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Integrating islands of knowledge for greater synergy and efficiency in crop research

Integrating islands of knowledge for greater synergy and efficiency in crop research agricultural research funding, benchmarking, A transnational approach to plant science is required to address global chal- crop production, efficiency, focus, food security, Global Plant Council, impact lenges such as food security and climate change. Action from the plant, crop pathways, integration across scales, and agricultural science communities will be required to meet these challenges. integrators, Sustainable Development Goals, Islands of knowledge (e.g. crop, discipline, scale, environment, organization) synergy, teamwork, translational research, need to be better integrated. Mapping is needed to identify gaps and make transnational collaboration. connections between these islands. Translational research, spanning from the molecular to farm scale, should be the focus. We need more `integrators’ to Correspondence manage complex global projects and integration should be recognized as an Andrew Borrell, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), important skill in itself. We need to advocate teamwork over individuality - Hermitage Research Facility, University of and reward teams. Impact should be taken much more seriously as an outcome Queensland, Warwick, QLD 4370, Australia. and we need to better understand impact pathways. Focusing on key game- Tel: 61 7 45426740; Fax: 61 7 45426716; changers will more likely lead to impact rather than attempting to do E-mail: a.borrell@uq.edu.au everything. Received: 20 February 2017; Accepted: 28 February 2017 Food and Energy Security 2017 6(1): 26–32 doi: 10.1002/fes3.107 drought), grow common crops of interest (including maize, Introduction wheat, rice, sorghum, barley, tubers, legumes), and live Significant challenges relating to food, nutritional, and on a common planet (addressing climate change is a global water security in the coming decades are no longer doubted issue). The SDGs highlight how the developed and devel- (Wiebe et al. 2016). The United Nations Sustainable oping world will need to work together to address these Development Goals (SDGs) address the eradication of common challenges. poverty and hunger along with the attainment of clean Meeting these challenges will require a transnational water, increased health, innovation, responsible produc- approach. For example, when comparing G20-focused tion, climate action, and sustainable communities. Action priorities for wheat research (www.wheatinitiative.org) with from the plant, crop, and agricultural science communities those of less developed countries served by the Consultative will be required to achieve these goals. The developed Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR, and developing world face common challenges (as stated www.cgiar.org), 80% of the traits identified are common in the SDGs), common environments (e.g., rain-fed crops (www.wheat.org), providing obvious opportunities for such as sorghum grown in northern Australia, sub- Saharan international collaboration. While single crop- focused Africa, and central- western India frequently experience research still achieves economically significant genetic gains, © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Integrating Islands of Knowledge given the transnational nature of many agricultural prob- knowledge, would be a valuable criterion when evaluating lems, it is generally accepted that crop scientists will need research proposals. At the very least, if a new island is to work across borders to maintain global food security. funded – then funders need to make sure it is linked to Crop research should benefit from a more internationally other islands of knowledge. Funding agencies could con- oriented approach to achieve better leverage of technol- sider investing in linkages to achieve synergy, rather than ogy, expertise, and infrastructure (Reynolds et al. 2016). speculating on novelty, single- discipline approaches, or Important outcomes have already been achieved in less- projects with limited scale. Rather than expecting automatic developed countries through their national agricultural outcomes from relatively specialized teams, impacts will research programs in collaboration with international enti- be more likely if all appropriately qualified groups are ties such as the CGIAR, the Bill and Melinda Gates funded considering comparative advantage. Foundation (www.gatesfoundation.org), and various advanced research institutes. These collaborations can be Focus and Integration further developed by fostering an environment where productivity constraints of a transnational nature are rou- To be most effective, we also need to strike a balance tinely investigated from a global perspective, integrating between focus (or reductionism) and integration. Linkages research across crops and agro-ecosystems, with routine can be made between focused projects by reviewing out- sharing of data and other resources. Some potential actions puts at regular intervals to identify pertinent linkages. over a range of timescales (short, medium, and long term) For example, projects should consider the immediate level will be discussed in this study. of integration above and below the focus of the project (Passioura 2010). This would go a long way to opening opportunities for sharing concepts and technologies Integrating Islands of Knowledge between different levels of integration from within the Funders of agricultural research frequently favor novel or same discipline. In this context, a research team studying exciting ideas without considering how outputs may link drought adaptation in cereals at the organ level (e.g., leaf to previous or parallel projects, creating islands of rela- growth) should integrate their findings ‘up’ a scale to the tively isolated knowledge. An effort to map islands of whole plant level and ‘down’ a scale to the tissue level, knowledge could help identify productive synergies. thereby better understanding how leaf dynamics fit into Examples of islands are disciplines, crops, environments, a larger framework (Fig. 2). This approach should also scales, organizations, or major projects (Fig. 1). It is encourage scientists to collaborate across scales (e.g., important to define (or recognize) islands in order to molecular biologists, biochemists, plant physiologists, crop identify opportunities to build bridges among relatively physiologists, agronomists, and plant breeders) to achieve isolated research thrusts using comparative biology (e.g., both increased understanding and greater impact. Valluru et al. 2015), translational research linking upstream Similarly for work in model species that is funded on work to solve productivity problems, interdisciplinary the basis of its translational potential, confirmation that approaches, and integration across biological scales (e.g., mechanisms and genes can be extrapolated to crops should Passioura 2010). be sought at the earliest opportunity, certainly before Prioritization of investments by funding agencies on ‘exciting’ results – that may not in fact be relevant to the basis of linkage, rather than funding a new island of productivity constraints – cause researchers to go off on Figure 1. Building bridges between islands of knowledge should enhance the impact of global research addressing food security (background image from www.world.time.com). © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. 27 Integrating Islands of Knowledge A. Borrell & M. Reynolds models in favor of team evaluation and multisource assessments. While authorship of scientific publications does highlight a trend from single or few authors per paper 30 years ago, to many authors per paper now, we still have a way to go. Unfortunately, many of the accolades in science go to the individual rather than the team. This does not mean that such accolades are not worthwhile – indeed they do recognize great achievement and they do put science in the spotlight. Nonetheless, we need to recognize the importance of team dynamics as well. It is important to recognize the value of all disciplines in each context rather than considering one discipline as inherently more valuable or ‘scientific’. Impact is Important Impact, as well as publication record, should be taken much more seriously as an outcome of research. The magnitude of impact is generally related to the degree Figure 2. Modified from Figure 1 in Passioura (2010). Levels of of integration of a research study and the extent to organization in crop plants, represented as a loop in which clockwise flow represents reduction, the search for mechanistic understanding at which islands of knowledge are linked; however, impact finer and finer scales, whereas anticlockwise flow represents functional does not always just happen. Careful planning, adequate integration, the roles of various structures and processes in transmitting resourcing and precision in execution will all help to genes to the next generation. In the sense that selection of individual enhance the usefulness of any data collected. From the genotypes at the crop level (or, in natural systems, the community) outset, transnational scientific endeavors which actually determines the genetic makeup of the next generation, the ‘loop’ is a target enhanced food security (not just high- quality plant helix when viewed across generations. science) should strategically plan a clear pathway to impact. Often, focusing on a few key game changers will result in greater impact than attempting to do eve- costly tangents. The importance of this point is under- rything. The planning process should include benchmark- scored by the generally poor association found between ing, identifying strategic goals for crop improvement and field and controlled environments (Poorter et al. 2016). management, and developing a detailed project plan. In However, to achieve integration, rather than having bilateral partnerships, pairing of researchers (one from large unmanageable projects with substantial transaction each country) from common disciplines (breeding, physi- costs, the scientific community should identify and sup- ology, modeling, information technology, etc.) can work port bigger- picture thinkers who have the appropriate well in this planning process. Breaking down barriers breadth of experience to identify ways to integrate outputs enhances impact. of projects. We need to invest specifically in the integra- tors. While in theory, research directors and managers have this role, in practice time for such ‘big- picture’ Benchmarking – Beginning with the observation and thinking is eroded by ever increasing End in Mind transaction costs associated mainly with administrative Benchmarking is a fundamental component of planning compliance and more restrictive funding opportunities. transnational collaborations. In crop improvement pro- Furthermore, integration should be recognized as an grams, data should be collected and collated to provide important skill in itself, and all individuals should be a detailed description of the starting point. All progress encouraged to highlight their work in the broader context, at the end of the project should be assessed relative to and to promote better communication and understanding this initial benchmark, enabling impact to be objectively of the bigger picture. assessed. Greater clarity can be achieved by benchmarking individual components of crop improvement programs Recognizing Teams (e.g., breeding, physiology, grain quality, information tech- nology, modeling, etc.), and can help identify where dis- We need to promote team effort rather than individual ciplines or expertise are missing. achievement. This will be facilitated by less hierarchical 28 © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Integrating Islands of Knowledge stem- rust fungus, in a systematic effort to avert a dev- Successful National and International astating pandemic (Singh et al. 2011). Also, in partnership Collaborations as Case Studies with CGIAR, the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) utilizes a research platform in a region of high Global wheat partnerships wheat productivity in Mexico, where outputs of basic There are some good examples of agricultural science research from IWYP’s international projects can be tested collaborations at the national and international levels, and translated into breeding products before being dis- including successful multilateral and bilateral partnerships, tributed internationally via the network. The IWIN has and potential benefits of more global integration of agri- resulted in massive phenotypic datasets (Braun et al. 2010; cultural research have been documented (Reynolds et al. Gourdji et al. 2012) and delivered germplasm that is esti- 2012). At the international level, the CGIAR now supports mated to be worth several billion dollars in extraproduc- a number of collaborative approaches. Networks for dis- tivity to hundreds of millions of farmers in less-developed seminating and evaluating new wheat germplasm, for countries, annually (Pingali 2012), and by raising yields example, emerged in the Green Revolution (Braun et al. has saved more than 20 Mha of land from being brought 2010), and continue to this day (Fig. 3). Now with modern under cultivation (Stevenson et al. 2015). GIS tools, greater precision of data collection is possible and statistical and simulation models can be used to Translating photosynthesis research from effectively interpret such databases (Lobell et al. 2011; laboratory to field Gourdji et al. 2012). A good example of an effective international partner- At the national level, the Australian Research Council ship is the International Wheat Improvement Network (ARC) has recently funded a 7- year Centre of Excellence (IWIN), which embraces a global collaboration of wheat for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP; http://photosyn- scientists testing approximately 1000 new well- adapted, thesis.org.au/). This venture is designed to integrate islands disease- resistant wheat lines each year at over 700 field of knowledge through multiorganizational (ARC, The sites. Breeding is directed toward 12 different megaenvi- Australian National University, The University of ronments, representing a range of temperature, moisture, Queensland, Western Sydney University, The University and disease profiles as described in Braun et al. (2010), of Sydney, CSIRO and International Rice Research based on up- to- date GIS and economic information Institute), interdisciplinary (plant breeding, crop physiol- (Gbegbelegbe et al. 2017). As well as testing widely for ogy, genomics, molecular biology, biochemistry, engineer- yield and adaptive phenology, in Kenya, for example, ing, bioinformatics, and simulation modeling), multiscale wheat lines are screened for a new and highly virulent (subcell, cell, organ, whole plant, crop), and translational Figure 3. Testing sites of the International Wheat Improvement Network (IWIN). © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. 29 Integrating Islands of Knowledge A. Borrell & M. Reynolds (spanning molecular to farm levels) approaches. The Centre trying to do everything. As this partnership is modeled brings together researchers to tackle one of the grand on the Australian Sorghum Improvement Program, the challenges facing humanity – feeding more people with key game changers were identified by experienced scientists less resources in the face of climate change. Photosynthesis who were able to pick likely winners (Hammer and Jordan is the most important biological process to have arisen 2007). A logical framework was used to dissect the rate in the evolution of the Earth, producing the oxygen we of genetic gain, identifying where the greatest returns on breathe, the food we eat, and the climate we live in today investment could be achieved. Some of the game changers (http://photosynthesis.org.au/; Hohmann- Marriott and proved to be relatively simple, yet profoundly impacted Blankenship 2011). Improving photosynthesis is now rec- outcomes. For example, the concept of partial replication ognized as the new frontier for increasing crop yields was introduced to increase the number of genotypes that (Long and Ort 2010; Zhu et al. 2010; Ainsworth et al. could be evaluated, smart phones replaced hand-w ritten 2012). field- books to revolutionize data capture, and bar codes The aim of the Centre is to contribute to the develop- automated field measurements and seed processing. Linking ment of new crop varieties that are more productive than these technologies has the capacity to significantly enhance existing strains, particularly in wheat, rice, and sorghum. the rate of genetic gain in EIAR’s sorghum breeding This includes varieties that produce high yields of grain program. in conditions of less water, higher temperature, and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. By Actions to Increase Synergy and improving the ability of major food plants to convert Efficiency in Crop Research sunlight, air, and water into leaf and seed production through photosynthesis, the Centre can contribute to a Short term new yield revolution for food crops. The key word is translational – taking scientific discoveries from the labo- A key role for the Global Plant Council (GPC) (http:// ratory and translating them to useful yield outcomes in globalplantcouncil.org/) could be to map islands of knowl- the field. It is early days yet – but there is already a edge to help identify productive synergies. It would be palpable sense of excitement about the opportunities and important to develop an inventory of investments in crop potential outcomes arising from the synergies created in research internationally, in order to identify gaps that this project. may be filled with opportunities in comparative biology, translational research, and other interdisciplinary approaches. GPC could do some research on what inter- Increasing the rate of genetic gain for disciplinary models have been most effective in achieving sorghum in sub- Saharan Africa real- life outcomes from agricultural R&D, and then make Successful bilateral partnerships highlight the capacity recommendations to the donor community on more effec- to combine focus and integration. An example of this tive deployment of funding strategies. This research could is a partnership between the Ethiopian Institute of also include economic analysis. Agricultural Research (EIAR, Ethiopia) and the University The role of integrators needs to be further investigated. of Queensland (UQ, Australia) funded by the Bill and GPC could explore how integrators are a catalyst for Melinda Gates Foundation and the Australian Centre creativity by stimulating innovation at the interface between for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The various disciplines, crops, institutions, environments, and project addresses food security issues in sub- Saharan scales. GPC could also consider how research organiza- Africa by seeking an enduring increase and stability in tions and funders might better recognize and invest in productivity of sorghum in water-limited production integrators. systems through the development of more effective local crop improvement programs. The partnership is outcome Short- medium term driven, focused on strategic step changes, yet aware of the big picture. This project is an example of linking Global Plant Council could recommend that funding islands of knowledge in terms of disciplines (plant breed- agencies prioritize investments on the basis of linkage, ing, crop physiology, simulation modeling, bioinformat- rather than funding new islands of knowledge. In other ics), environments (low, mid, and high altitude), scales words, funding models should consider integration and (organ, plant, crop), and organizations (EIAR, UQ, various interdisciplinary approaches over ‘magic bullet` type Ethiopian universities). approaches which tend to encourage the opportunist One key insight driving this project is the importance approach over scientific rigor. The GPC blog could list of focusing on a few key game changers, rather than and highlight work/projects/articles that explicitly 30 © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Integrating Islands of Knowledge demonstrate integration of disciplines and synergistic if they are part of a well- integrated team rather than approaches that are outcome and impact oriented. GPC operating in isolation. could assist funding agencies in defining and identifying islands using the inventory mentioned above, and propose Long term mechanisms for integration to create synergies and increase efficiencies. Impact should be taken much more seriously as an outcome. The balance between focus and integration, and the Many organizations and funders focus on publications and concept of integrating across levels, are worthy of more citations more than impact. In the face of significant global consideration. GPC could play a role in further under- challenges such as food security, resource scarcity, and climate standing integration across levels. change, we need scientists to actually apply what has been Global Plant Council could have an advocacy role with documented in papers. This is not an either/or scenario. journals and funding bodies to encourage approaches (aims Impact and publications should go hand-in- hand. They are and scopes, special issues, calls, etc.) that showcase mul- not mutually exclusive. There could be a role for GPC to tidisciplinary and outcome- focused work. GPC could also explore how R&D impacts major global issues around crop nurture this agenda with groups of young people, high production – with a focus on impact. GPC could also do schools, undergraduate groups, etc. It would be beneficial some research on impact pathways, identifying the key steps to take advantage of recognized leaders to inspire a new required to enhance impact and outcomes. GPC can try to generation to think about the broader context of disci- promote a ‘culture change’ in crop research away from plinary efforts and integration; concept papers or newspaper speculating on novelty and emphasizing a particular disci- and magazine articles could also be written about integra- pline because it is in vogue in favor of integration, problem tive approaches. GPC could also facilitate access to: solving, and favorable outcomes for humanity. Finally, to enable impact to be taken more seriously and implemented • Platforms to share tools and encourage the sharing of cost effectively, GPC could encourage organizations and resources such as manuals, methods, links to tried and funders to think more about measurement and metrics at tested manufacturers of technologies, etc. the start of a project, rather than acting retrospectively. • Shared intellectual property, for example, through “pat- ent pools” to encourage crosslinkages. Conclusions • Long-term and/or multilocation experiments can provide excellent platforms for integration. Rothamsted provides A transnational approach to plant science is required to a good example in the Broadbalk experiment which address global challenges such as food security and climate started in 1843. change. Islands of knowledge (crop, discipline, scale, envi- • Crop-related models that help integration of disciplines ronment, organization, etc.) need to be better integrated. and make use of islands of knowledge. Mapping is needed to identify gaps and make connections • Other “linking” technologies such as genome resources between these islands. Translational research, spanning from that link trait biology with breeding data, and pheno- the molecular to farm scale, should be the focus. We need typing approaches that are applicable across many envi- more ‘integrators’ to manage complex global projects and ronments, crops, etc. integration should be recognized as an important skill in • Crop modeling is an area that depends on interdisci- itself. We need to advocate teamwork over individuality plinary linkage and would achieve much greater impacts – and reward teams. Impact should be taken much more as a result of many of the suggestions made herein, seriously as an outcome and we need to better understand including shared data platforms, common research stand- impact pathways. Focusing on key game changers will more ards, and multilocation and other comparative research likely lead to impact rather than attempting to do everything. approaches. There is a role for the Global Plant Council to facilitate and empower the changes required to bring about greater synergy and efficiency in crop research worldwide. Medium term Global Plant Council could investigate models that favor Acknowledgments teamwork over individuality. What are the benefits of teamwork? How do we reward teams? How do we sell This paper is based on outcomes from a Stress Resilience the merits of team research compared with individualism? Symposium held in Brazil in October 2015 organized by There are definite synergies arising from well- integrated the Global Plant Council and Society for Experimental Biology. team research. For example, some individuals are more The authors would like to thank the Society of Experimental likely to publish better science and have greater impact Biology for funding support for this symposium. © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. 31 Integrating Islands of Knowledge A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Passioura, J. B. 2010. Scaling up: the essence of effective Conflict of Interest agricultural research. Funct. Plant Biol. 37:585–591. None declared. Pingali, P. L. 2012. Green Revolution: impacts, limits, and the path ahead. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109:12302–12308. References Poorter, H., F. Fiorani, R. Pieruschka, T. Wojciechowski, W. H. van der Putten, M. Kleyer, et al. 2016. Pampered Ainsworth, E. A., C. R. Yendrek, S. Sitch, W. J. Collins, inside, pestered outside? Differences and similarities between and L. D. Emberson. 2012. The effects of tropospheric plants growing in controlled conditions and in the field. ozone on net primary productivity and implications for New Phytol. 212:838–855. climate change. Annu. Rev. Plant Biol. 63:637–661. Reynolds, M. P., J. Hellin, B. Govaerts, P. Kosina, K. Braun, H. J., G. Atlin, and T. Payne. 2010. Multi-location Sonder, P. Hobbs, et al. 2012. Global crop improvement testing as a tool to identify plant response to global networks to bridge technology gaps. J. Exp. Bot. 63:1–12. climate change. Pp. 115–138 in M. P. Reynolds, ed. Reynolds, M. P., E. Quilligan, P. K. Aggarwal, K. C. Bansal, Climate change and crop production. CABI Climate A. J. Cavalieri, S. C. Chapman, et al. 2016. An integrated Change Series, Oxfordshire, U.K. approach to maintaining cereal productivity under Gbegbelegbe, S., D. Cammarano, S. Asseng, R. Robertson, U. climate change. Glob. Food Sec. 8:9–18. Chung, M. Adam, et al. 2017. Baseline simulation for Singh, R. P., D. P. Hodson, J. Huerta-Espino, Y. Jin, S. global wheat production with CIMMYT Mega Environment Bhavani, P. Njau, et al. 2011. The emergence of Ug99 specific cultivars. Field. Crop. Res. 202:122–135. races of the stem rust fungus is a threat to world wheat Gourdji, S. M., K. L. Mathews, M. P. Reynolds, J. Crossa, production. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 49:465–481. and D. B. Lobell. 2012. An assessment of wheat breeding Stevenson, J. R., N. Villoria, D. Byerlee, T. Kelley, and M. gains in hot environments. Proc. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. Maredi. 2015. Green Revolution research saved an 280:1752–1760. estimated 18–27 million hectares from being brought into Hammer, G. L., and D. R. Jordan. 2007. An integrated agricultural production. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA systems approach to crop improvement. Chapter 5. Pp. 110:8363–8368. 45–61 in J. H. J. Spiertz, P. C. Struik and H. H. van Valluru, R., M. P. Reynolds, and T. Lafarge. 2015. Food Laar, eds. Scale and complexity in plant systems research: security through translational biology between wheat and gene-plant-crop relations. Springer, Netherlands. rice. Food Energy Secur. 4:203–218. Hohmann-Marriott, M. F., and R. E. Blankenship. 2011. Wiebe, K., D. Mason-D’Croz, T. Sulser, N. Cenacchi, Evolution of photosynthesis. Annu. Rev. Plant Biol. S. Islam, and R. Robertson. 2016. Agriculture and food 62:515–548 (eds S.S. Merchant, W.R. Briggs, & D. Ort). security in 2050: socioeconomic and climate challenges Lobell, D. B., M. Bänziger, C. Magorokosho, and B. Vivek. and options. International Food Policy Research Institute 2011. Nonlinear heat effects on African maize as evidenced (IFPRI), Washington, DC. by historical yield trials. doi:10.1038/nclimate1043. Zhu, X.-G., S. P. Long, and D. R. Ort. 2010. Improving Long, S. P., and D. R. Ort. 2010. More than taking the photosynthetic efficiency for greater yield. Annu. Rev. heat: crops and global change. Curr. Opin. Plant Biol. Plant Biol. 61:235–261. 13:241–248. 32 © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Food and Energy Security Wiley

Integrating islands of knowledge for greater synergy and efficiency in crop research

Integrating islands of knowledge for greater synergy and efficiency in crop research

agricultural research funding, benchmarking, A transnational approach to plant science is required to address global chal- crop production, efficiency, focus, food security, Global Plant Council, impact lenges such as food security and climate change. Action from the plant, crop pathways, integration across scales, and agricultural science communities will be required to meet these challenges. integrators, Sustainable Development Goals, Islands of knowledge (e.g. crop, discipline, scale, environment, organization) synergy, teamwork, translational research, need to be better integrated. Mapping is needed to identify gaps and make transnational collaboration. connections between these islands. Translational research, spanning from the molecular to farm scale, should be the focus. We need more `integrators’ to Correspondence manage complex global projects and integration should be recognized as an Andrew Borrell, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), important skill in itself. We need to advocate teamwork over individuality - Hermitage Research Facility, University of and reward teams. Impact should be taken much more seriously as an outcome Queensland, Warwick, QLD 4370, Australia. and we need to better understand impact pathways. Focusing on key game- Tel: 61 7 45426740; Fax: 61 7 45426716; changers will more likely lead to impact rather than attempting to do E-mail: a.borrell@uq.edu.au everything. Received: 20 February 2017; Accepted: 28 February 2017 Food and Energy Security 2017 6(1): 26–32 doi: 10.1002/fes3.107 drought), grow common crops of interest (including maize, Introduction wheat, rice, sorghum, barley, tubers, legumes), and live Significant challenges relating to food, nutritional, and on a common planet (addressing climate change is a global water security in the coming decades are no longer doubted issue). The SDGs highlight how the developed and devel- (Wiebe et al. 2016). The United Nations Sustainable oping world will need to work together to address these Development Goals (SDGs) address the eradication of common challenges. poverty and hunger along with the attainment of clean Meeting these challenges will require a transnational water, increased health, innovation, responsible produc- approach. For example, when comparing G20-focused tion, climate action, and sustainable communities. Action priorities for wheat research (www.wheatinitiative.org) with from the plant, crop, and agricultural science communities those of less developed countries served by the Consultative will be required to achieve these goals. The developed Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR, and developing world face common challenges (as stated www.cgiar.org), 80% of the traits identified are common in the SDGs), common environments (e.g., rain-fed crops (www.wheat.org), providing obvious opportunities for such as sorghum grown in northern Australia, sub- Saharan international collaboration. While single crop- focused Africa, and central- western India frequently experience research still achieves economically significant genetic gains, © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Integrating Islands of Knowledge given the transnational nature of many agricultural prob- knowledge, would be a valuable criterion when evaluating lems, it is generally accepted that crop scientists will need research proposals. At the very least, if a new island is to work across borders to maintain global food security. funded – then funders need to make sure it is linked to Crop research should benefit from a more internationally other islands of knowledge. Funding agencies could con- oriented approach to achieve better leverage of technol- sider investing in linkages to achieve synergy, rather than ogy, expertise, and infrastructure (Reynolds et al. 2016). speculating on novelty, single- discipline approaches, or Important outcomes have already been achieved in less- projects with limited scale. Rather than expecting automatic developed countries through their national agricultural outcomes from relatively specialized teams, impacts will research programs in collaboration with international enti- be more likely if all appropriately qualified groups are ties such as the CGIAR, the Bill and Melinda Gates funded considering comparative advantage. Foundation (www.gatesfoundation.org), and various advanced research institutes. These collaborations can be Focus and Integration further developed by fostering an environment where productivity constraints of a transnational nature are rou- To be most effective, we also need to strike a balance tinely investigated from a global perspective, integrating between focus (or reductionism) and integration. Linkages research across crops and agro-ecosystems, with routine can be made between focused projects by reviewing out- sharing of data and other resources. Some potential actions puts at regular intervals to identify pertinent linkages. over a range of timescales (short, medium, and long term) For example, projects should consider the immediate level will be discussed in this study. of integration above and below the focus of the project (Passioura 2010). This would go a long way to opening opportunities for sharing concepts and technologies Integrating Islands of Knowledge between different levels of integration from within the Funders of agricultural research frequently favor novel or same discipline. In this context, a research team studying exciting ideas without considering how outputs may link drought adaptation in cereals at the organ level (e.g., leaf to previous or parallel projects, creating islands of rela- growth) should integrate their findings ‘up’ a scale to the tively isolated knowledge. An effort to map islands of whole plant level and ‘down’ a scale to the tissue level, knowledge could help identify productive synergies. thereby better understanding how leaf dynamics fit into Examples of islands are disciplines, crops, environments, a larger framework (Fig. 2). This approach should also scales, organizations, or major projects (Fig. 1). It is encourage scientists to collaborate across scales (e.g., important to define (or recognize) islands in order to molecular biologists, biochemists, plant physiologists, crop identify opportunities to build bridges among relatively physiologists, agronomists, and plant breeders) to achieve isolated research thrusts using comparative biology (e.g., both increased understanding and greater impact. Valluru et al. 2015), translational research linking upstream Similarly for work in model species that is funded on work to solve productivity problems, interdisciplinary the basis of its translational potential, confirmation that approaches, and integration across biological scales (e.g., mechanisms and genes can be extrapolated to crops should Passioura 2010). be sought at the earliest opportunity, certainly before Prioritization of investments by funding agencies on ‘exciting’ results – that may not in fact be relevant to the basis of linkage, rather than funding a new island of productivity constraints – cause researchers to go off on Figure 1. Building bridges between islands of knowledge should enhance the impact of global research addressing food security (background image from www.world.time.com). © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. 27 Integrating Islands of Knowledge A. Borrell & M. Reynolds models in favor of team evaluation and multisource assessments. While authorship of scientific publications does highlight a trend from single or few authors per paper 30 years ago, to many authors per paper now, we still have a way to go. Unfortunately, many of the accolades in science go to the individual rather than the team. This does not mean that such accolades are not worthwhile – indeed they do recognize great achievement and they do put science in the spotlight. Nonetheless, we need to recognize the importance of team dynamics as well. It is important to recognize the value of all disciplines in each context rather than considering one discipline as inherently more valuable or ‘scientific’. Impact is Important Impact, as well as publication record, should be taken much more seriously as an outcome of research. The magnitude of impact is generally related to the degree Figure 2. Modified from Figure 1 in Passioura (2010). Levels of of integration of a research study and the extent to organization in crop plants, represented as a loop in which clockwise flow represents reduction, the search for mechanistic understanding at which islands of knowledge are linked; however, impact finer and finer scales, whereas anticlockwise flow represents functional does not always just happen. Careful planning, adequate integration, the roles of various structures and processes in transmitting resourcing and precision in execution will all help to genes to the next generation. In the sense that selection of individual enhance the usefulness of any data collected. From the genotypes at the crop level (or, in natural systems, the community) outset, transnational scientific endeavors which actually determines the genetic makeup of the next generation, the ‘loop’ is a target enhanced food security (not just high- quality plant helix when viewed across generations. science) should strategically plan a clear pathway to impact. Often, focusing on a few key game changers will result in greater impact than attempting to do eve- costly tangents. The importance of this point is under- rything. The planning process should include benchmark- scored by the generally poor association found between ing, identifying strategic goals for crop improvement and field and controlled environments (Poorter et al. 2016). management, and developing a detailed project plan. In However, to achieve integration, rather than having bilateral partnerships, pairing of researchers (one from large unmanageable projects with substantial transaction each country) from common disciplines (breeding, physi- costs, the scientific community should identify and sup- ology, modeling, information technology, etc.) can work port bigger- picture thinkers who have the appropriate well in this planning process. Breaking down barriers breadth of experience to identify ways to integrate outputs enhances impact. of projects. We need to invest specifically in the integra- tors. While in theory, research directors and managers have this role, in practice time for such ‘big- picture’ Benchmarking – Beginning with the observation and thinking is eroded by ever increasing End in Mind transaction costs associated mainly with administrative Benchmarking is a fundamental component of planning compliance and more restrictive funding opportunities. transnational collaborations. In crop improvement pro- Furthermore, integration should be recognized as an grams, data should be collected and collated to provide important skill in itself, and all individuals should be a detailed description of the starting point. All progress encouraged to highlight their work in the broader context, at the end of the project should be assessed relative to and to promote better communication and understanding this initial benchmark, enabling impact to be objectively of the bigger picture. assessed. Greater clarity can be achieved by benchmarking individual components of crop improvement programs Recognizing Teams (e.g., breeding, physiology, grain quality, information tech- nology, modeling, etc.), and can help identify where dis- We need to promote team effort rather than individual ciplines or expertise are missing. achievement. This will be facilitated by less hierarchical 28 © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Integrating Islands of Knowledge stem- rust fungus, in a systematic effort to avert a dev- Successful National and International astating pandemic (Singh et al. 2011). Also, in partnership Collaborations as Case Studies with CGIAR, the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) utilizes a research platform in a region of high Global wheat partnerships wheat productivity in Mexico, where outputs of basic There are some good examples of agricultural science research from IWYP’s international projects can be tested collaborations at the national and international levels, and translated into breeding products before being dis- including successful multilateral and bilateral partnerships, tributed internationally via the network. The IWIN has and potential benefits of more global integration of agri- resulted in massive phenotypic datasets (Braun et al. 2010; cultural research have been documented (Reynolds et al. Gourdji et al. 2012) and delivered germplasm that is esti- 2012). At the international level, the CGIAR now supports mated to be worth several billion dollars in extraproduc- a number of collaborative approaches. Networks for dis- tivity to hundreds of millions of farmers in less-developed seminating and evaluating new wheat germplasm, for countries, annually (Pingali 2012), and by raising yields example, emerged in the Green Revolution (Braun et al. has saved more than 20 Mha of land from being brought 2010), and continue to this day (Fig. 3). Now with modern under cultivation (Stevenson et al. 2015). GIS tools, greater precision of data collection is possible and statistical and simulation models can be used to Translating photosynthesis research from effectively interpret such databases (Lobell et al. 2011; laboratory to field Gourdji et al. 2012). A good example of an effective international partner- At the national level, the Australian Research Council ship is the International Wheat Improvement Network (ARC) has recently funded a 7- year Centre of Excellence (IWIN), which embraces a global collaboration of wheat for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP; http://photosyn- scientists testing approximately 1000 new well- adapted, thesis.org.au/). This venture is designed to integrate islands disease- resistant wheat lines each year at over 700 field of knowledge through multiorganizational (ARC, The sites. Breeding is directed toward 12 different megaenvi- Australian National University, The University of ronments, representing a range of temperature, moisture, Queensland, Western Sydney University, The University and disease profiles as described in Braun et al. (2010), of Sydney, CSIRO and International Rice Research based on up- to- date GIS and economic information Institute), interdisciplinary (plant breeding, crop physiol- (Gbegbelegbe et al. 2017). As well as testing widely for ogy, genomics, molecular biology, biochemistry, engineer- yield and adaptive phenology, in Kenya, for example, ing, bioinformatics, and simulation modeling), multiscale wheat lines are screened for a new and highly virulent (subcell, cell, organ, whole plant, crop), and translational Figure 3. Testing sites of the International Wheat Improvement Network (IWIN). © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. 29 Integrating Islands of Knowledge A. Borrell & M. Reynolds (spanning molecular to farm levels) approaches. The Centre trying to do everything. As this partnership is modeled brings together researchers to tackle one of the grand on the Australian Sorghum Improvement Program, the challenges facing humanity – feeding more people with key game changers were identified by experienced scientists less resources in the face of climate change. Photosynthesis who were able to pick likely winners (Hammer and Jordan is the most important biological process to have arisen 2007). A logical framework was used to dissect the rate in the evolution of the Earth, producing the oxygen we of genetic gain, identifying where the greatest returns on breathe, the food we eat, and the climate we live in today investment could be achieved. Some of the game changers (http://photosynthesis.org.au/; Hohmann- Marriott and proved to be relatively simple, yet profoundly impacted Blankenship 2011). Improving photosynthesis is now rec- outcomes. For example, the concept of partial replication ognized as the new frontier for increasing crop yields was introduced to increase the number of genotypes that (Long and Ort 2010; Zhu et al. 2010; Ainsworth et al. could be evaluated, smart phones replaced hand-w ritten 2012). field- books to revolutionize data capture, and bar codes The aim of the Centre is to contribute to the develop- automated field measurements and seed processing. Linking ment of new crop varieties that are more productive than these technologies has the capacity to significantly enhance existing strains, particularly in wheat, rice, and sorghum. the rate of genetic gain in EIAR’s sorghum breeding This includes varieties that produce high yields of grain program. in conditions of less water, higher temperature, and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. By Actions to Increase Synergy and improving the ability of major food plants to convert Efficiency in Crop Research sunlight, air, and water into leaf and seed production through photosynthesis, the Centre can contribute to a Short term new yield revolution for food crops. The key word is translational – taking scientific discoveries from the labo- A key role for the Global Plant Council (GPC) (http:// ratory and translating them to useful yield outcomes in globalplantcouncil.org/) could be to map islands of knowl- the field. It is early days yet – but there is already a edge to help identify productive synergies. It would be palpable sense of excitement about the opportunities and important to develop an inventory of investments in crop potential outcomes arising from the synergies created in research internationally, in order to identify gaps that this project. may be filled with opportunities in comparative biology, translational research, and other interdisciplinary approaches. GPC could do some research on what inter- Increasing the rate of genetic gain for disciplinary models have been most effective in achieving sorghum in sub- Saharan Africa real- life outcomes from agricultural R&D, and then make Successful bilateral partnerships highlight the capacity recommendations to the donor community on more effec- to combine focus and integration. An example of this tive deployment of funding strategies. This research could is a partnership between the Ethiopian Institute of also include economic analysis. Agricultural Research (EIAR, Ethiopia) and the University The role of integrators needs to be further investigated. of Queensland (UQ, Australia) funded by the Bill and GPC could explore how integrators are a catalyst for Melinda Gates Foundation and the Australian Centre creativity by stimulating innovation at the interface between for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The various disciplines, crops, institutions, environments, and project addresses food security issues in sub- Saharan scales. GPC could also consider how research organiza- Africa by seeking an enduring increase and stability in tions and funders might better recognize and invest in productivity of sorghum in water-limited production integrators. systems through the development of more effective local crop improvement programs. The partnership is outcome Short- medium term driven, focused on strategic step changes, yet aware of the big picture. This project is an example of linking Global Plant Council could recommend that funding islands of knowledge in terms of disciplines (plant breed- agencies prioritize investments on the basis of linkage, ing, crop physiology, simulation modeling, bioinformat- rather than funding new islands of knowledge. In other ics), environments (low, mid, and high altitude), scales words, funding models should consider integration and (organ, plant, crop), and organizations (EIAR, UQ, various interdisciplinary approaches over ‘magic bullet` type Ethiopian universities). approaches which tend to encourage the opportunist One key insight driving this project is the importance approach over scientific rigor. The GPC blog could list of focusing on a few key game changers, rather than and highlight work/projects/articles that explicitly 30 © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Integrating Islands of Knowledge demonstrate integration of disciplines and synergistic if they are part of a well- integrated team rather than approaches that are outcome and impact oriented. GPC operating in isolation. could assist funding agencies in defining and identifying islands using the inventory mentioned above, and propose Long term mechanisms for integration to create synergies and increase efficiencies. Impact should be taken much more seriously as an outcome. The balance between focus and integration, and the Many organizations and funders focus on publications and concept of integrating across levels, are worthy of more citations more than impact. In the face of significant global consideration. GPC could play a role in further under- challenges such as food security, resource scarcity, and climate standing integration across levels. change, we need scientists to actually apply what has been Global Plant Council could have an advocacy role with documented in papers. This is not an either/or scenario. journals and funding bodies to encourage approaches (aims Impact and publications should go hand-in- hand. They are and scopes, special issues, calls, etc.) that showcase mul- not mutually exclusive. There could be a role for GPC to tidisciplinary and outcome- focused work. GPC could also explore how R&D impacts major global issues around crop nurture this agenda with groups of young people, high production – with a focus on impact. GPC could also do schools, undergraduate groups, etc. It would be beneficial some research on impact pathways, identifying the key steps to take advantage of recognized leaders to inspire a new required to enhance impact and outcomes. GPC can try to generation to think about the broader context of disci- promote a ‘culture change’ in crop research away from plinary efforts and integration; concept papers or newspaper speculating on novelty and emphasizing a particular disci- and magazine articles could also be written about integra- pline because it is in vogue in favor of integration, problem tive approaches. GPC could also facilitate access to: solving, and favorable outcomes for humanity. Finally, to enable impact to be taken more seriously and implemented • Platforms to share tools and encourage the sharing of cost effectively, GPC could encourage organizations and resources such as manuals, methods, links to tried and funders to think more about measurement and metrics at tested manufacturers of technologies, etc. the start of a project, rather than acting retrospectively. • Shared intellectual property, for example, through “pat- ent pools” to encourage crosslinkages. Conclusions • Long-term and/or multilocation experiments can provide excellent platforms for integration. Rothamsted provides A transnational approach to plant science is required to a good example in the Broadbalk experiment which address global challenges such as food security and climate started in 1843. change. Islands of knowledge (crop, discipline, scale, envi- • Crop-related models that help integration of disciplines ronment, organization, etc.) need to be better integrated. and make use of islands of knowledge. Mapping is needed to identify gaps and make connections • Other “linking” technologies such as genome resources between these islands. Translational research, spanning from that link trait biology with breeding data, and pheno- the molecular to farm scale, should be the focus. We need typing approaches that are applicable across many envi- more ‘integrators’ to manage complex global projects and ronments, crops, etc. integration should be recognized as an important skill in • Crop modeling is an area that depends on interdisci- itself. We need to advocate teamwork over individuality plinary linkage and would achieve much greater impacts – and reward teams. Impact should be taken much more as a result of many of the suggestions made herein, seriously as an outcome and we need to better understand including shared data platforms, common research stand- impact pathways. Focusing on key game changers will more ards, and multilocation and other comparative research likely lead to impact rather than attempting to do everything. approaches. There is a role for the Global Plant Council to facilitate and empower the changes required to bring about greater synergy and efficiency in crop research worldwide. Medium term Global Plant Council could investigate models that favor Acknowledgments teamwork over individuality. What are the benefits of teamwork? How do we reward teams? How do we sell This paper is based on outcomes from a Stress Resilience the merits of team research compared with individualism? Symposium held in Brazil in October 2015 organized by There are definite synergies arising from well- integrated the Global Plant Council and Society for Experimental Biology. team research. For example, some individuals are more The authors would like to thank the Society of Experimental likely to publish better science and have greater impact Biology for funding support for this symposium. © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. 31 Integrating Islands of Knowledge A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Passioura, J. B. 2010. Scaling up: the essence of effective Conflict of Interest agricultural research. Funct. Plant Biol. 37:585–591. None declared. Pingali, P. L. 2012. Green Revolution: impacts, limits, and the path ahead. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109:12302–12308. References Poorter, H., F. Fiorani, R. Pieruschka, T. Wojciechowski, W. H. van der Putten, M. Kleyer, et al. 2016. Pampered Ainsworth, E. A., C. R. Yendrek, S. Sitch, W. J. Collins, inside, pestered outside? Differences and similarities between and L. D. Emberson. 2012. The effects of tropospheric plants growing in controlled conditions and in the field. ozone on net primary productivity and implications for New Phytol. 212:838–855. climate change. Annu. Rev. Plant Biol. 63:637–661. Reynolds, M. P., J. Hellin, B. Govaerts, P. Kosina, K. Braun, H. J., G. Atlin, and T. Payne. 2010. Multi-location Sonder, P. Hobbs, et al. 2012. Global crop improvement testing as a tool to identify plant response to global networks to bridge technology gaps. J. Exp. Bot. 63:1–12. climate change. Pp. 115–138 in M. P. Reynolds, ed. Reynolds, M. P., E. Quilligan, P. K. Aggarwal, K. C. Bansal, Climate change and crop production. CABI Climate A. J. Cavalieri, S. C. Chapman, et al. 2016. An integrated Change Series, Oxfordshire, U.K. approach to maintaining cereal productivity under Gbegbelegbe, S., D. Cammarano, S. Asseng, R. Robertson, U. climate change. Glob. Food Sec. 8:9–18. Chung, M. Adam, et al. 2017. Baseline simulation for Singh, R. P., D. P. Hodson, J. Huerta-Espino, Y. Jin, S. global wheat production with CIMMYT Mega Environment Bhavani, P. Njau, et al. 2011. The emergence of Ug99 specific cultivars. Field. Crop. Res. 202:122–135. races of the stem rust fungus is a threat to world wheat Gourdji, S. M., K. L. Mathews, M. P. Reynolds, J. Crossa, production. Annu. Rev. Phytopathol. 49:465–481. and D. B. Lobell. 2012. An assessment of wheat breeding Stevenson, J. R., N. Villoria, D. Byerlee, T. Kelley, and M. gains in hot environments. Proc. R. Soc. B Biol. Sci. Maredi. 2015. Green Revolution research saved an 280:1752–1760. estimated 18–27 million hectares from being brought into Hammer, G. L., and D. R. Jordan. 2007. An integrated agricultural production. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA systems approach to crop improvement. Chapter 5. Pp. 110:8363–8368. 45–61 in J. H. J. Spiertz, P. C. Struik and H. H. van Valluru, R., M. P. Reynolds, and T. Lafarge. 2015. Food Laar, eds. Scale and complexity in plant systems research: security through translational biology between wheat and gene-plant-crop relations. Springer, Netherlands. rice. Food Energy Secur. 4:203–218. Hohmann-Marriott, M. F., and R. E. Blankenship. 2011. Wiebe, K., D. Mason-D’Croz, T. Sulser, N. Cenacchi, Evolution of photosynthesis. Annu. Rev. Plant Biol. S. Islam, and R. Robertson. 2016. Agriculture and food 62:515–548 (eds S.S. Merchant, W.R. Briggs, & D. Ort). security in 2050: socioeconomic and climate challenges Lobell, D. B., M. Bänziger, C. Magorokosho, and B. Vivek. and options. International Food Policy Research Institute 2011. Nonlinear heat effects on African maize as evidenced (IFPRI), Washington, DC. by historical yield trials. doi:10.1038/nclimate1043. Zhu, X.-G., S. P. Long, and D. R. Ort. 2010. Improving Long, S. P., and D. R. Ort. 2010. More than taking the photosynthetic efficiency for greater yield. Annu. Rev. heat: crops and global change. Curr. Opin. Plant Biol. Plant Biol. 61:235–261. 13:241–248. 32 © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists.
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© 2017 John Wiley & Sons Ltd and the Association of Applied Biologists
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Abstract

agricultural research funding, benchmarking, A transnational approach to plant science is required to address global chal- crop production, efficiency, focus, food security, Global Plant Council, impact lenges such as food security and climate change. Action from the plant, crop pathways, integration across scales, and agricultural science communities will be required to meet these challenges. integrators, Sustainable Development Goals, Islands of knowledge (e.g. crop, discipline, scale, environment, organization) synergy, teamwork, translational research, need to be better integrated. Mapping is needed to identify gaps and make transnational collaboration. connections between these islands. Translational research, spanning from the molecular to farm scale, should be the focus. We need more `integrators’ to Correspondence manage complex global projects and integration should be recognized as an Andrew Borrell, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation (QAAFI), important skill in itself. We need to advocate teamwork over individuality - Hermitage Research Facility, University of and reward teams. Impact should be taken much more seriously as an outcome Queensland, Warwick, QLD 4370, Australia. and we need to better understand impact pathways. Focusing on key game- Tel: 61 7 45426740; Fax: 61 7 45426716; changers will more likely lead to impact rather than attempting to do E-mail: a.borrell@uq.edu.au everything. Received: 20 February 2017; Accepted: 28 February 2017 Food and Energy Security 2017 6(1): 26–32 doi: 10.1002/fes3.107 drought), grow common crops of interest (including maize, Introduction wheat, rice, sorghum, barley, tubers, legumes), and live Significant challenges relating to food, nutritional, and on a common planet (addressing climate change is a global water security in the coming decades are no longer doubted issue). The SDGs highlight how the developed and devel- (Wiebe et al. 2016). The United Nations Sustainable oping world will need to work together to address these Development Goals (SDGs) address the eradication of common challenges. poverty and hunger along with the attainment of clean Meeting these challenges will require a transnational water, increased health, innovation, responsible produc- approach. For example, when comparing G20-focused tion, climate action, and sustainable communities. Action priorities for wheat research (www.wheatinitiative.org) with from the plant, crop, and agricultural science communities those of less developed countries served by the Consultative will be required to achieve these goals. The developed Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR, and developing world face common challenges (as stated www.cgiar.org), 80% of the traits identified are common in the SDGs), common environments (e.g., rain-fed crops (www.wheat.org), providing obvious opportunities for such as sorghum grown in northern Australia, sub- Saharan international collaboration. While single crop- focused Africa, and central- western India frequently experience research still achieves economically significant genetic gains, © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. This is an open access article under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits use, distribution and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited. A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Integrating Islands of Knowledge given the transnational nature of many agricultural prob- knowledge, would be a valuable criterion when evaluating lems, it is generally accepted that crop scientists will need research proposals. At the very least, if a new island is to work across borders to maintain global food security. funded – then funders need to make sure it is linked to Crop research should benefit from a more internationally other islands of knowledge. Funding agencies could con- oriented approach to achieve better leverage of technol- sider investing in linkages to achieve synergy, rather than ogy, expertise, and infrastructure (Reynolds et al. 2016). speculating on novelty, single- discipline approaches, or Important outcomes have already been achieved in less- projects with limited scale. Rather than expecting automatic developed countries through their national agricultural outcomes from relatively specialized teams, impacts will research programs in collaboration with international enti- be more likely if all appropriately qualified groups are ties such as the CGIAR, the Bill and Melinda Gates funded considering comparative advantage. Foundation (www.gatesfoundation.org), and various advanced research institutes. These collaborations can be Focus and Integration further developed by fostering an environment where productivity constraints of a transnational nature are rou- To be most effective, we also need to strike a balance tinely investigated from a global perspective, integrating between focus (or reductionism) and integration. Linkages research across crops and agro-ecosystems, with routine can be made between focused projects by reviewing out- sharing of data and other resources. Some potential actions puts at regular intervals to identify pertinent linkages. over a range of timescales (short, medium, and long term) For example, projects should consider the immediate level will be discussed in this study. of integration above and below the focus of the project (Passioura 2010). This would go a long way to opening opportunities for sharing concepts and technologies Integrating Islands of Knowledge between different levels of integration from within the Funders of agricultural research frequently favor novel or same discipline. In this context, a research team studying exciting ideas without considering how outputs may link drought adaptation in cereals at the organ level (e.g., leaf to previous or parallel projects, creating islands of rela- growth) should integrate their findings ‘up’ a scale to the tively isolated knowledge. An effort to map islands of whole plant level and ‘down’ a scale to the tissue level, knowledge could help identify productive synergies. thereby better understanding how leaf dynamics fit into Examples of islands are disciplines, crops, environments, a larger framework (Fig. 2). This approach should also scales, organizations, or major projects (Fig. 1). It is encourage scientists to collaborate across scales (e.g., important to define (or recognize) islands in order to molecular biologists, biochemists, plant physiologists, crop identify opportunities to build bridges among relatively physiologists, agronomists, and plant breeders) to achieve isolated research thrusts using comparative biology (e.g., both increased understanding and greater impact. Valluru et al. 2015), translational research linking upstream Similarly for work in model species that is funded on work to solve productivity problems, interdisciplinary the basis of its translational potential, confirmation that approaches, and integration across biological scales (e.g., mechanisms and genes can be extrapolated to crops should Passioura 2010). be sought at the earliest opportunity, certainly before Prioritization of investments by funding agencies on ‘exciting’ results – that may not in fact be relevant to the basis of linkage, rather than funding a new island of productivity constraints – cause researchers to go off on Figure 1. Building bridges between islands of knowledge should enhance the impact of global research addressing food security (background image from www.world.time.com). © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. 27 Integrating Islands of Knowledge A. Borrell & M. Reynolds models in favor of team evaluation and multisource assessments. While authorship of scientific publications does highlight a trend from single or few authors per paper 30 years ago, to many authors per paper now, we still have a way to go. Unfortunately, many of the accolades in science go to the individual rather than the team. This does not mean that such accolades are not worthwhile – indeed they do recognize great achievement and they do put science in the spotlight. Nonetheless, we need to recognize the importance of team dynamics as well. It is important to recognize the value of all disciplines in each context rather than considering one discipline as inherently more valuable or ‘scientific’. Impact is Important Impact, as well as publication record, should be taken much more seriously as an outcome of research. The magnitude of impact is generally related to the degree Figure 2. Modified from Figure 1 in Passioura (2010). Levels of of integration of a research study and the extent to organization in crop plants, represented as a loop in which clockwise flow represents reduction, the search for mechanistic understanding at which islands of knowledge are linked; however, impact finer and finer scales, whereas anticlockwise flow represents functional does not always just happen. Careful planning, adequate integration, the roles of various structures and processes in transmitting resourcing and precision in execution will all help to genes to the next generation. In the sense that selection of individual enhance the usefulness of any data collected. From the genotypes at the crop level (or, in natural systems, the community) outset, transnational scientific endeavors which actually determines the genetic makeup of the next generation, the ‘loop’ is a target enhanced food security (not just high- quality plant helix when viewed across generations. science) should strategically plan a clear pathway to impact. Often, focusing on a few key game changers will result in greater impact than attempting to do eve- costly tangents. The importance of this point is under- rything. The planning process should include benchmark- scored by the generally poor association found between ing, identifying strategic goals for crop improvement and field and controlled environments (Poorter et al. 2016). management, and developing a detailed project plan. In However, to achieve integration, rather than having bilateral partnerships, pairing of researchers (one from large unmanageable projects with substantial transaction each country) from common disciplines (breeding, physi- costs, the scientific community should identify and sup- ology, modeling, information technology, etc.) can work port bigger- picture thinkers who have the appropriate well in this planning process. Breaking down barriers breadth of experience to identify ways to integrate outputs enhances impact. of projects. We need to invest specifically in the integra- tors. While in theory, research directors and managers have this role, in practice time for such ‘big- picture’ Benchmarking – Beginning with the observation and thinking is eroded by ever increasing End in Mind transaction costs associated mainly with administrative Benchmarking is a fundamental component of planning compliance and more restrictive funding opportunities. transnational collaborations. In crop improvement pro- Furthermore, integration should be recognized as an grams, data should be collected and collated to provide important skill in itself, and all individuals should be a detailed description of the starting point. All progress encouraged to highlight their work in the broader context, at the end of the project should be assessed relative to and to promote better communication and understanding this initial benchmark, enabling impact to be objectively of the bigger picture. assessed. Greater clarity can be achieved by benchmarking individual components of crop improvement programs Recognizing Teams (e.g., breeding, physiology, grain quality, information tech- nology, modeling, etc.), and can help identify where dis- We need to promote team effort rather than individual ciplines or expertise are missing. achievement. This will be facilitated by less hierarchical 28 © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Integrating Islands of Knowledge stem- rust fungus, in a systematic effort to avert a dev- Successful National and International astating pandemic (Singh et al. 2011). Also, in partnership Collaborations as Case Studies with CGIAR, the International Wheat Yield Partnership (IWYP) utilizes a research platform in a region of high Global wheat partnerships wheat productivity in Mexico, where outputs of basic There are some good examples of agricultural science research from IWYP’s international projects can be tested collaborations at the national and international levels, and translated into breeding products before being dis- including successful multilateral and bilateral partnerships, tributed internationally via the network. The IWIN has and potential benefits of more global integration of agri- resulted in massive phenotypic datasets (Braun et al. 2010; cultural research have been documented (Reynolds et al. Gourdji et al. 2012) and delivered germplasm that is esti- 2012). At the international level, the CGIAR now supports mated to be worth several billion dollars in extraproduc- a number of collaborative approaches. Networks for dis- tivity to hundreds of millions of farmers in less-developed seminating and evaluating new wheat germplasm, for countries, annually (Pingali 2012), and by raising yields example, emerged in the Green Revolution (Braun et al. has saved more than 20 Mha of land from being brought 2010), and continue to this day (Fig. 3). Now with modern under cultivation (Stevenson et al. 2015). GIS tools, greater precision of data collection is possible and statistical and simulation models can be used to Translating photosynthesis research from effectively interpret such databases (Lobell et al. 2011; laboratory to field Gourdji et al. 2012). A good example of an effective international partner- At the national level, the Australian Research Council ship is the International Wheat Improvement Network (ARC) has recently funded a 7- year Centre of Excellence (IWIN), which embraces a global collaboration of wheat for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP; http://photosyn- scientists testing approximately 1000 new well- adapted, thesis.org.au/). This venture is designed to integrate islands disease- resistant wheat lines each year at over 700 field of knowledge through multiorganizational (ARC, The sites. Breeding is directed toward 12 different megaenvi- Australian National University, The University of ronments, representing a range of temperature, moisture, Queensland, Western Sydney University, The University and disease profiles as described in Braun et al. (2010), of Sydney, CSIRO and International Rice Research based on up- to- date GIS and economic information Institute), interdisciplinary (plant breeding, crop physiol- (Gbegbelegbe et al. 2017). As well as testing widely for ogy, genomics, molecular biology, biochemistry, engineer- yield and adaptive phenology, in Kenya, for example, ing, bioinformatics, and simulation modeling), multiscale wheat lines are screened for a new and highly virulent (subcell, cell, organ, whole plant, crop), and translational Figure 3. Testing sites of the International Wheat Improvement Network (IWIN). © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. 29 Integrating Islands of Knowledge A. Borrell & M. Reynolds (spanning molecular to farm levels) approaches. The Centre trying to do everything. As this partnership is modeled brings together researchers to tackle one of the grand on the Australian Sorghum Improvement Program, the challenges facing humanity – feeding more people with key game changers were identified by experienced scientists less resources in the face of climate change. Photosynthesis who were able to pick likely winners (Hammer and Jordan is the most important biological process to have arisen 2007). A logical framework was used to dissect the rate in the evolution of the Earth, producing the oxygen we of genetic gain, identifying where the greatest returns on breathe, the food we eat, and the climate we live in today investment could be achieved. Some of the game changers (http://photosynthesis.org.au/; Hohmann- Marriott and proved to be relatively simple, yet profoundly impacted Blankenship 2011). Improving photosynthesis is now rec- outcomes. For example, the concept of partial replication ognized as the new frontier for increasing crop yields was introduced to increase the number of genotypes that (Long and Ort 2010; Zhu et al. 2010; Ainsworth et al. could be evaluated, smart phones replaced hand-w ritten 2012). field- books to revolutionize data capture, and bar codes The aim of the Centre is to contribute to the develop- automated field measurements and seed processing. Linking ment of new crop varieties that are more productive than these technologies has the capacity to significantly enhance existing strains, particularly in wheat, rice, and sorghum. the rate of genetic gain in EIAR’s sorghum breeding This includes varieties that produce high yields of grain program. in conditions of less water, higher temperature, and higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. By Actions to Increase Synergy and improving the ability of major food plants to convert Efficiency in Crop Research sunlight, air, and water into leaf and seed production through photosynthesis, the Centre can contribute to a Short term new yield revolution for food crops. The key word is translational – taking scientific discoveries from the labo- A key role for the Global Plant Council (GPC) (http:// ratory and translating them to useful yield outcomes in globalplantcouncil.org/) could be to map islands of knowl- the field. It is early days yet – but there is already a edge to help identify productive synergies. It would be palpable sense of excitement about the opportunities and important to develop an inventory of investments in crop potential outcomes arising from the synergies created in research internationally, in order to identify gaps that this project. may be filled with opportunities in comparative biology, translational research, and other interdisciplinary approaches. GPC could do some research on what inter- Increasing the rate of genetic gain for disciplinary models have been most effective in achieving sorghum in sub- Saharan Africa real- life outcomes from agricultural R&D, and then make Successful bilateral partnerships highlight the capacity recommendations to the donor community on more effec- to combine focus and integration. An example of this tive deployment of funding strategies. This research could is a partnership between the Ethiopian Institute of also include economic analysis. Agricultural Research (EIAR, Ethiopia) and the University The role of integrators needs to be further investigated. of Queensland (UQ, Australia) funded by the Bill and GPC could explore how integrators are a catalyst for Melinda Gates Foundation and the Australian Centre creativity by stimulating innovation at the interface between for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR). The various disciplines, crops, institutions, environments, and project addresses food security issues in sub- Saharan scales. GPC could also consider how research organiza- Africa by seeking an enduring increase and stability in tions and funders might better recognize and invest in productivity of sorghum in water-limited production integrators. systems through the development of more effective local crop improvement programs. The partnership is outcome Short- medium term driven, focused on strategic step changes, yet aware of the big picture. This project is an example of linking Global Plant Council could recommend that funding islands of knowledge in terms of disciplines (plant breed- agencies prioritize investments on the basis of linkage, ing, crop physiology, simulation modeling, bioinformat- rather than funding new islands of knowledge. In other ics), environments (low, mid, and high altitude), scales words, funding models should consider integration and (organ, plant, crop), and organizations (EIAR, UQ, various interdisciplinary approaches over ‘magic bullet` type Ethiopian universities). approaches which tend to encourage the opportunist One key insight driving this project is the importance approach over scientific rigor. The GPC blog could list of focusing on a few key game changers, rather than and highlight work/projects/articles that explicitly 30 © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Integrating Islands of Knowledge demonstrate integration of disciplines and synergistic if they are part of a well- integrated team rather than approaches that are outcome and impact oriented. GPC operating in isolation. could assist funding agencies in defining and identifying islands using the inventory mentioned above, and propose Long term mechanisms for integration to create synergies and increase efficiencies. Impact should be taken much more seriously as an outcome. The balance between focus and integration, and the Many organizations and funders focus on publications and concept of integrating across levels, are worthy of more citations more than impact. In the face of significant global consideration. GPC could play a role in further under- challenges such as food security, resource scarcity, and climate standing integration across levels. change, we need scientists to actually apply what has been Global Plant Council could have an advocacy role with documented in papers. This is not an either/or scenario. journals and funding bodies to encourage approaches (aims Impact and publications should go hand-in- hand. They are and scopes, special issues, calls, etc.) that showcase mul- not mutually exclusive. There could be a role for GPC to tidisciplinary and outcome- focused work. GPC could also explore how R&D impacts major global issues around crop nurture this agenda with groups of young people, high production – with a focus on impact. GPC could also do schools, undergraduate groups, etc. It would be beneficial some research on impact pathways, identifying the key steps to take advantage of recognized leaders to inspire a new required to enhance impact and outcomes. GPC can try to generation to think about the broader context of disci- promote a ‘culture change’ in crop research away from plinary efforts and integration; concept papers or newspaper speculating on novelty and emphasizing a particular disci- and magazine articles could also be written about integra- pline because it is in vogue in favor of integration, problem tive approaches. GPC could also facilitate access to: solving, and favorable outcomes for humanity. Finally, to enable impact to be taken more seriously and implemented • Platforms to share tools and encourage the sharing of cost effectively, GPC could encourage organizations and resources such as manuals, methods, links to tried and funders to think more about measurement and metrics at tested manufacturers of technologies, etc. the start of a project, rather than acting retrospectively. • Shared intellectual property, for example, through “pat- ent pools” to encourage crosslinkages. Conclusions • Long-term and/or multilocation experiments can provide excellent platforms for integration. Rothamsted provides A transnational approach to plant science is required to a good example in the Broadbalk experiment which address global challenges such as food security and climate started in 1843. change. Islands of knowledge (crop, discipline, scale, envi- • Crop-related models that help integration of disciplines ronment, organization, etc.) need to be better integrated. and make use of islands of knowledge. Mapping is needed to identify gaps and make connections • Other “linking” technologies such as genome resources between these islands. Translational research, spanning from that link trait biology with breeding data, and pheno- the molecular to farm scale, should be the focus. We need typing approaches that are applicable across many envi- more ‘integrators’ to manage complex global projects and ronments, crops, etc. integration should be recognized as an important skill in • Crop modeling is an area that depends on interdisci- itself. We need to advocate teamwork over individuality plinary linkage and would achieve much greater impacts – and reward teams. Impact should be taken much more as a result of many of the suggestions made herein, seriously as an outcome and we need to better understand including shared data platforms, common research stand- impact pathways. Focusing on key game changers will more ards, and multilocation and other comparative research likely lead to impact rather than attempting to do everything. approaches. There is a role for the Global Plant Council to facilitate and empower the changes required to bring about greater synergy and efficiency in crop research worldwide. Medium term Global Plant Council could investigate models that favor Acknowledgments teamwork over individuality. What are the benefits of teamwork? How do we reward teams? How do we sell This paper is based on outcomes from a Stress Resilience the merits of team research compared with individualism? Symposium held in Brazil in October 2015 organized by There are definite synergies arising from well- integrated the Global Plant Council and Society for Experimental Biology. team research. For example, some individuals are more The authors would like to thank the Society of Experimental likely to publish better science and have greater impact Biology for funding support for this symposium. © 2017 The Authors. Food and Energy Security published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd. and the Association of Applied Biologists. 31 Integrating Islands of Knowledge A. Borrell & M. Reynolds Passioura, J. B. 2010. Scaling up: the essence of effective Conflict of Interest agricultural research. Funct. 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Food and Energy SecurityWiley

Published: Feb 1, 2017

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