Helping to feed the world in the future

Let’s spread Scotland’s reputation, says Prof Colin Campbell

James Hutton Institute will develop the science required to meet key global challenges. Picture: Getty

There are now seven billion people sharing this planet and this figure is expected to rise to over eight billion by 2030, according to estimates from the United Nations. That is why meeting major challenges such as global warming, food security and maintenance of biodiversity is absolutely vital for the continuation of human life as we know it.

As the former UK Chief Scientist Sir John Beddington discussed in 2011, when the Foresight Report on Food and Farming Futures was published, we have 20 years to arguably deliver something of the order of 40 per cent more food, 30 per cent more available fresh water and 50 per cent more energy. These are pressing needs. We can’t wait 20 years or even 10 years if we are to avert world hunger. That is why it is so important to train the next generation of scientists who will tackle those challenges.

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World leader

As a world leader in plant, crop, land, environmental and socio-economic sciences, the James Hutton Institute is creating new research opportunities for the scientists of the future. By joining forces with major organisations, the Institute offers programmes that will develop the science required to meet these key global challenges.

In the context of the newly formed Scottish Food Security Alliance, together with the Universities of Dundee and Aberdeen, six new PhD studentships in 2014 and a further six in 2015 will be available for research relevant to food security, within the three pillars of the Alliance: plant crop science, plant-soil interface and food systems.

A further four new fellowships and four studentships will explore the issues of renewable energy, remote sensing, resource-efficient water systems, socio-economic studies and biodiversity. These will be funded through a £1.3 million agreement between the James Hutton Institute and the Macaulay Development Trust.

The fellowships represent new areas of study to bring in the highest calibre scientists, offering generous support to start new programmes of research that will benefit from the existing expertise and world class facilities at the Institute.

We strive to seek solutions for some of the most pressing issues for Scotland and the world in natural resource management. These new positions are a major boost to that effort and we are delighted to join forces with the Universities of Dundee and Aberdeen and the Macaulay Development Trust, to enable the development and training of new researchers in this way.

Our Postgraduate School has over 130 PhD students from many different nationalities who are registered at 32 different universities across the globe. It offers PhD projects across a wide range of subject areas, providing opportunities for the most promising postgraduate students in a research environment where technical and intellectual competency can flourish. During the last academic year, more than 30 new students enrolled in the school.

Key global issues

The mentoring PhD students receive throughout their studies from their Institute supervisors and the Postgraduate Student Liaison Team, provides them with a comprehensive range of scientific and transferable skills demanded by today’s scientists in order to make a major contribution to the study of key global issues.

The James Hutton Institute and the University of Dundee, Division of Plant Sciences also offers a one year MRes course, Crops for the Future, which will become an integrated Masters course in the newly developed University of Dundee course structure. It is particularly suited to students intending to develop a research career specifically in crop breeding, pathology and biotechnology, including environmentally friendly methods of controlling crop pests.

As the Institute is mission orientated, our students gain a unique experience of research that is directly relevant to problem solving. The major challenges we face are very complex and require skills and disciplines that cross traditional skills boundaries. Our students are also exposed to the interdisciplinary approaches needed to tackle these difficult issues and their career paths often take them outside of science, working in industry and policy.

The James Hutton Institute was created as a flagship for Scottish science, in the name of one of our greatest ever scientists. As they pursue careers around the world, our newly-qualified students help to spread Scotland’s reputation for excellent science and extend our network of influence, which can only be of benefit to Scotland.

• Professor Colin Campbell is Director of Science Excellence at the James Hutton Institute