John Innes Centre in Norwich awarded £78m to fund new research schemes

The John Innes Centre.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The John Innes Centre. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

It has long led the way as a pioneer of science and research in the region.

John Innes Centre pea research. Research assistant Emily Jones in the lab.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

John Innes Centre pea research. Research assistant Emily Jones in the lab. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

And now the John Innes Centre in Norwich has been awarded nearly £78m to cement that reputation, strengthening Norfolk's position at the forefront of plant and food science.

Four new research programmes will be funded over the next five years, which the centre said would deliver 'fundamental insights' into plant and microbial life, which would then be useful to tackle national and global challenges in agriculture, the environment, and human health and well-being.

Prime Minister Theresa May said the investment represented a significant share of the £350m funding pot, and 'a prime example of just how significant a part this region plays in driving the UK's biosciences economy.'

'Our investment in these fields has reaped significant rewards already,' she said. 'The number of businesses on Norwich Research Park increased from 16 to 74 from 2013 to 2016, with employee numbers more than trebling in that same period.'

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

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


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The potential impact of the new programmes could be significant and wide-ranging. For example, some scientists at JIC are discovering new molecules from plants and bacteria that could lead to improved medicines and ways to stem the tide of anti-microbial resistance.

Others are working towards a future in which crops are more resistant to heat, drought and disease, and therefore better equipped to face increased variability in climate extremes and new and re-emerging diseases.

Dale Sanders, director of the John Innes Centre, said: 'We believe that the ground-breaking scientific effort launched today will have a substantial impact on national and global challenges in the years to come.'

Chris Starkie, managing director of New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, said: 'This investment is yet more evidence of the trust placed in the world-class research already being carried out at JIC, and of the global significance of the East in the effort to achieve greater food security and advancements in health.

'It also enhances the offer of Norwich Research Park - already home to more than 3,000 employees - to attract yet more businesses to join this centre of excellence in life sciences.'

The investment is by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

History

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

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.

Some of the most significant breakthroughs were highlighted this year as the centre celebrates its 50th anniversary.

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

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

Staff 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.

The projects

• A plant health programme to tackle crop losses caused by pests, pathogens and poor nutrition, thereby enhancing agricultural productivity and reducing over-reliance on artificial agricultural inputs;

• A molecules from nature programme to exploit plant and microbial chemical diversity in the search for better drugs, new antimicrobial therapies and foods with enhanced nutrition;

• A designing future wheat programme to address the challenge of providing an estimated 60% larger wheat harvest globally by 2050 – developing higher yielding and more resilient varieties of wheat with improved nutrition;

• A genes in the environment programme to deploy improved understanding of environmental impacts for improved crop productivity and enhanced resilience to a changing climate.

The four will build upon existing expertise at the John Innes Centre, ensuring its status as one of the world's strongest plant science research centre is maintained, the centre said.

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