10 amazing scientific breakthroughs at the John Innes Centre in Norwich

PUBLISHED: 17:27 24 March 2017 | UPDATED: 17:46 24 March 2017

The John Innes Centre at Colney. Picture: John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre at Colney. Picture: John Innes Centre

John Innes Centre

A world-leading centre of plant science and microbiology is celebrating 50 years of food, farming and health innovations since its move to Norwich. Here are ten of its most significant global breakthroughs:

Semi-leafless peas. picture: John Innes CentreSemi-leafless peas. picture: John Innes Centre

• A “semi-leafless” pea bred at the institute led to easier harvests and less damage from fungal disease.

Streptomyces. Picture: John Innes CentreStreptomyces. Picture: John Innes Centre

• A major milestones in research into the soil bacteria Streptomyces led to development of the first ‘hybrid’ antibiotic by genetic engineering, and opened new avenues for future antibiotic production.

Chalara funghi being cultivated to research of ash dieback disesase at the John Innes Centre. Photograph Simon ParkerChalara funghi being cultivated to research of ash dieback disesase at the John Innes Centre. Photograph Simon Parker

• A JIC scientist was among the authors of the first edition of The Molecular Biology of the Cell – a leading textbook still used by students around the world.

Arabidopsis. Picture: John Innes CentreArabidopsis. Picture: John Innes Centre

• JIC staff were part of an international collaboration which sequenced the first plant genome, from the tiny weed Arabidopsis thaliana.

Purple tomatoes. Picture: John Innes CentrePurple tomatoes. Picture: John Innes Centre

• Purple tomatoes, rich in an antioxidant pigment called anthocyanin which can protect against cancer, were developed by incorporating genes from the snapdragon flower.

Wheat infected with yellow rust disease. Picture: John Innes CentreWheat infected with yellow rust disease. Picture: John Innes Centre

• Oats were found to have enzymes which make anti-fungal compounds – providing new possibilities for protecting cereal crops from diseases.

A field of wheat at Aldborough.

Picture: MARK BULLIMOREA field of wheat at Aldborough. Picture: MARK BULLIMORE

• The first analysis of the complex wheat genome was carried out at the JIC, to help breed wheat varieties with higher yields and better resistance to disease and drought.

John Innes Centre pea research.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYJohn Innes Centre pea research. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

• Pea breeding took a leap forward as scientists found new ways of using genetics to control their protein composition.

Beneforte super broccoli. Picture: Ian BurtBeneforte super broccoli. Picture: Ian Burt

• A new “super-broccoli” variety, Beneforté, was developed in collaboration with the Institute of Food Research (IFR), with high levels of glucoraphanin, a nutrient thought to reduce chronic disease risk.

Ashdie back spores growing in a sample dish. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAYAshdie back spores growing in a sample dish. PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

• With UK trees being decimated by ash dieback, JIC spearheaded an international consortium in the fight against the disease by sequencing the fungal pathogen and tolerant ash trees.

The John Innes Institute, later renamed the John Innes Centre (JIC), moved from Bayfordbury near Hertford to its new home in Colney in 1967.

During the next 50 years, it has grown into a renowned global centre of excellence in plant and microbial research, with the aim of applying that knowledge to benefit agriculture, the environment and human health.

Prof Dale Sanders, director of the John Innes Centre said: “This year is a special year and we aim to mark it through our involvement in a variety of events in the city centre, and also by inviting the public to come and visit us and learn about our science during a public open day in September.

“We are proud to call Norwich our home. The John Innes Centre has gained so much from being based in Norwich. Not only from the fantastic collaborations with other research institutes and the UEA on the Norwich Research Park, but also from the many relationships we have forged over time with local communities, businesses, schools and colleges in the region. Our world leading status means we are able to attract the best scientists from all over the globe to live and work here. We have 41 different nationalities of staff at JIC who have contributed to the richness and diversity of Norwich and the region.”

Staff at the JIC will mark the 50th anniversary by taking part in the Lord Mayor’s procession in July and sharing the centre’s science with the public during the Norwich Science Festival in October.

Further events are being planned throughout the year, and more details will be published on the JIC web site.

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