Seven thousand botanists have never come together in one place before. But we are all meeting at the International Botanical Congress in Shenzhen, #IBC2017, this week, in a stunning display of not only the diversity of plants but the diversity of researchers and research. With 27 (yes, twenty-seven) parallel sessions most of the time, each of us will bring something very different back from the conference. We all share the experience of the plenary lectures and exhibitions, and numerous planned and unplanned discussions. We are being exposed to talks about the biggest of the big pictures about our world, plants and our ecosystem. In other talks and posters, we are getting down to the base pair, root hair, or monthly growth increment of our chosen variety of a sub-species. Trade stands too show the diversity of our subject: from cotton cooperatives through LED illuminators, DNA sequencing company equipment and services, microscopes, phenotyping robotics to publishers and societies.
Uniquely, our Chinese hosts have done us proud with stunning displays about the challenges and solutions for China: complete mock-ups of the limestone Karst landscapes of Kwelin, and stunning bryophyte gardens. Informative posters about the multi-millennium history of botany in China, and their approaches to greening cities. Green walls are everywhere around and within the Conference Centre (getting ever more sophisticated since the review of Ross Cameron and Tijana Blanusa), as is talk of the greening of cities with the multiple ecosystem services provided by plants to the populations. It looks like the public in China is on-side with the government’s concerns over air pollution, and ‘the return of the bicycle’ is notable with 100s of thousands of rental ‘mobikes’ everywhere in the city. The onward rise of the paperless, cashless society continues in China with no parallel anywhere in the world: most payments from the smallest (an ice cream or fruit from the back of a bicycle) to largest (weeks in hotels or more) are paid for locally through the smartphones (WeChat or Alipay), and the bandwidth of the WiFi in the metro undergrounds is stunning, with not a single paper in sight but maybe 500 phones, half streaming videos!
At IBC 2017, social media activity through Twitter has been surprisingly high, and the tweets with the hashtag #IBC2017 give an amazing flavour of the meeting, especially when put together in a coherent retrospective by Alun Salt (First half day and first full day are here). It is interesting as always to compare the different takes of the Twitterati on the Plenary lectures, with audiences of thousands, and the keynotes with a thousand or more. When it comes to the individual sessions, most are covered by one or two tweeters at most, but I am happy most follow the best style of not simply repeating the titles but considering implications of conclusions and emphasising the presenter’s insight into their specialised topic. It is also good that the posters are receiving some attention on Twitter. On one hand, I think that it is incredibly good to give publicity to these critically important works, but I’m a little reluctant to put out a tweet including images or any more insight than the author has given in their abstract – I wonder if any others have thoughts about Tweeting posters?
With this range of talks and topics, not to say the packed programme, I’m finding it tricky to bring out a scientific theme to cover here. We access the abstracts largely through the mobile phone app, but I hope we will find a full-text version to take home with us. I saw an organiser carrying the printed version, or maybe they were struggling to carry a couple of reams of paper. The end of the Congress will end up with a series of votes. Gardeners worldwide will soon be up in arms as we vote to change the names of favourite species (although occasionally reverting to much-loved names like Chrysanthemum over Dendranthema). For one that affects me, I’m sad to hear we won’t vote for the conservation of plant tribal names above the level of genus – so there will still be the unsatisfactory situation regarding the major wheat/rye/barley cereals are in the Triticeae or Hordeae.
We will also vote on adopting the Shenzhen Declaration on Plant Sciences: uniting plant sciences and society to build a green, sustainable earth. There are seven paragraphs ranging from the need to achieve global sustainability, to inventorying life-on-earth, and even the need for outreach to spread knowledge of plant science, something I hope AoBBlog is achieving. However, one thing I feel is missing from the Declaration: the need for the high-level and technical education, teaching the next generation of scientists who will do even more exciting things with plants than we are learning at IBC this week.