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Science on the Farm: Feature Index

"Life without food ... is simply not going to happen."

Our essayist's comment--stark but fundamentally true--illustrates that although scientific developments in agriculture have always impacted our quality of life, we're getting to the point at which they're becoming critical for our continued survival. Conventional farm practices are giving way to more advanced management systems and innovations that are derived, in turn, from a large body of basic scientific research. And as we arrive at the cusp of a biotechnology revolution in agriculture, it has become the task of some scientists to critically evaluate just where such a revolution might take us.

But if you think that all scientists working in agriculture-related research and development have agricultural science degrees, think again. This month, Next Wave explores some of the increasingly diverse careers that are possible under the moniker "science on the farm." We have discovered scientists who bring a wide variety of educational backgrounds to bear in areas such as remote sensing, geographic information systems, fermentation engineering, public policy, vaccine research, and molecular genetics--all in search of science-based solutions to agricultural problems. Our essayists--whose tasks range from pitting insect against insect in the name of biological control to using high-tech geospatial technologies to map regions of crop stress and land use changes--highlight the opportunities that are available in applied agricultural research and development. Their collective wisdom and experiences in this diverse and rapidly moving arena emphasise that wherever you choose to begin your research career should by no means restrict where you may end up.

Agricultural Biotechnology

Canadian Monika Kuzma enjoys the cooperative environment that a small plant biotech company offers.


Plant biotechnologist Gary Lee explains why he was drawn toward doing his science at a multinational corporation.


The ancient science of agriculture is not as dusty as some might believe, according to Anja Gassner, who made a switch from marine biology to precision agriculture.

As an undergraduate, James Bunce always studied what interested him the most, without much thought of his future employability. Fortunately a passive job search led him to a satisfying career as a research plant physiologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service.

Biosystems Engineering

In describing the diversity of such science carried out within the walls of McGill University, Barry van Bergen characterizes the complexity that underpins biosystems engineering.

Crop Research

It's not just plants that benefit from the hothouse atmosphere at the John Innes Centre--commercially minded scientists should find their ideas carefully nurtured there, too, writes European editor Kirstie Urquhart.


From Moscow to Maine, entomologist Andrei Alyokhin ruminates on his career as a wandering crop-protection professional.

High-tech Farming

Paul Skinner's vineyard technology company was among the first to bring high-tech to California's grape-growing industry, Aparna Sreenivasan reports.


The application of remote sensing technologies in agriculture and natural resource management is opening up a raft of career opportunities for bachelors and Ph.D. scientists and engineers, says Mississippi State University professor David Shaw.

Beth Purse enjoys the interdisciplinary nature of her work at the Institute for Animal Health, which involves using geographical information systems and predictive risk modelling to aid in disease control measures.

Organic Farming

Serendipity led Sylvia Kratz, a postdoc at Germany's Institute for Plant Nutrition and Soil Science, to apply her training in geography to research into the environmental impact of conventional versus organic farming methods.

Research at the Center for Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems at the University of California, Santa Cruz, is unique, reports Stephanie Chasteen, in that it blends social and natural sciences with hands-on farming.

Theo Jetten and Claudius A.D.M. van de Vijver write about the C.T. de Wit Graduate School for Production Ecology & Resource Conservation at Wageningen University, the Netherlands, which offers PhD students a programme that provides in-depth training in specific research issues while at the same time broadening their scientific scope.

Policy and Risk Assessment

UK crop geneticist Phil Dale is actively involved in research on the production and analysis of transgenic plants, but he also plays an active role in debating the ethics of GMO science and its impact on society, writes Chloe Sellwood.

Years of academic research experience and exposure to international collaborations eventually led Guy Van Den Eede to a fascinating job at the nexus of policy, science, consumer protection, and industrial advancement.

Vaccine and Disease Research

A city girl from Canada, Melanie Sacco sometimes wonders how she ended up in the middle of the Berkshire countryside. But the Institute for Animal Health offered her unique opportunities to pursue a PhD and postdoc working on gene silencing in plants.

Funding and Programs

GrantsNet editor Katie Cottingham highlights USDA funding opportunities.


The Next Wave staff has compiled a great bunch of Web resources that will help you in your search for more information about agricultural science, funding agencies and awards, and research organisations.

We will be adding more essays to this feature later in the month, so we encourage you to come back--or sign up for our e-mail alerts if you'd like an automatic reminder.

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