Diverse crops with diverse microbiomes for diverse diets for human health and resilient production – the main message from the 2nd EPSO workshop on Plants and Microbiomes held in Vienna October 2018. Diversity matters increasingly and is fundamental towards achieving the UN Sustainability Goals, such as SDG 2 ‘Zero hunger’, SDG 3 ‘Health and wellbeing’, SDG 12 ‘responsible consumption and production’, SDG 13 ‘Climate action’, SDG 15 ‘Life on land’.

Participants assessed progress on implementing recommendations on research and innovation, education, communication, regulation and policy from the first workshop by presenting ongoing and starting initiatives at (multi-)national and European level, discussing the recommendations form the 1st workshop and concluding what is well under way and identifying gaps to be considered at (multi-) national as well as European levels and beyond, e.g. towards the strategic programming for Horizon Europe, the European research and innovation programme 2021-2027.

These gaps and possible actions are highlighted in the 2nd report and led to two major themes for the 3rd workshop in 2020: ‘From Correlation to Causation – from Lab to Field to Ecosystems’, to first identify the causes underlying microbiome functioning at the laboratory scale, take these then further to the field and finally ecosystem levels. This will include, among others, mechanisms of plants to attract and beneficially interact with microorganisms, and what makes a beneficial mix of microbiomes fit for agriculture to survive in field conditions for the time needed. The second theme will be ‘Plants and Microbiomes Research Infrastructure’, discussing how to establish European (distributed) cultured collections, considering a ‘plant microbiota vault’ as complementary long-term microbial resource for plant health, the use of microbiota in phenotyping facilities and related open access databases integrating (plant) microbiome and meta-data required.

A third gap identified is suggested as theme for a 4th workshop: ‘Understanding the interaction of plants (e.g. secondary metabolites) with the animal and human microbiomes, which is likely to affect animal/human health’, possibly jointly with the EPSO Working Group on Nutritional Security.

Actions on training and communication will be taken by the scientific community, whereas legal experts need to look at the challenges in regulations – possibly advanced by the companies active in the field.

EPSO invites scientists, industrial and farming experts as well as policy makers to collaborate on further implement the recommendations to contribute to Environmental sustainability, food and nutritional security as well as human health.

Read the full ‘Report with recommendations’ and the ‘Annex to the report’.

48 participants representing 200 research institutes and universities from 31 countries will discuss at the EPSO General Meeting their short, medium and long term activities towards science strategy and science advice to policy, focusing on the transition from Horizon 2020 to Horizon Europe and how better to contribute to the UN Sustainable Development Goals with basic as well as applied (plant) research and innovation, and other forms of (bottom-up) multinational cooperation.

In addition, they will advance the support for scientists, mainly through over ten thematic Working Groups, including for instance ‘Agricultural Technologies’ (facilitating a better use and combination of all technologies and approaches for society), ‘Nutritional Security’, ‘Horticulture’, ’Plants and microbiomes’, and celebrate the success of the Fascination of Plants Day 2019 – a major outreach activity across the world.

Furthermore, they will debate a broadening of the EPSO scope and possibly membership taking even more the role of an integrating network across disciplines and sectors.

This year’s Fascination of Plants Day, a plant scientists’ initiative, has been already adopted by 47 countries worldwide. All information about this initiative can be accessed via www.plantday18may.org and is supported world-wide by a network of National Coordinators who voluntarily promote and disseminate the activity within their countries. A variety of over 468 plant-based outreach activities for all interested people from toddlers to grandparents were already uploaded online by scientific institutions, universities, botanical gardens, and museums, together with farmers and companies, who will open their doors for you to enjoy the interactive events.

To read the full press release click here.

EU health Commissioner Andriukaitis stated in his interview with EURACTIV on 27.3.2019 (link) “From my point of view, we need a new legal regulatory framework for these new techniques,”, adding that it should be dealt with by the new European Commission after the EU elections in May. He added  “We are currently analysing the ruling and discussing with member states its implementation”. Further on in the interview he insisted that Europe should listen to science, otherwise “it has no chance to have sustainable agriculture and preserve biodiversity”.

EPSO welcomes this statement and call for action by Commissioner Andriukaitis and repeats its offer to collaborate with policy makers to develop an appropriate future-ready regulation to enable the European public sector, small- and medium-sized companies and farmers to contribute more comprehensively to food and nutritional security and to use all available tools to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. Notwithstanding the technical option retained, EPSO supports a science-based revision of the present European legislation establishing a more proportionate product-based risk assessment. EPSO is also willing to contribute to the societal debate on genome editing and to communicate in a fact-based and yet accessible manner about innovative plant science and its societal role.

Read full statement

BackgroundEPSO publishes its statement to the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on organisms obtained by mutagenesis (case C-528/16)

This refers to the Court of Justice of the EU: Judgment in Case C-528/16, 25.7.2018.

EPSO publishes its statement to the ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on organisms obtained by mutagenesis (case C-528/16) stating that the ruling disregards scientific evidence.

Genome editing is not the only answer to current challenges of agriculture and society, but it represents an important tool for harnessing plant science knowledge toward a future-ready agriculture, for allowing Europe to play a leading role in innovative plant science, and to contribute to the bioeconomy by boosting the performance of underutilised plant species and biological resources. In the drive to achieve sustainable development goals, no useful tool should be neglected. EPSO supports a science-based change to the present European legislation and proposes to establish a legislation adapted to future technological developments by increasing emphasis on product-based risk assessment. Meanwhile, further tangible commitment is needed to support, inform and communicate about innovative plant science and its societal role.

Following the European Court of Justice ruling, that plants obtained by recent techniques such as CRISPR-Cas9-mediated genome editing mutagenesis are regulated as GMO, the VIB statement addresses the huge problems Europe will face in plant breeding in the future. EPSO anticipates the same problems as depicted in the statement, which is in line with our first reaction, and will publish a full statement in November.