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£4.3m crop research station at Bawburgh due to open in July

PUBLISHED: 09:03 25 January 2018 | UPDATED: 09:03 25 January 2018

The John Innes Centre's new field experimental station is taking shape at Church Farm in Bawburgh. Picture: John Innes Centre.

The John Innes Centre's new field experimental station is taking shape at Church Farm in Bawburgh. Picture: John Innes Centre.

John Innes Centre

A £4.3m research base is taking shape outside Norwich which will host ground-breaking scientific experiments aimed at improving the performance of farm crops.

Designs for the John Innes Centre's new field experimental station at Church Farm in Bawburgh. Picture: John Innes Centre. Designs for the John Innes Centre's new field experimental station at Church Farm in Bawburgh. Picture: John Innes Centre.

The field experimental station at Church Farm in Bawburgh, due to open in July, will allow scientists from the John Innes Centre (JIC) to combine their laboratory and field research in one location, as they search for breakthroughs in understanding how genes control plant growth.

The eventual aim is to create tools which will help plant breeders produce new crop varieties that are more reliable, nutritious and resilient to pests and diseases.

Cathy Mumford, who leads the field experimental team at the JIC, said: “It means researchers can investigate crop genetics and their effects in an environment in which farmers would grow their crops, where every season is different unlike a glass house or controlled environment.

“Researchers will be able to benefit from lab and field facilities that are side by side, and there will be a range of facilities under one roof.”

The new development is set in 110 hectares of farmland owned by the John Innes Centre. The 1,700sqm building includes two laboratories, climate-controlled grain storage, office space for six staff, meeting rooms and storage space for agricultural equipment.

A temperature and humidity-controlled store will allow the medium-term storage of seeds, which represent the product of many years of research. This seed will be available for scientists and breeders from across the globe to use in their own crop improvement research.

The research facilities include a plant-processing “dirty” laboratory where scientists can process crop samples taken from the trials fields, a “clean” laboratory with high-grade scientific facilities, and freezer storage for plant tissue samples, with temperatures down to -80 degrees.

In addition to scientists from the JIC, the facility will be used by researchers from The Sainsbury Laboratory, Quadram Institute, and the Earlham Institute, all located on the Norwich Research Park.

Project leader Prof Simon Griffiths of the JIC said: “The field experimentation facility is a core capability that is fundamental to JIC science. The progression of plant research from model to field crops means that the need for field-based experimental facilities is more pressing than ever.”

Most of the funding for the project comes from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), with a contribution from the John Innes Foundation.

Planning permission was obtained from South Norfolk Council early in 2017 for the facility, which replaces a site previously situated at Newfound Farm, Colney on land sold for housing development.

Much of the land associated with the site is farmed by Morley Farms, a commercial arm of the Morley Agricultural Foundation which supports farming in the East of England by funding agricultural research and educational projects.

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