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CambPlants Hub

A networking organisation for plants-related research and impact

Studying at Cambridge


Festival of Plants 2017

How to Feed the World Sustainably
When May 20, 2017
from 02:00 PM to 03:00 PM
Where Cambridge University Botanic Garden, 1 Brookside, Cambridge, CB2 1JE
Contact Name
Contact Phone 01223 333956
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Saturday at 2pm CambPlants will host a lecture by Professor Steve Long  ‘Can we improve crop photosynthesis to feed the world sustainably?’

The lecture is free but you need to register here.

The talk will explore various approaches in food security and the changing environment and will take place in the Sainsbury Laboratory Auditorium. 

If you wish to attend the lecture by Professor Steve Long and you are not already in the Botanic Garden, please enter via 47 Bateman Street.

CambPlants is participating in a range of activities as part of the Cambridge University Botanic Garden’s Festival of Plants.

Researchers will be running a series of interactive exhibits in the Pop up Science tent, including magnetic games, how to be a pollinator, computer modelling exercises and a ‘build your own plant’ activity.  Jamie Males and Edmund Tanner will be giving short informal talks in the Talking Plants tent, and several other researchers are planning informal tours of the Garden, exploring various areas of interest including leaf shapes and sizes and tropical plants.  Plan your day and download the programme here.

A full programme for the Festival of Plants can be found here. Please note that normal Garden admissions charges to the Festival apply.

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Steve Long FRS is a Gutgesell Endowed University of Illinois Professor of Crop Sciences and Distinguished Professor of Crop Sciences at the University of Lancaster, UK. His photosynthesis research spans from molecular and in silico design to field analysis of performance.  This has been applied in increasing genetic crop yield potential and adaptation to global change. He has identified the most productive terrestrial plants so far known from the wild and has studied the attributes that set them apart.  At Illinois he led the development of SoyFACE; the world’s largest facility for understanding the impacts of atmospheric change on our major food crops under open air field conditions.  He is currently Director of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation international project on Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE).  He is listed by ISI as one of the Most Highly Cited Authors of 2016.  He was recently awarded the Marsh Award for Climate Change Research from the British Ecological Society, the Innovation Award of the International Society for Photosynthesis Research; and the Newton-Abrahams Visiting Professorship of Oxford University, UK.  He is Founding and Chief Editor of “Global Change Biology”.  He has given invited presentations on bioenergy, climate change impacts and food security to the President at the White House, to the Vatican and to Bill Gates.  He serves in advisory roles on key agricultural committees in the US, UK and EU. 

Can we improve crop photosynthesis to feed the world sustainably?

The world may need 70% more food by 2050 and at present rates of crop yield improvement, we will fall far short of this goal.  This will incentivize conversion of more land to agriculture and increased demands for irrigation water and fertilizers.  This is compounded by climate change and the fact that the improvements that fueled the Green Revolution are now near their biological limits.  Photosynthesis converts sunlight energy into chemical energy in the form of plant biomass and ultimately our food.  Its efficiency in crops falls far short of the theoretical.  Crop breeding has failed to increase this efficiency.  Computer modeling of the mechanism of photosynthesis and application of optimization algorithms show potential for significant improvements.  Very significant productivity increases in field crop trials have resulted from bioengineering of some of these predicted interventions.  Insuring against an uncertain future will need many more such successes, and soon.  Achieving regulatory compliance, environmental testing and multiplication of seed mean that such innovations would not be available to farmers at scale at any scale for more than 20 years.  Insuring against future food shortage not only needs massive public investment now, but a new generation of plant scientists who can translate from genes and mathematical models to high-throughput analysis of crop function in field trials.