Government pumps �90m into Norwich Research Park

Some people may not be able to say exactly what the life sciences are; but with a raft of funding announced today for Norwich institutes studying them, universities minister David Willetts wants to make clear he thinks they are the future.

Mr Willetts is travelling to Norwich where he will announce �250m funding for life sciences research centres around the country.

Within the pot is money for three bodies at the Norwich Research Park (NRP); �19m for The Genome Analysis Centre, �29m for the Institute of Food Research and �42m for the John Innes Centre.

Speaking to the Eastern Daily Press Mr Willetts said: 'This is substantial investment in agricultural science. East Anglia has world class institutes and we are providing them with world class funding.

'This really does show the importance we attach to the life sciences.'

The US administration of Barack Obama has already acknowledged the future growth potential of the life sciences sector, with the president releasing his National Bio-economy Blueprint last month.

There are three basic parts to the life sciences sector; the first, in which Norwich excels, is agricultural science. It covers firms undertaking research into genomics, the study of animal and plant genes to produce new breeds, and those exploring how to improve and increase crop and food production.

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Then there is biomedicine, which covers firms working in genetic science, pharmaceutical research and production. Finally there is the energy sector, covering companies in renewable energy production and energy efficiency.

The funding coming to Norwich for agricultural science today will have particular resonance with UK farmers needing to find new ways of producing more food on a limited amount of land.

East Anglia regional director of the National Farmers Union Pamela Forbes said: 'Science has a key role to play in food production so today's announcement is good news.

'If farming is to meet the challenges of producing more food while impacting less on the environment we need adequate funding for research and development.'

But life sciences research is also going to play a big part in the world's future as the global population burgeons and governments work out how to feed an increasing mass of people, keep them healthy and power their homes and businesses.

Indeed the biggest challenges will be faced by developing countries with the fastest growing populations such as India and Brazil. China alone is already spending �1bn a year on research into genetically modified food.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman, the prime minister's life sciences advisor, points out that this creates a huge opportunity for the UK to sell those countries the technology and services they need to tackle their challenges.

He has been meeting with policy officials in Downing Street in recent weeks to discuss how Britain can take advantage of the opportunity and in the process rebalance its economy away from the financial sector.

Because of the world class research already taking place at the NRP, he explained, Norwich is well placed to be the UK hub of the growing life sciences sector - hence the �90m which the government has brought forward today.

He said: 'This science investment will spawn a whole generation of fast growth companies generating technology and producing services that in turn will create a raft of new high-skilled jobs for the Norfolk economy.

'What is also so exciting about this funding is the recognition for the NRP and of the agricultural research centres there.

'Cambridge doesn't have that. It's set on medicine and IT, but Norwich has the potential to be the main integrated life sciences hub.'

The John Innes Centre has been ranked first in a survey of 88,700 worldwide institutions in terms of the number of the most influential papers in plant and animal sciences produced over the last ten years.

The money the body receives will fund research into creating new strains of wheat with a greater yield, which are more disease and insect resistant and have greater tolerance to drought, salt water flooding and heat.

Mr Freeman added: 'This is the government providing the core funding. But we now want to see the agricultural science sector come together and put together a central research strategy to attract more inward investment into the UK.'