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EPSO Conference 2013 Highlights - Day 1

The conference was opened by EPSO Executive Director Karin Metzlaff on Sunday evening, who welcomed over 350 attendees from 50 different countries.  The 7th EPSO conference aims to provide you with a snapshot of the state of the art in plant science, with a variation of themes throughout the sessions over the next 4 days. 

Local conference organizer George Skaracis and Prof. Athanasios S. Tsaftaris, Greek Minister of Rural Development and Food both spoke about plant science in our host nation.  The new government has decided to invest in plant science and agriculture as a pillar for the countries recovery from the economic crisis, with 100 new employees starting this week in agricultural research, in addition to 200 postodoctoral researchers.  The early signs are good as the country has enjoyed a 20% increase in agricultural exports in the first half of 2013.  Prof. Tsaftaris is sure our presence in Greece will also boost the tourism sector too!

Theodoros Skylakakis, Member of the European Parliament, outlined our challenges at a European and global scale.  We will have more people, with changing dietary habits, in a changing climate.  This requires a much more efficient use of our resources.  The situation of Greece shows that we cannot take our position in the world for granted.  What should Europe do?  Invest more, and do so in an evidence based way.  Mr Stephanopoulos states his belief in a more federal Europe, with co-ordinated research efforts.  He closed by stating that “scientists can change our lives much more efficiently than politicans”.

Our keynote speaker of the first evening was not from a plant scientist, but a metabolic engineer of microbes, Gregory Stephanopoulos from MIT.  Plants too can be engineered, he proposed an artifical photosynthetic system, by using electrons in plants, algae and cyanobacteria for catalysis of advanced biofuels and biopolymers. 

We can produce endless products from the plant biosynthetic pathways, and microbes are the factories of this technology.  For example, we should not use vegetable oils directly from plants for biofuels, as the yield for oil is much smaller than the yield of carbohydrates.  Instead, microbes can use the plant products as raw materials to function as oil factories.  We saw an image of "an obese microbe making a tonne of oil" - a bacteria bursting with bubbles of diesel precursor at a high yield.

The future relies on our ability to produce plants with greater yield, as the feedstock of this technology.


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EPSO is an independent academic organisation currently representing 61 institutional members bringing together more than 204 research institutes, departments and universities from 29 countries in Europe and beyond.