Rewriting a Book to Help Rescue the Planet

AGNR faculty help redirect iconic plant science textbook toward solutions-based learning.

June 24, 2022 Kimbra Cutlip

It’s not often that a foundational textbook is revamped in a big way, but the past few years have made it clear that students need more from their education today than just knowledge. They need sharp tools to help them attack serious global problems, and that means connecting the lessons in science classes with solutions to real-world issues. And, more often than not, they’re making those connections online.

When the publisher and editors of the iconic textbook Plant Physiology and Development surveyed the global plant science community for comments on a planned seventh edition, it was clear they needed to better integrate the concepts of plant biology with emergent global issues. 

The three lead editors, Angus Murphy from the University of Maryland, Lincoln Taiz from the University of California, and Ian Max Møller from Aarhus University, agreed that the new book would emphasize critical links between how plants work and how science and technology can address global problems in food production, renewable energy, and environmental sustainability.

The book, published by Oxford University Press (OUP), is considered the authoritative text for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students studying plant sciences and is used by university programs throughout the world. The new edition is being released this summer.

Midway through the initial redesign and rewrite, the Covid-19 pandemic prompted a global conversion to online learning and redirected the book once again, this time to address the needs of hybrid instruction. Angus Murphy, a professor at AGNR, led efforts to transform the structure and content so that the seventh edition of Plant Physiology and Development could continue to be both a foundational textbook and an effective hybrid online resource.

“The way that students learn is changing, and there is a need for more integrative approaches to student instruction,” Murphy said. “Students are looking for knowledge and skills that enable career goals that align with saving the planet. They realize that knowledge of plant physiology and development is required for successful development of more resilient crops and food production systems that are under pressure from climate change, expanded pathogen and herbivore distributions, competition for limited resources, environmental pollution, and disruptions of global supply chains.”

Promotional material from OUP states: Mitigation of climate change, preservation of ecosystems, and adaptation of crop systems to prevent mass hunger will require an international interdisciplinary effort of enormous proportions, and plant biology will be right at the center of the action. As primary producers, plants provide habitat and food for the rest of the biosphere. Knowledge of the fundamentals of plant physiology will therefore be required to achieve meaningful interventions in key ecosystems. Above all, plants will play a central role in the achievement of global net zero carbon emissions.

To address these issues, the book includes extensive discussion of plant genome engineering and CRISPR gene editing written by AGNR’s Yiping Qi as well as highlight boxes, web topics, and web essays that address climate change and the use of plant biotechnology. One Highlight box, written by Nidhi Rawat and Vijay Tiwari from AGNR, describes new approaches for breeding resilience into bread wheat through the introduction of genes from wild relatives.

Top subject area experts nominated by the plant science community served as authors for each chapter. With nine AGNR faculty authoring or contributing to chapters and reviewing content, UMD was one of the largest institutional groups participating in this edition.

The production of the book in both hard copy and enhanced E-book format led to the addition of integrated learning objectives and self-assessment quizzes for each chapter. Associate Professor Wendy Peer led a team of students and postdocs from universities in the US, South America, and Europe to generate this material. UMD undergraduate and graduate students from CMNS and AGNR contributed to this effort.

“This book came together in a very positive and creative way because the initial direction that we chose is grounded in the land-grant university approach to education” Murphy said. “Many of our students live and work on farms or nurseries as well as across a wide spectrum of industries associated with food production and distribution. They bring that experience into the classroom, but have also driven our efforts to provide effective hybrid, online learning experiences well before the Covid-19 pandemic mandated it. The book is really a response to their needs, and it incorporates their input, because they’re the ones who are going to need the knowledge of plant growth and function to create new solutions for the planet.”

Murphy and his co-editors and contributors want this new addition to be a resource and a tool for them to do just that.

Plant Physiology and Development 7th Edition will be available in the summer of 2022 for fall 2022 instruction.

Contributors from UMD:

UMD- Associated Chapter Authors:
Jose Feijo - expertise in plant sexual reproduction
Zhongchi Liu- expertise in flowering and fruit development in the Rosaceae (strawberry, many tree fruits, roses)
Yiping Qi- expertise in genome structure and genome engineering
Wendy Peer - expertise in seedling germination and establishment, regulation of growth by specialized metabolites, biochemistry of signaling molecules and compounds important to human nutrition.
Angus Murphy - regulation of plant growth by hormones, phototropism, membranes and membrane transporter structure and function
John Ward (UMD Alumnus, professor at the University of Minnesota) expertise in plant nutrient assimilation

Nidhi Rawat- expertise in pathogen resistance
Vijay Tiwari – expertise in cereal genomics and complex plant genomes.

Reviewers (and contributors to previous edition):

UMD Reviewers (including pre-reviews):
Joe Sullivan- plant responses to UV light
Gary Coleman – secondary growth
Heven Sze - pollination 
Caren Chang- ethylene and ACC signaling mechanisms

UMD Student contributors to Learning Objectives and Self Assessment Quizzes
graduate student and postdoctoral: Juan Barbosa, Candace Pritchard
undergraduate students: Lillyanna House, Emma Morris