Although plants are so fundamental to our being, there are still many unanswered questions about the foundations of the organisms that support life on earth. We recently sat down with Hitoshi Sakakibara, the Editor-in-Chief of Plant & Cell Physiology to talk about his background, his role at PCP, and why plant science is vital to our lives.
Can you tell us a little about your background and what inspired you to pursue a career in plant sciences?
I studied molecular aspects of plant nutrition and signaling at the Graduate School of Agricultural Sciences of Nagoya University, and several years later, I got a PI position at RIKEN Institute in 2000. Since then, I have studied the molecular mechanism underlying the coordinated response of plants to nutritional cues to optimize their growth and development, especially focusing on the role of phytohormones.
The reason for my specializing in plant science is that plants are autotrophic organisms supporting life on the earth, and plants give us a wide range of benefits, such as food, materials, and medicine. After my starting university around the mid-80s, I realized that there is great potential hidden in plant science because there are still so many fundamental unanswered questions.
Why is this field so important for society as a whole?
As I mentioned, plants are the foundation that support all life on the earth, and since they cannot easily move like animals, they are always exposed to environmental changes. In order to survive, plants have very plastic and robust growth and metabolic control systems. Understanding these regulatory systems would give us important knowledge to further improve the potential of plants, which will be beneficial to human life and the environment.
How do you see this field developing in the future?
The current trend in plant sciences is to understand the behavior of plants at the physiological and molecular level. However, the knowledge obtained so far has not enabled us to freely modify plant functions and traits as we desire. Development of new crop species still mostly relies on breeders’ trial-and-error. This trend might not be changed radically, but I believe molecular plant physiology will greatly accelerate the generation of new plant species contributing to global food security, amongst other benefits, in the future.
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