EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

Over the past 25 years a major revolution has occurred in biology. Research advances, especially at the molecular level, have permitted exponential increases in our understanding of fundamental life processes. The leading edge of these advances has been in the biomedical disciplines. Human health-related areas have been the major beneficiaries.

There is an increasing realization that other potential beneficiaries of the biological revolution are the agricultural and environmental disciplines. Research opportunities abound in the plant sciences that could make a major impact. Yet, recent reports indicate that plant science has not kept pace with the forefront of biological research. It is time to address this disparity.
(Mary Clutter (NSF) letter to Frank Press, Oct. 25, 1989)

Modern civilization rests on the successful and sustained cultivation of plants and on the wise use of the biologic and physical resource base on which their cultivation depends. Our knowledge about the world around us is incomplete if we do not include plants in our discoveries, and it is distorted if we do not place sufficient emphasis on plant life. From fundamental discoveries about plant life arise technologies and capabilities that have a wide range of practical applications.

Only higher plants and a few microorganisms can convert light energy from the sun into chemical energy. Photosynthetic organisms are at the center of the earth's hospitality to other life forms, and higher plants are important in regulating the earth's systems of atmosphere, water, and climate. We will never fully understand the global environment—or have a serious hope of successfully managing it in the face of explosive population growth, severe shifts in land use, and other effects of human habitation—until we have a much more comprehensive understanding of plants, their cellular processes, and their ecology and population biology.

Plants are critical to human health. They are the dietary source of essential amino acids, vitamins, and other nutrients. They are an important and original (and in many cases,



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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century EXECUTIVE SUMMARY Over the past 25 years a major revolution has occurred in biology. Research advances, especially at the molecular level, have permitted exponential increases in our understanding of fundamental life processes. The leading edge of these advances has been in the biomedical disciplines. Human health-related areas have been the major beneficiaries. There is an increasing realization that other potential beneficiaries of the biological revolution are the agricultural and environmental disciplines. Research opportunities abound in the plant sciences that could make a major impact. Yet, recent reports indicate that plant science has not kept pace with the forefront of biological research. It is time to address this disparity. (Mary Clutter (NSF) letter to Frank Press, Oct. 25, 1989) Modern civilization rests on the successful and sustained cultivation of plants and on the wise use of the biologic and physical resource base on which their cultivation depends. Our knowledge about the world around us is incomplete if we do not include plants in our discoveries, and it is distorted if we do not place sufficient emphasis on plant life. From fundamental discoveries about plant life arise technologies and capabilities that have a wide range of practical applications. Only higher plants and a few microorganisms can convert light energy from the sun into chemical energy. Photosynthetic organisms are at the center of the earth's hospitality to other life forms, and higher plants are important in regulating the earth's systems of atmosphere, water, and climate. We will never fully understand the global environment—or have a serious hope of successfully managing it in the face of explosive population growth, severe shifts in land use, and other effects of human habitation—until we have a much more comprehensive understanding of plants, their cellular processes, and their ecology and population biology. Plants are critical to human health. They are the dietary source of essential amino acids, vitamins, and other nutrients. They are an important and original (and in many cases,

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century continuing) source of therapeutic drugs—more than 20% of all prescription drugs are derived from plants and many more were first discovered and formulated as plant products. The health of the human race could well rest on the quality and extent of our understanding of plants, their uses, and their requirements. Examples from the past—from Mendel's discovery of the rules of genetic inheritance to the X-ray diffraction of tobacco mosaic virus, which paved the way to elucidating the structure of DNA—illustrate the importance of plants to biologic research. But how well equipped are we to deal with the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead? The concerns that led to this study were that research in and teaching of the biology of plants have been insufficiently emphasized and that plant biology has become isolated from the mainstream of biology. The Committee on an Examination of Plant-Science Programs in the United States was established in the Commission on Life Sciences of the National Research Council to review the data available and to consider whether the academic and research institutions of this country are prepared to address the opportunities in modern plant biology. The committee also was asked to recommend how the nation might change its approach to the support of plant sciences to reduce the imbalance in the emphasis given in laboratories and classrooms to plant biology relative to other fields of biology. This report focuses on three issues facing the plant sciences in academic research and training. First is the mechanism of research funding (competitive versus noncompetitive). Second is the balance of research funding (support of basic research into the nature of life processes versus applied or adaptive research). Third is the commitment to building and maintaining an appropriate infrastructure of institutions and personnel. The members of this committee are convinced that the U.S. research effort in plant biology is not keeping pace with biomedically related fields because of the defective mechanisms

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century used for support as well as the small financial commitment to research and training in plant sciences. The patchwork system of support for research and the incomplete system of support for career training in the plant sciences described in Chapter 2 creates impediments to the success of plant-biology research in the United States. These impediments include an insufficient focus on plant science as a basic discipline of biology; the isolation of plant sciences from other disciplines of biology; the insufficient funding and fragmentation of support for basic plant-biology research; the sometimes inappropriate philosophy and rationale for funding; and the insufficient support for training, instrumentation, and facilities. A downward spiral (Figure 1) has resulted from the Figure 1 Downward spiral of basic plant-biology research and training.

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century lack of a coordinated program to support research, graduate training, and postdoctoral training and from the failure to establish linkages with other basic and applied disciplines. In its broad outline, the remedy that the committee proposes is simple and proven. In the 45 years since the beginning of large-scale federal support of science, the strategies used by the various federal agencies to fund scientific research in support of societal goals have constituted an experiment. NIH and NSF have based funding decisions on competitive procedures designed to recognize individual merit; USDA has based funding decisions on institutional, political, and historical considerations that do not preclude but that also do not necessarily reward or reinforce individual merit. The committee concludes that the results of the experiment are clear. The philosophy, mechanisms, and strategy used by NIH and NSF to support basic research and its applications have advanced science of the highest quality, attracted the best young scientists to careers in research and teaching, and provided a stream of discoveries that has been rapid and highly beneficial to society. The success of the NIH and NSF grant programs has engendered their enthusiastic and generous support by Congress and successive administrations. The committee's members believe it is time to take these lessons and apply them to the plant sciences. To this end, the committee recommends the establishment of a comprehensive program that engages all of the federal agencies that support plant biology. The recommended program would include the following components: Investigator-initiated competitive grants. Postdoctoral training. Predoctoral training (training grants and fellowships). Undergraduate training. Career training and redevelopment.

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century Facility support. Meeting support. The example in government closest to the philosophy and practices the committee recommends for federal support of plant science is the National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) of the National Institutes of Health. NIGMS is the extramural arm of a federal agency with an applied mission and focuses on basic science and support of the scientific infrastructure in performing its mission. The success of the proposed plant biology program will depend on its meeting the following criteria: The program should be dedicated to the study of plant biology as a basic science. It should not be a mission-oriented program aimed at solving specific practical problems. The program should encompass a comprehensive system of extramural research and training to include pre- and postdoctoral fellowships, training grants for graduate students, grants for the purchase and upkeep of instrumentation, and financial support for meetings. The system of grants should support the highest quality research in nonprofit institutions. The program should be patterned after the philosophy of the NIGMS. The program should support high-quality research being done by plant biologists in nonprofit institutions. Communication between plant scientists and researchers in other disciplines should be encouraged. The program should provide grants and fellowships in sufficient number and amount of award to attract and retain the best scientists. The program should be administered by an agency committed to the above standards.

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century The scope of the program should be carefully defined in the course of further study but the following subjects are cited as examples: Subcellular processes, including biochemistry, photochemistry, organelle structure and function, gene and chromosome structure, genome organization, mutagenesis and DNA repair, and gene expression and regulation. Cellular processes, including developmental biology and developmental genetics, signal transduction, cell-to-cell communication, cell division and growth, photosynthesis, and intercellular transport of water and nutrients. Organismal processes, including growth and reproductive biology, structure and function of plant organs, responses to the environment at the supercellular level, and nutrient and water transport in the whole plant. Population and species processes, including areas such as ecology, population biology and genetics, systematics, and issues of biodiversity. Plant interactions with the biotic and abiotic environment, including nitrogen fixation, interactions with beneficial microorganisms, pathogenesis, the genetics and molecular biology of plant defense and stress responses, and community ecology. The committee presents in Chapter 4 three recommendations that embody the above principles and views. RECOMMENDATION 1 A National Institute of Plant Biology (NIPB) should be established in the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) under the direct oversight of the assistant secretary of agriculture for science and education.

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century NIPB should be responsible for leading a coordinated federal plant-biology program that intimately involves other federal agencies that support research and training in plant biology. Because plant biology encompasses far more than agriculture and its applications, the historical mission of USDA is too narrow to encompass the breadth of fundamental plant-biology research and teaching as we envision it. Moreover, the USDA has only recently, and very slowly, moved to adopt a significant extramural component to its mission through a program funding competitive grants. This program, begun in 1978, was an important change from almost exclusive concentration on formula funding by USDA. The fiscal year 1992 National Research Initiative Competitive Grants Program (NRICGP) enlarges USDA's small program of grants to support extramural plant-biology research related to agriculture. At full funding it is planned that $125 million of the $500 million total would be for plant biology. Building on the foundation of NRICGP, we propose that the plant systems part of NRICGP become the core of NIPB, which would serve as a primary focus for research and training in the study of plant biology oriented toward agriculture, food, and the environment. In addition, NIPB would be the lead agency in coordinating the efforts of other agencies in plant biology. If USDA should prove unwilling to fulfill the role we have proposed for it, NSF should be assigned the task of leading the program. NSF has clearly demonstrated its dedication to the support of fundamental research based on competitively awarded, investigator-initiated grants. Implementation of our proposal would require that USDA effect major changes in its funding philosophy, its operational patterns, and its relationship to Congress and the scientific community. It will need to

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century Plan beyond the design drawn for NRICGP and its proposed five-year funding strategy. Support evolution of NRICGP and its competitive grants program. Focus on the support of fundamental plant biology. Protect the new institute from political and commercial pressures. Avoid over managing the scientific research process. Demonstrate increased leadership in coordinating its work with that of other agencies. Develop department-supported training programs and encourage training programs at other agencies. Increase the use of peer review procedures that employs the expertise of the entire scientific community and reaches outside government agencies. Organize NIPB to ensure its high visibility, stature, and independence within the federal government. The establishment by USDA of the institute would be another step in an important progression. The first step was the establishment of a competitive grants program; the second was the expansion of that program under the National Research Initiative. The next step is the expansion of the plant systems part of NRICGP to a national institute. Potentially, other parts of NRICGP, for example, the animal health program, could become institutes. Eventually, USDA could resemble the model of the Department of Health and Human Services and its National Institutes of Health for support of the extramural and intramural research, training, and infrastructural elements of sciences relevant to its mission. The committee recognizes that the recommendation for the establishment of an institute is proposed at a time of both national budgetary constraint and while the USDA National Research Initiative is in mid-course of implementation. However, the increases in funds we have proposed for support

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century of the NIPB at USDA and to increase expenditures at the other agencies that are major supporters of plant biology research and training are modest (see Chapter 5 for detail) amounting to about an additional $240 million annually by the year 2000. We believe further that the formation of NIPB is the next and natural step in the growth of the competitive grants program at USDA and needs to be discussed now, and the groundwork laid, before the completion of the five-year plan to build the National Research Initiative is completed. This Report and Investing in Research Concerns about a possible deficiency in knowledge about plants and inadequacies of research funding and manpower have been raised by others. Many of the concerns have centered around the need to solve urgent problems, such as global climate change, food shortages, undesirable consequences of some agricultural production methods, and loss of biologic diversity. Studies include one prepared by the National Research Council's Board on Agriculture. The report, Investing in Research, called for a major new initiative for agricultural research. Investing in Research has led to the incorporation of a National Research Initiative (NRI) into the Administration's FY 1991 and 1992 budgets for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The major recommendation of Investing in Research was that USDA be authorized to enlarge, in both scope and funding, its competitive research-grants program. The focus of the NRI is agricultural, and it includes a program of research on plants. The present report goes beyond Investing in Research in proposing changes in how plant biology is managed within the USDA and in a context broader than agriculture, and it contains recommendations about the USDA leadership responsibility for the health and strength of the research and research personnel infrastructure. We believe our proposals are consistent with the spirit of Investing in Research and are a necessary condition for the long-term success of the National Research Initiative.

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century RECOMMENDATION 2 All agencies that currently support plant-biology research and training should maintain and increase their commitment in cooperation with NIPB and USDA. The National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration have provided valuable support for plant-biology research, and their continued—and increased—commitment is needed to fulfill the new institute's objectives. These agencies, together with USDA, encompass virtually all aspects of a comprehensive plant-biology program. The National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation could provide the training grants and fellowships that are essential for training more plant scientists. However, we urge USDA to consider developing large-scale training programs. For NIPB to succeed, all involved agencies must increase the amounts awarded for individual research grants. These agencies have demonstrated a remarkable degree of cooperation in the past, for example by making joint decisions for the funding of plant science centers. In September 1991, USDA, DoE, and NSF signed an agreement to continue their joint program on collaborative research in plant biology. RECOMMENDATION 3 An independent group of nongovernment scientists should be formed to provide continuing advice to the USDA assistant secretary for science and education and to the officials of cooperating agencies concerning NIPB's operation and goals and to oversee the parallel efforts by other agencies.

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century In five years an independent group should examine and evaluate the progress of all of the agencies involved in implementing the recommendations contained in this report. We believe special provision should be made to provide continuing, independent advice and to ensure that the program's effectiveness is evaluated after an appropriate period. Chapter 4 of the report details the components of the comprehensive program—the minimum necessary to ensure U.S. leadership in plant-biology research into the next century. The estimated cost for the first year is $280 million; this includes about $150 million already allotted for competitive grants programs by several federal agencies. Our best cost estimate for the year 2000 is about $520 million (in 1991 dollars); this represents growth of about 6% annually. These sums are modest considering the contribution plant biology research can make to maintaining the U.S. role as a global leader in agriculture, the environment, health and medicine, and science education.

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