Scientists reveal research projects to benefit from John Innes Centre investment

Scientists at work at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. The institute has been awarded �78m to fund

Scientists at work at the John Innes Centre in Norwich. The institute has been awarded �78m to fund four new institute strategic programmes (ISPs) into plant and food science. Picture: Andrew Davis, John Innes Centre - Credit: John Innes Centre

Developments for the future of wheat farming and plant-based products in medicines and manufacturing are among the projects benefitting from investment in a Norfolk science hub.

Richard Morris, a scientist at the John Innes Centre, who is leading the Plant health research progr

Richard Morris, a scientist at the John Innes Centre, who is leading the Plant health research programme, one of four projects to receive part of a �78m investment in the centre. Picture: Andrew Davis, John Innes Centre. - Credit: John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre in Norwich has been awarded £78m as part of a string of strategic programme investments by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Graham Moore, a scientist at the John Innes Centre, who is leading the Designing future wheat resear

Graham Moore, a scientist at the John Innes Centre, who is leading the Designing future wheat research programme, one of four projects to receive part of a �78m investment in the centre. Picture: Andrew Davis, John Innes Centre. - Credit: John Innes Centre

It will fund four research programmes over the next five years led by JIC scientists, building on past research projects at the institute.

Lars Ostergaard, a scientist at the John Innes Centre, who is leading the Genes in the environment r

Lars Ostergaard, a scientist at the John Innes Centre, who is leading the Genes in the environment research programme, one of four projects to receive part of a �78m investment in the centre. Picture: Andrew Davis, John Innes Centre. - Credit: John Innes Centre

Prof Graham Moore is leading the Designing Future Wheat programme, a £20m project which will see eight institutions, including the JIC, Earlham Institute and Institute of Food Research, work together to find traits in novel strains to help make wheat farming more sustainable and productive.

Alison Smith, a scientist at the John Innes Centre, who is leading the Molecules for nature research

Alison Smith, a scientist at the John Innes Centre, who is leading the Molecules for nature research programme, one of four projects to receive part of a �78m investment in the centre. Picture: Andrew Davis, John Innes Centre - Credit: John Innes Centre

He said: 'In the next 50 years we have to produce as much wheat as we have produced in the last 10,000 years. We have to do that in a changing environment, amid reduced availability of land and competition for water as well as increasing problems with diseases.'


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Prof Moore will coordinate the different sections of the programme as well as linking it to the commercial sector so breeders can have their input.

Prof Richard Morris is leading the Plant Health programme which aims to discover how plants and microbes interact so scientists can manipulate their relationships.

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'By understanding these interactions we are hoping that we can get plants to uptake more nutrients than before without having to spend huge amounts on agricultural fertilisers,' he said.

'The long term goal is to reduce reliance on agri-chemicals and crop losses. Currently we lost something like 30pc of all crops grown to pests and pathogens.'

The programme, which has received £11m funding, will focus on common crops such as wheat, barley, brassicas and maize but it is hoped the discoveries will be translated to other plants.

Prof Lars Ostergaard will be leading the Genes in the environment programme, looking at the drivers behind plant development. The £10.5m programme will see the JIC work with a biotechnology institute in Africa to help improve crop yields.

'Over the past two decades there have been an immense development in our understanding of the biological processes that drive development in plants,' he said.

'We want to find out how plants react to changes in the environment. If we know this, we can translate the information to agriculture to develop crops that are more resilient.'

A programme exploring new microbes in plants and bacteria, Molecules from nature, will be led by Prof Alison Smith.

The programme, which is to receive £26m funding, aims to inform the development of sustainable plant-based products by exploring the properties and capabilities of previously unidentified genes.

'Now we are able to sequence genomes from these organisms, we can see that many contain molecules we know nothing about,' Pro Smith said.

'One we understand how plants make these molecules, we can start to replicate them ourselves which may speed up the manufacturing process.'

She added: 'This could have implications for manufacturing, agriculture and pharmaceuticals.'

Further grants of £26.6m for the Earlham Institute and £30m for the Institute of Food and Health bring the total funding awarded to Norwich-based institutes to £134m.

Reaction from political and scientific communities

Politicians and leaders in the agricultural industry are sharing in the jubilation felt by John Innes Centre scientists and staff at the cash boost.

Mid Norfolk MP George Freeman said: 'Having had a career in biomedicine and agri-tech research before parliament, I'm delighted to have helped over the last eight years to ensure that Norfolk gets the funding it deserves.

'This extra £78m will help ensure the Norwich Research Park continues to grow and attract world class researchers, companies and staff.'

Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said: 'I think this is a reason for optimism. This is recognition of Norwich's status as a global leader in science and I think it also underlines how important the industry is to the UK.

'As we look to draw up new relationships around the globe. This is a timely reminder of how we should value the science sector here in Norwich.'

Sally-Ann Forsyth, chief executive of Norwich Research Park, said: 'We are delighted by the news that the BBSRC has made further substantial funding investments in the research and people at the world leading institutes based at Norwich Research Park. This reinforces the government support for these national capabilities that generate knowledge and deliver innovation to provide both societal and economic benefit to the UK and the rest of the world.'

Colin MacEwan, co-chair of the Agri-Tech East stakeholder group, said: 'This recent investment by BBSRC in the agri-tech space is to be welcomed. It is vital to keep our world leading centres of research well funded, this supports our regional economy and ensures we will be able to continue to deliver innovation across the region for many years to come.'

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