Plants with their distinct biological features, such as photosynthesis, adaptation to many different environments, seed production, and organ formation, are essential to many important industries including those involved in the production of food, biomaterials, and energy; they also play a vital role in preserving the global environment. At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century, genomics has led to extensive developments in plant science. On the basis of genetics and genomics, important functions of plant genes involved in growth, morphology, photosynthesis, metabolism, and environmental responses have been found. Elucidating the unique physiologies of plants is expected to help us gain a basic understanding of plant systems which will lead to technological developments useful for the production of food, biomaterials, and energy, and also for environmental sustainability.
The rapid increase in population accompanied by rapid industrialization that is occurring in Asia and other areas as we enter the 21st century has caused imbalances in the supply of food and energy, leading many to predict that a global crisis of food and energy will occur around 2020. Research and development based on plant science is thought to be extremely important for solving this problem.
In the first phase of research at the RIKENPlantScienceCenter, we achieved a high level of basic research (especially in genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, and organic chemistry) in the areas of plant hormone metabolism and signaling, morphology, development, and metabolism using model plants. In the second phase of research at the Center, we are conducting projects aimed at improving plant production, both quantitatively and qualitatively, based on the plant science research activities at RIKEN. This new research program is founded on functional genomics in model plants with known genomic sequences, such as Arabidopsis and rice, and particularly on metabolome research for the understanding of metabolic systems. On the basis of these genomic studies, we are exploring important genes and analyzing the molecular functions involved in plant productivity, and are promoting research that emphasizes the understanding of genomic systems unique to plants. We also collaborate with universities, institutes, industry, and international organizations with the aim of linking research findings on model plants to the improved production of crops and trees. This research program contributes to uncovering new plant functions that can ensure a reliable supply of food, materials, and energy from plants, and to supporting human health. We believe that our new program will contribute to the sustainability of human life.