3
FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS

The modern achievements of skill, enterprise, and science, new ideas with germs of power, must be recognized and diligently studied, as they have brought and will continue to bring daily competition which must be met.

If the world moves at ten knots an hour, those whose speed is but six will be left in the lurch.
(Congressman Justin Smith Morrill in 1859, three years before passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act.)

The biology of plant life should be a central focus for the nation's investment in research and teaching. The years since World War II have seen an extraordinary development in biology and biomedicine, but the study of plants has lagged behind.

The past 45 years have marked an experiment in the public support of basic and applied biologic research. Support of biomedical applications has been based on competitively awarded, investigator-initiated grants. The comprehensive system has included training, career development, and institutional awards, as well as competitive, investigator-initiated grants. The system has been open to competition among all sectors of the nation's diverse research community.

Support of research on plants has been directed primarily to research targeted to applications in agriculture, food, and energy. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides substantial support for plant research, funding has been predominantly in the form of formula allocations to a fraction of the nation's research and teaching institutions. The USDA Agricultural Research Service also constitutes a relatively large federally supported intramural program, but this system is not comprehensive and it is not open. A comprehensive system includes training, career development, and institutional awards, as well as competitive, investigator-initiated grants. An open system allows competition for grants by all sectors of the nation's diverse research community. Competi



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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century 3 FINDINGS AND CONCLUSIONS The modern achievements of skill, enterprise, and science, new ideas with germs of power, must be recognized and diligently studied, as they have brought and will continue to bring daily competition which must be met. If the world moves at ten knots an hour, those whose speed is but six will be left in the lurch. (Congressman Justin Smith Morrill in 1859, three years before passage of the Morrill Land Grant Act.) The biology of plant life should be a central focus for the nation's investment in research and teaching. The years since World War II have seen an extraordinary development in biology and biomedicine, but the study of plants has lagged behind. The past 45 years have marked an experiment in the public support of basic and applied biologic research. Support of biomedical applications has been based on competitively awarded, investigator-initiated grants. The comprehensive system has included training, career development, and institutional awards, as well as competitive, investigator-initiated grants. The system has been open to competition among all sectors of the nation's diverse research community. Support of research on plants has been directed primarily to research targeted to applications in agriculture, food, and energy. Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides substantial support for plant research, funding has been predominantly in the form of formula allocations to a fraction of the nation's research and teaching institutions. The USDA Agricultural Research Service also constitutes a relatively large federally supported intramural program, but this system is not comprehensive and it is not open. A comprehensive system includes training, career development, and institutional awards, as well as competitive, investigator-initiated grants. An open system allows competition for grants by all sectors of the nation's diverse research community. Competi

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century tively awarded, investigator-initiated grants are only a small portion of the overall support for plant science research. The National Science Foundation (NSF) and, until recently, the National Institutes of Health (NIH), have historically awarded more funds for plant research and training through competitive, investigator-initiated granting programs than has USDA. The members of this committee were convinced that the U.S. research effort in plant biology is not keeping pace with work in biomedically related fields because of the inadequacy of the mechanisms and funding used to support plant-science research. We believe that the federal government needs to alter dramatically its management and support of plant biology. There are three related issues on which this report focuses in suggesting remedies for the deterioration of the plant sciences in the academic research and training enterprise. First is the mechanism of research funding (competitive versus noncompetitive; open to the larger scientific community versus closed). Second is the balance of research funding (support of basic versus applied research). Third is the commitment to building and maintaining an appropriate infrastructure of institutions and personnel (the amount of funding for research and training of the next generation of plant scientists). The stunting of plant sciences at a time when other fields are experiencing rapid growth initiates a self-perpetuating downward spiral in the plant sciences. As universities restructure traditional botany, zoology, and microbiology departments into thematic departments that cut across organismal boundaries, plant biology loses academic positions to fields with access to the much larger funding bases of the biomedical support structure. In 1988–1989, only 16% of plant-biology faculty were at universities that had demonstrated their competitiveness in science by ranking among the top 20 institutional recipients of federal support for research and development in the life sciences (NSF, 1990b). Between 1982–1983 and 1989–1990 the number of plant-biology faculty at

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century the top 20 universities decreased from 4,607 to 4,517 (NSF, 1990b). In contrast, these same institutions have a substantial representation of biomedical scientists and their placement in the top 20 recipients of federal support for research derives primarily from funds received from NIH. This unequal allocation of research and training resources has induced the documented paucity of faculty, research, and training in plant biology throughout academia. Unless the number of plant scientists in college and university biology departments is raised, many undergraduate and graduate students will never be exposed to plant biology. Many introductory biology courses include little information on plants, and many advanced texts in cell or molecular biology minimize the discussion of plants. Few students will choose to enter a field whose apparent lack of importance is documented by its absence from courses and texts. It is not surprising that the enrollment in baccalaureate plant sciences programs, as reported by members of the National Association of State Universities and Land Grant Colleges, decreased from 10,953 in 1982 to 6,974 in 1989 (NASULGC, 1990) or that the number of plant-science graduate students shrank from 8,023 in 1982–1983 to 7,317 in 1988–1989 (NSF, 1990b, Table A-8). The number of baccalaureate degrees awarded in the life sciences overall decreased only slightly, from about 40,000 to about 38,000, in the narrower period 1981–1985 (IOM, 1990). Even those who become interested in plants can hardly be encouraged when little graduate or postdoctoral support is available for plant sciences. Good researchers find their opportunities to train the next generation of plant scientists limited by the relatively small size and duration of the support of graduate and postdoctoral students. The downward spiral (Figure 1 in Chapter 1) thus begins with a lack of funding, which reduces competitiveness and the number of plant scientists, and drives them into other fields, out of academia, or out of science. The spiral thus reduces the

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century numbers of graduate and postdoctoral students, impoverishing the field. Reduction in the number of plant researchers and in the size of awards generates fewer important discoveries and causes the plant sciences to lag further behind other disciplines. This reduces the competitiveness of plant relative to animal projects and continues the cycle of reduced funding in plant biology. Ironically, the danger to the future of basic plant-science research is greatest now, when opportunities for science in general are greatest. Thus, fields for which funding is available will take advantage of the new breakthroughs and will progress at the expense of fields that are inadequately supported. Remedial action must be taken to correct the downward spiral. Our analysis leads us to the following specific conclusions: Plant-biology research is not keeping pace with research in other fields of biology for several reasons: Access to funding is limited. There is no comprehensive system to support training and competitively awarded research grants. The available grants are small and short term. Few large research laboratories are performing forefront research using plant systems. There is insufficient basic plant biology in the core biology curricula of many universities and colleges. The amount of money available for the support of basic plant-biology research is inadequate relative to existing needs and opportunities for research and relative to support of other life-science programs. Federal support of plant biology is fragmented among many agencies. Most of the funds available to plant biology are targeted to the solution of immediate problems rather than to basic research. These funds often are not available broadly but are directed to scientists at specific institutions.

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century There is no comprehensive program for financial support for graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in plant biology or for research support for trainees and faculty in plant biology. If the problems are not remedied, plant biology in the U.S. can be expected to fall farther behind other sciences. The lack of emphasis on the teaching of plant sciences could worsen. Future practical applications—in fields as diverse as agriculture, nutrition, renewable energy, rangeland management, pharmacology, and management of the global environment—depend on our basic understanding of plants, so the failure to support plant-biology research and training will inhibit solution of these practical problems. The United States may thus become more dependent on scientific advances made abroad to support agriculture, one of its major industries and a major export earner in the U.S. economy. The committee notes that the NIH system of comprehensive support for basic biologic research has been successful; that its elements are applicable to the problems facing the plant sciences; and that a program in basic plant sciences, constructed on the NIH model, would support research and teaching, and concomitantly would improve the competitiveness of U.S. plant science. The NIH paradigm has four main features: NIH supports a diverse program of competitive grants for investigator-initiated extramural research at private and public universities and research institutions. Research grants are awarded to scientists who have applied to carry out their own projects within areas broadly defined by government policy. NIH's study section system is a critical element of its approach to the evaluation of research proposals. Study sections are composed of knowledgeable and objective scientists who review and evaluate ideas in grant

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Plant Biology Research and Training for the 21st Century applications regardless of the projects' immediate applicability. One feature of the NIH health sciences program has been its support of graduate and postgraduate training and its awards to junior faculty. NIH has three early career programs: Graduate students are supported by training grants awarded to institutions with the strongest faculties and curricula, as judged by competition. An institution selects its graduate students, and the grant pays stipends and tuition costs for three to five years. Postdoctoral fellows are supported by individual grants awarded by competition to scientists nearing completion of their graduate studies who have applied to carry out postdoctoral research. They are generally three-year awards. Junior investigators are supported by individual, competitive grants awarded to junior faculty to defray their salaries and some part of their research costs for five years. Their universities release them from some teaching obligations for that period. The awards permit young scientists to redirect their interests and to spend much of their time doing research at the start of their careers. NIH has been the source of hundreds of millions of dollars for equipment and major construction at universities (although the amounts awarded have decreased sharply in recent years). The program has been of inestimable value in increasing the pace of research at recipient institutions. NIH's grants for research, training, other infrastructural elements, such as instruments, facilities, symposia, meetings, and public information has resulted in the construction of a comprehensive and complete system of support for biomedical research.