GARNet is a unique community organisation that links and organises researchers working the model plant, Arabidopsis thaliana. This project used just 0.3% of the annual BBSRC funding to Arabidopsis research, to employ an outstanding young scientist, Dr Ruth Bastow, as the GARNet coordinator. She achieved several high-profile successes in this role, and has since helped to create a new organisation for all UK plant science, the UK Plant Science Federation.
Our understanding of plant biology has been revolutionised in the past 20 years through an international consensus to study an unassuming weed, the mouse ear cress, or Arabidopsis thaliana to give it its proper name. Over one thousand research laboratories around the world have concentrated on this species and vastly accelerated the pace of discovery, because it has been easy to build on each other's results. UK scientists are amongst the leaders in Arabidopsis research, in major initiatives such as the sequencing of its genome in 2000 and in countless smaller projects. Arabidopsis is now the reference plant, the model to which most scientists look when they are trying to understand plant biology, for example in developing new crops. Increasingly, Arabidopsis research is also contributing fundamental knowledge that applies across the whole of biology.
Public funding through the research councils has made this possible. BBSRC invested about £20M pa in UK Arabidopsis research at the start of this project, in over 200 laboratories. Although these UK researchers had shown they could work together very effectively to produce world-leading results and resources, there was no organisation to coordinate their work. GARNet has provided the only such organisation, using just 0.3% of the annual BBSRC funding to Arabidopsis to employ an outstanding young scientist, Dr Ruth Bastow, as the Garnet coordinator. 12 professional scientists are elected by the laboratory heads, to work on the GARNet advisory committee. They give their time and expertise and, together, the coordinator and the advisory committee represent the whole research community. To help our researchers share the latest methods and results, Dr Bastow has run meetings for about 200 researchers every year, edited and distributed newsletters, organised “Town Hall” discussion meetings and written up our agreements in reports, and maintained a website. This provides the cohesion to create a community, rather than a collection of separate researchers. The community is increasingly acting together, for example in agreeing which expensive experiments are most important for all of us, or using GARNet to communicate our shared understanding to government.
Dr Bastow acts as a single, stable point of contact for the whole community, the person to call if you want to talk to the UK’s Arabidopsis researchers. This has proved most useful for our funders and for international researchers. It is a tribute to Dr Bastow's excellent work that BBSRC now regularly asks her to help represent the UK in international meetings. Through these contacts, the UK can promote GARNet-style research coordination more broadly. International initiatives help us to build shared resources even more quickly, helping more researchers to do more research with the limited funds available, and showcasing the UK’s contributions to science.
This award supported a unique organisation for the large community of UK researchers studying the model plant species for molecular genetics, Arabidopsis thaliana (mouse ear cress). The UK is among world research leaders in this field, thanks to sustained funding. GARNet's leavening of coordination and communication gains greater value for UK researchers from the existing research funds.
GARNet has provided the single, stable, national structure that we claimed would be essential to sustain and enhance a functioning community of UK Arabidopsis researchers. All the original objectives of the grant were met in full, or substantially exceeded.
1. Successful communication within the community and unique links with funders were facilitated by the GARNet coordinator recruited for this award, Dr. Ruth Bastow. She ran 4 national conferences and numerous workshops, coordinate two reports, and ran a community consultation that resulted in a publication. Her pioneering role in community organisation is guaranteed and now expanded to coordinate the world Arabidopsis organisation, MASC, with further funding secured to 2014.
2. Early adoption of Systems Biology approaches in the community, including three SABR awards on Arabidopsis in 2007, following the GARNet report on Plant Systems Biology in 2005-6.
3. Greater international profile, including hosting THE main international Arabidopsis meeting in Edinburgh in 2009 (over 1000 participants), allowing the UK's participation in the European ERA-PG funding initiative (which required a national research organisation), a UK lead in the Multinational Arabidopsis Steering Committee from 2009, and a key role for GARNet with BBSRC in the funders International Steering Committee for Plant Genomics.
This success for BBSRC science could not have been achieved through top-slicing research project grants, user contributions, or multinational sources: only a single community organisation could have done this.