Prizes for plant scientists

Image: Tom Morris/Wikimedia Commons.
Image: Tom Morris/Wikimedia Commons.

Why are botanical FRSs like buses? You wait for ages for one to come along, and then three appear at once! On a more serious note, great news that two of the staff at the UK’s Norwich-sited John Innes Centre (JIC, ‘an independent, international centre of excellence in plant science and microbiology’ whose ‘mission is to generate knowledge of plants and microbes through innovative research, to train scientists for the future, to apply our knowledge to benefit agriculture, the environment, human health and well-being…’) have just received this great honour.

Professor Michael (Mike) Bevan (JIC Deputy Director) was elected to Fellowship of the UK’s Royal Society (one of the poshest science clubs in the world) for his work that has pioneered methods for expressing foreign genes in plants that underpin the crop biotechnology industry. He has also recently helped to complete the first draft of the wheat genome, which should accelerate breeding and genetic analysis of this globally important crop. Professor Melvin Bibb’s focus is on how soil (plants grow in soil and interact with microbes so I’m claiming him as ‘one of our own’, however tenuous the association!) bacteria such as Streptomyces make antibiotics and his breakthroughs assist drug companies in their quest to make new and improved antibiotics. And also elected to Fellowship in 2013 is Professor Stephen Long (Edward William and Jane Marr Gutgsell Endowed Professor of Plant Biology and of Crop Sciences at the University of Illinois, USA), whose plant credentials are listed thus, ‘Stephen Long is a pre-eminent plant environmental physiologist distinguished by his pioneering work on photosynthetic responses to global atmospheric change and the demonstration that C4 plants can achieve high productivity in temperate climates’.

I hope they will all be pleased to know that they now rank aside such notables as Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Richard Dawkins, Ottoline Leyser and Prince Andrew (elevated to Royal Fellowship in 2013). Intriguingly, there is already a Professor Michael Bevan FRS, but who is Professor of Immunology at the University of Washington, USA. You don’t believe me? Well – and in keeping with the society’s motto Nullius in verba (Latin for ‘Take nobody’s word for it’) – check it out at http://royalsociety.org/about-us/fellowship/fellows/ and at http://immunology.washington.edu/michael-j-bevan-phd-frs. Still, I do wonder what would happen if both Michael Bevan FRSs occupied the same place at the same time…

[For interesting commentary on the number of women amongst the newly-elected – and existing – FRSs, see Cambridge University’s Prof. Athene Donald’s article in The Guardian. For disquiet regarding HRH the Duke of York KG GCVO (kpa* Prince Andrew)’s fellowship, see the news item by James Wilsdon (Professor of Science and Democracy at the University of Sussex and previously director of science policy at the Royal Society), also in The Guardian – Ed. *kpa = ‘known politely as…’]