaling, physiology, and metabolism by exploiting sensors and controllers.

For detailed information go to https://aspb.org/publications/ppfocus/.

To submit an article, go to http://pphys.msubmit.net/.

2021 Focus on Architecture and Plasticity

Editors: Ronald Pierik, Christian Fankhauser, Lucia Strader, and Neelima Sinha

Submission Deadline: January 8, 2021
Publication Date: July 2021

Architecture PlasticityPlant Physiology is pleased to announce a Focus Issue on Architecture and Plasticity edited by Ronald Pierik, Christian Fankhauser, Lucia Strader, and Neelima Sinha to be published in July 2021. Submissions on any aspect of plant architecture and/or plasticity of architecture are welcome. The Focus Issue will consider topics ranging from plant development to (plasticity of) architecture, in the context of the organism and its interactions with a dynamic and challenging environment. Contributions might include studies on regulation of shoot or root development and/or architecture, and responses of plant development and architecture to, for example, light, water, nutrients, temperature, and (a)biotic stress. We also welcome submissions within this broad theme that advance computational modeling in architecture and plasticity as well as those that advance mechanistic knowledge to improve crops.

For detailed information go to https://aspb.org/publications/ppfocus/.

To submit an article, go to http://pphys.msubmit.net/.

2021 Focus Issue on Digital Agriculture

Editors: Rod Wing, Jennifer Clarke, Jiming Jiang, Ning Jiang, Jesse Poland, and Mark Tester

Submission deadline: December 1, 2020
Publication date: June 2021

Digital ArchitectureWithin the next few decades, our population will increase from 7.6 billion to an estimated 10 billion, which raises the question of our lifetime: “How can we feed our world without destroying our planet?” The answer to this question is complex and multidimensional and will require novel solutions led by data-driven science and transformative future-focused innovation. The Focus Issue on crop improvement in the age of Digital Agriculture will cover a broad range of topics relevant to improvement of plant-based agricultural systems. Articles covering the following topics will be considered: genetic diversity, genomes/transcriptomes, microbiomes, and linking such information to phenotype (in the field and controlled environments) to breed new varieties/crops that are high yielding, nutritious, and sustainable; requiring less water, fertilizers, and pesticides, yet able to grow on marginal lands with reduced greenhouse gas emissions and energy inputs. The Digital Agriculture Focus Issue seeks submissions of Research Articles, Research Reports, and Letters in the areas mentioned. The issue will include reviews that synthesize the current state-of-the-art and future prospects in sustainable precision agriculture, including but not limited to phenotyping, artificial intelligence and deep learning, robotics, databases and data sharing, pangenomics, genomic selection, and neodomestication.

For detailed information go to https://aspb.org/publications/ppfocus/.

To submit an article, go to http://pphys.msubmit.net/.

Plant Physiology Call for Papers

2021 Focus Issue on Transport and Signaling

Editors: Yi-Fang Tsay, Michael R. Blatt, Matthew Gilliham, Christophe Maurel, and Nicolaus von Wirén

Submission deadline: November 2, 2020
Publication date: May 2021

Transport and SignalingThis Focus Issue will highlight the recent advances in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms behind membrane transport, its integration with signaling, and its roles in homeostasis. A selection of Update Reviews, included within the Issue, will address new and transformative insights that are driving research beyond the traditional boundaries of transport physiology.

For detailed information go to https://aspb.org/publications/ppfocus/.

To submit an article, go to http://pphys.msubmit.net/.