Times are hard; everybody wants more (but seems to be getting less…), many demands are placed upon the flimsy, finite finances of states and their funding agencies. But if future food and energy supplies are to be secured – for all of us – it has been estimated that expenditure of US$100 billion is needed over a 10-year period. Or such is the claim of Wolf Frommer (Carnegie Institution for Science, USA) and Tom Brutnell (Danforth Plant Science Center, USA) in their ‘Food for thought’ opinion piece in The Scientist. As the pair note, ‘Today, we face growing and economically empowered nations, energy-intensive global economies, and major shifts in global climate that together constitute the perfect storm for agriculture. Yet plant-science research has been underfunded for decades—and funding is projected to shrink’. Key to much of this is exploitation of new and emerging 21st century technologies in the plant sciences – particularly molecular and imaging ones – a topic developed in a Plant Cell ‘Perspective’ paper by David Ehrhardt and Frommer. But the sum of US$100 billion is just for the USA: how much more is needed for a truly global commitment to end food poverty, etc? As an encouragement to stumping up the dosh, the pair conclude that ‘If we [the USA] do nothing, we may return to our pre-1776 role as colonists who simply provide food to more strategically minded nations’. Or, alternatively and even more unthinkably, ‘The risks for failing to meet this challenge are great: in an overpopulated, food-limited world we will inevitably witness more social unrest and, potentially, food and climate wars’. Now, what red-blooded American Congressman/woman would risk that in this US presidential (re?)election year? Let those ‘green’ dollars roll! [Ehrhardt and Frommer’s article is a modified version of the paper generated for the Plant Science Research Summit in 2011. For more information, visit its webpage– Ed.].
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Even worse here in the USA has been an erosion of botany departments and botany programs over decades resulting in a shortage of students interested in botanical/plant science careers. People, foundations, and institutes will put millions of dollars into some little human disease, tragic as it may be on the individual level, and yet this will be a drop in the bucket of human suffering if more support for plant research is not forthcoming in an era of climate change.