Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Questions, questions, questions!

Image: Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Wikimedia Commons.

If science is about anything it is about asking questions. But these days it seems that it’s not enough for each individual white-coated, ivory-tower resident to pursue his (or her) own questions. Being a global collaborative effort, we need a unified list of objectives and interrogatives to help focus effort and bring that critical research mass to bear. To that end Prof. Claire Grierson (University of Bristol, UK) and fellow phytointerrogators have just published ‘One hundred important questions facing plant science research’ (New Phytologist 192: 6–12, 2011) in which they present their list of the 100 important questions facing plant science research today. As the team put it, ‘Plant science has never been more important. The growing and increasingly prosperous human population needs abundant safe and nutritious food, shelter, clothes, fibre, and renewable energy, and needs to address the problems generated by climate change, while preserving habitats. These global challenges can only be met in the context of a strong fundamental understanding of plant biology and ecology, and translation of this knowledge into field-based solutions. Plant science is beginning to address these grand challenges, but it is not clear that the full range of challenges facing plant science is known or has been assessed. What questions should the next generation of plant biologists be addressing?’. To view the full list of questions, visit Although this team is firmly UK-based, one suspects that many – all? – of the questions have universal (or, at least, global) relevance. That list now joins the likes of ‘The identification of 100 ecological questions of high policy relevance in the UK’ (Journal of Applied Ecology 43: 617–627, 2006) and the rather less insular ‘One hundred questions of importance to the conservation of global biological diversity’ (Conservation Biology 23: 557–567, 2009) – both sets published by teams fronted by Prof. William Sunderland (University of Cambridge, UK) – and ‘The top 100 questions for global agriculture and food’ (International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability 8: 219–236, 2010), produced by a group in which Prof. Sunderland also played a major role. One way to see if ‘100 Bot Qs’ is really taken seriously is to require all future plant science research papers to add a note indicating which of the questions the work addresses. With (ma)Line(d) Managers seeking new ways of judging the worth of researchers, might this also be a useful alternative ‘metric’ by which academics’ career advancement could be judged? Controversial? Maybe, but that’s quite another question…

Nigel Chaffey

I am a botanist and former Senior Lecturer in Botany at Bath Spa University (Bath, near Bristol, UK). As News Editor for the Annals of Botany I contributed the monthly Plant Cuttings column to that august international botanical organ - and to Botany One - for almost 10 years. I am now a freelance plant science communicator and Visiting Research Fellow at Bath Spa University. I continue to share my Cuttingsesque items - and appraisals of books with a plant focus - with a plant-curious audience. In that guise my main goal is to inform (hopefully, in an educational, and entertaining way) others about plants and plant-people interactions, and thereby improve humankind's botanical literacy. Happy to be contacted to discuss potential writing - or talking - projects and opportunities.
[ORCID: 0000-0002-4231-9082]

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