True “transdisciplinarity” is starting to take form in the Centre – and I think it’s great!
A major challenge in the plant/crop science communities has been to enhance the ability of scientists operating at differing scales of biological organization to connect their efforts. We have not been able to capture well the nexus between molecular and ecophysiological understanding and concepts that are central in predicting the adaptive responses of complex plant/crop systems. This form of transdisciplinarity is perhaps needed more than traditional “multi-disciplinarity” as it involves more than just working across disciplinary expertise. We need an ongoing effort to deepen connectivity among disciplines and among molecular, plant and crop level scientific effort. The near lack of cross awareness of literature in plant and crop sciences is an unfortunate indicator of the ongoing malaise. Integrative modelling and the associated dialectic provide a vehicle to enhance this transdisciplinary connectivity. One needs to get one’s head into the other discipline!
In this Centre, as a crop ecophysiologist/modeller (see www.apsim.info for the software tool base), I can sit comfortably in our discussion groups and contribute on connecting mechanisms and genomes with phenotypic predictions. Modelling is an expected and accepted mode of operation in the Centre. In the not-too-distant past, as one who worked on integrative modelling of crops, the refrain from a practitioner might have been “you are just a theoretician”, or from a molecular biologist might have been “you are just an engineer”. The modeller in the middle was a ubiquitous target. Here we strive to utilise this technology to link practice and theory effectively to support novel advances. Multiscale modelling helps in enhancing awareness of the interdependence among disciplinary specialisations.
In conducting ecophysiological research on adaptive traits in crops, with a focus on abiotic stresses, I operate across levels of biological organization with benefits for both fundamental and applied research. This involves enhanced understanding, quantification and modelling of dynamic interactions operating across scales to realise phenotypic predictions. The dynamic interactions of adaptive traits at the ecophysiological level generate the emergent phenotype at the organism level of organization where selection and evolutionary fitness are effected. These adaptive traits can be viewed themselves as reproducible emergent properties that have been constrained into strategies. They form a lower level phenotype that is ultimately dependent on dynamic interactions and feedbacks operating among mechanisms at cell/molecular level.
This fundamental interdependence among levels of organization and approaches to modelling and prediction provide the opportunity for effective transdisciplinarity. It requires dialogue of actors across levels of scale as the basis for co-learning. It generates opportunity for evolution of component algorithms as knowledge advances at both molecular and ecophysiological levels. There is interdependence rather than linear dependence. Capturing that will make this Centre great.
Professor Graeme Hammer
Chief Investigator, The University of Queensland