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New national genome centre launched

3 July 2009

A new UK national genome centre is being officially opened today (3 July) by Nobel Laureate and genome pioneer Prof Sir John Sulston and the Lord-Lieutenant of Norfolk.

The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) will further the UK’s capacity in genomics - the science of understanding the genetic makeup of organisms and the genetic differences that exist between individuals. This knowledge can then be used for developments that include the production of new antibiotics to fight ‘superbugs’, breeding of new crops with increased tolerance of drought, and the breeding of livestock better able to resist emerging exotic disease. TGAC will underpin these advances as well as making a significant contribution to economic development.

TGAC has been established in Norwich by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) in partnership with regional economic development partners – The East of England Development Agency (EEDA), Norfolk County Council, South Norfolk Council, Norwich City Council and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership. The centre represents an investment by all the partners in the capital infrastructure of £13.5M.

Speaking about the opening, Minister of State for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson said: "The UK is a world leader in genomics, which is increasingly essential to understanding how to tackle the challenges we face in food security, the development of eco-friendly fuels and fighting superbugs.

"This project goes to show that partnership is the key to success - the new centre will help to advance vital research as well as stimulate economic development and generate new jobs."

TGAC science will concentrate on understanding the genomes of economically and socially important plants, animals and microbes. The exact projects that TGAC will initially work on will be decided by an independent advisory board but candidates include:

  • Helping to replace petrol with eco-friendly bioenergy. By sequencing the genome of perennial ryegrass, an important source of energy for livestock, scientists will gain the knowledge to increase the crop’s yield while reducing fertiliser requirements – making sustainable bioenergy a real option
  • Protecting livestock from exotic diseases. Emerging exotic diseases pose a serious threat to UK livestock. A major outbreak would threaten farmers’ livelihoods, increase meat and diary prices for consumers and put animal welfare at risk. Understanding the genomes of livestock such as sheep will help breeders raise animals resistant to disease
  • Producing more nutritious fruit and vegetables. Certain fruit and vegetables contain beneficial compounds that have been associated with reduced incidence of some cancers. Better understanding of the genetic mechanisms underlying the synthesis of these compounds could allow the breeding of, for example, tomatoes with higher amounts of antioxidants

The sequencing of these and other genomes will create a huge amount of data. The successful handling and interpretation of the data will be critical to TGAC fulfilling its potential. To achieve this, TGAC will become a national centre of excellence in bioinformatics – the application of computer science and statistical analysis to biological research.

A key aim for TGAC is to combine world-class genome science with an innovation programme that aims to benefit the regional and national economy. TGAC will utilise its own discoveries to maximise economic and social impact and is also committed to making cutting edge facilities available to UK industry. As part of the Norwich Research Park, TGAC will be a key player in the delivery of the Park’s new vision which aims to create hundreds of new, high-value jobs.

Dr Jane Rogers, Director of TGAC, said: "The Genome Analysis Centre will give the UK a lead in the sequencing of the genomes of plants, animals and microbes. By concentrating on specific organisms and problems we will develop an understanding of the genetic makeup of economically important crops and livestock animals. In addition, the genomic analysis of microbes will be a major focus, not only because they infect both animals and plants, but because they are already a source of drugs for the treatment of bacterial and fungal infections and therefore they have the potential to provide new, superbug beating antibiotics."

Sheila Childerhouse , Deputy Chair of EEDA and speaking on behalf of England's regional development agencies, said: "RDAs investment and economic leadership is key to the development of bioscience in our regions. It is a future growth sector and one which will help lead the UK to economic recovery.

"In the East of England, EEDA is delighted to support the Genome Analysis Centre because it strengthens Norwich as a major science city. It will bring high-value jobs and increased commercialisation and attract innovative science and technology companies to the region."

Brian Iles, Cabinet Member for Economic Development at Norfolk County Council, said: "I'm extremely pleased to see the Genome Analysis Centre officially open for business, and 'business' is the key word here. The centre is estimated to generate £5 million of revenue annually and create up to 750 highly-skilled local jobs through commercial development in the next three to seven years. Norfolk County Council has pledged £1 million of funding over two years in bringing this world-class facility to the Norwich Research Park and we see this as an excellent investment for the people of Norfolk."

South Norfolk Council Leader John Fuller said: "This launch is a momentous occasion for all of Norfolk, and a turning point in the history of Norwich Research Park. The support for TGAC is one of the largest investments that our local authorities have made for many years and it demonstrates our commitment to making this science park one of the very best in the world."

Steve Morphew, Leader of Norwich City Council, said: "This is fantastic news for Norwich. Not only will hundreds of highly skilled jobs be created directly and indirectly from the opening of TGAC but Norwich’s reputation as a major research centre for health and life sciences will also be further enhanced. Hi-tech commercial companies are also likely to develop out of the centre’s academic research, creating more jobs. Norwich City Council has put in £250,000 of funding from our Local Enterprise Growth Initiative (LEGI) programme, as we feel the TGAC will benefit enterprise in the city.

"TGAC will benefit local people and students from the University of East Anglia who want to remain in Norwich and develop their careers after completing their studies. It will also help attract new investors into the region.

"Norwich City Council fully supports TGAC - it will benefit the local economy and safeguard its future for years to come."

ENDS

Images

Click on the thumbnails to view and download full-size images.

These images are protected by copyright law and may be used with acknowledgement.

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Dr Jane Rogers, Director of TGAC, with a genome analyser (130KB)
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The Genome Centre building houses TGAC (382KB)
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Equipment at the centre (108KB)
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Dr Jane Rogers, Director of TGAC (215KB)
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TGAC signage (471KB)

Images from the launch event will be available from 16:00 3 July. Please contact BBSRC External Relations on 07766 423372.

Notes to editors

The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) has been established as a national centre of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC). The Centre is being funded in partnership with economic development partners: the East of England Development Agency (EEDA), Norfolk County Council, South Norfolk Council, Norwich City Council and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership - all of whom are making significant investments.

The John Innes Centre is also providing some capital investment.

TGAC scientific programmes will be determined by an independent scientific advisory board which will include members nominated by BBSRC and the economic development partners.

TGAC staff will be employees of BBSRC.

For more information about TGAC visit: www.tgac.ac.uk

About BBSRC

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £450 million in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.

About the East of England Development Agency

The East of England Development Agency (EEDA) is the driving force behind sustainable economic regeneration in the East of England: Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk and Suffolk. EEDA’s vision is for the East of England to be an ideas driven region that is internationally competitive, harnesses the talent of all and is at the forefront of the low carbon economy. For further information visit www.eeda.org.uk

Contact

Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299
fax: 01793 413382