Interdisciplinary Plant Sciences: Integrating Plant Science Research in Other Scientific Fields

The concept of ‘interdisciplinarity’ has emerged as a salient term within the scientific discourse, signifying an escalated interest in both the promotion of interdisciplinary methodologies and the evaluation of their efficacy. The scientific community increasingly recognizes interdisciplinary collaboration as a vital enhancement to scientific inquiry and a judicious career maneuver, receiving substantial support from funding agencies and policymakers. This is exemplified by the dedicated issue on interdisciplinary research published by Nature in 2015 and the thematic emphasis at the 5th annual meeting of the Global Research Council. Nation-states have implemented specific policy measures to underwrite interdisciplinary research endeavors, exemplified by the establishment of programs such as the National Academies Keck Futures Initiative (NAKFI) and the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT). Moreover, the European Research Council (ERC) has garnered attention for endorsing “Frontier Research” proposals that venture beyond the confines of established disciplinary parameters.



Interdisciplinary research confers a multitude of advantages, acting as a pivotal conduit for the generative recombination processes that propel scientific advancement (Rafols et al., 2012). The multifaceted issues such as climate change and resource security necessitate a confluence of expertise from the biological, physical, and social sciences (Rylance, 2015; Yegros-Yegros et al., 2015). Innovation is frequently incubated at the nexus of diverse disciplines, a space where the introduction of novel methodologies, theoretical perspectives, and insights has the potential to fundamentally alter or refine our collective understanding. The transformative influence of big data analytics across a spectrum of scientific fields illustrates the substantial impact of such interdisciplinary engagements (Rylance, 2015). However, it is important to acknowledge the challenges associated with interdisciplinary research. (Yegros-Yegros et al., 2015) identify two primary categories of costs: those related to the additional resources and effort required for coordination, and those stemming from a lack of recognition for the research.



The economic ramifications of interdisciplinary research are complex, encompassing direct costs like administrative and travel expenses, as well as less overt outlays due to the synchronization of disparate organizational cultures and the creation of a common vocabulary, as noted by scholars such as Cummings & Kiesler (2005), Rafols (2007), and Yegros-Yegros et al. (2015). The structural context of institutions exacerbates these financial burdens, presenting obstacles including limited career paths, diminished academic recognition, hurdles in publication, and biases in peer review, as documented by Bruce et al. (2004), Llerena & Meyer-Krahmer (2003), and Rafols (2007). Furthermore, interdisciplinary research often faces diminished esteem due to the prevalence of disciplinary silos, which marginalize unconventional methods and theories (Barry et al., 2008), and the assessment of such work is frequently skewed by traditional disciplinary prejudices, complicating the development of fair evaluation standards (Mallard et al., 2009; Yegros-Yegros et al., 2015). Additionally, interdisciplinary projects tend to be at a disadvantage in securing funding and may experience inconsistent citation impacts (Bromham et al., 2016; Porter & Rafols, 2009).


Interdisciplinary Plant Research

Notwithstanding the inherent challenges associated with interdisciplinary strategies, a multitude of successful plant science projects affirm their effectiveness. The realm of plant biology, teeming with a diverse spectrum of metabolites-from polyphenols to flavonoids-plays a crucial role in safeguarding plants against environmental adversaries and predators. These metabolites are not only instrumental in reinforcing plant defenses but also hold significant potential for broader applications that surpass the conventional confines of botany (Alvira et al., 2022). Their incorporation into the vanguard of technological progress highlights the remarkable versatility and practicality of plant-derived substances. For instance, the application of plant-based hard carbon (HC) in the anodes of sodium-ion batteries exemplifies the transformative impact of organic compounds on innovation and the promotion of sustainable technologies. Moreover, the development of advanced bionic structures and materials, inspired by the intelligent design principles of plant leaves, unveils the extensive opportunities that nature offers for the advancement of sustainable engineering and materials science. By harnessing the intricate and efficient natural architectures of vegetation, scientists have devised novel, nature-mimicking approaches that significantly enhance the performance and sustainability of various engineering fields. Notably, the morphology of plant leaves has become an influential model for bionic design, demonstrating nature’s ingenuity in informing and inspiring technological solutions (Yu et al., 2023).


Plant sentience?

The convergence of plant science with characteristics reminiscent of the animal kingdom has precipitated an engrossing inquiry into the concept of plant sentience (Khattar et al., 2022). This line of investigation is upending the archetypical understanding of vegetative comportment and communicative mechanisms. Advancements in this field are revealing an elaborate matrix of signal transduction and adaptive responses, equipping flora to navigate and flourish within dynamic habitats. Emergent studies have illuminated the intriguing phenomenon that flora exhibits a modality of communication analogous to the vocalizations observed in the Animalia. Specifically, under conditions of duress, plants have been documented to produce acoustic emissions that serve as indicators of their physiological state and the external biotic and abiotic stresses they encounter (Khait et al., 2023). Such discoveries underscore the complexity of plant interactions with their milieu, suggesting an extent of cognizance and reactivity that surpasses the conventional parameters of plant science.


Interdisciplinary cooperation

To facilitate the cross-pollination of disciplines and ameliorate the inherent challenges therein, strategic policy measures are imperative to surmount coordination barriers and institutional impediments. Moreover, a paradigm shift in disciplinary and institutional norms towards the valorization of atypical research endeavors is paramount. The enrichment of editorial consortiums within academic journals with a plurality of disciplinary perspectives, coupled with the advocacy of interdisciplinary methodologies within tertiary education systems, is instrumental in nurturing enduring cross-disciplinary partnerships (Yegros-Yegros et al., 2015). The intricate conundrums of plant science necessitate an approach steeped in interdisciplinary collaboration. The synthesis of robust solutions demands the amalgamation of varied perspectives and areas of expertise, thereby eclipsing the confines of conventional disciplinary silos and engaging a consortium of stakeholders from disparate sectors. The pivotal publication “One Hundred Important Questions Facing Plant Science: An International Perspective” delineates the scope and magnitude of the disciplinary inquiries, accentuating the imperative for a tapestry of viewpoints and specialized knowledge to address the most pressing challenges within the domain (Armstrong et al., 2023). The complexity of these questions often transcends the realm of strict scientific investigation, requiring the engagement of social scientists, policy architects, non-governmental organizations, and commercial entities to devise solutions that are both comprehensive and integrative (Matzek et al., 2014).



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About the Authors

Villő Bernád is a final-year PhD student at UCD, and a 2024 Plantae Fellow. She is focusing on the study of waterlogging stress in barley, and her research interests lie in the fields of bioinformatics and computational biology. You can find her on X: @BernadVillo.

Yueh Cho is a senior postdoc fellow at the Institute of Plant and Microbial Biology, Academia Sinica, Taiwan, and a 2024 Plantae Fellow. He is majoring in plant biology with expertise in protein homeostasis. He used Arabidopsis thaliana to mechanistically study ribosome behavior during translation and protein quality control inside the endoplasmic reticulum in response to the surrounding environment. You can find him on X:  @YuehCho1984

Andrew Hempton is a PhD student at the University of Washington, and a 2024 Plantae Fellow. He currently investigates the molecular and physiological mechanisms of shade induced developmental responses in plants.