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Institute for Animal Health and John Innes Centre researchers display science in Parliament

13 March 2012

John Innes Centre researcher Dr Christopher Burt has won Bronze at a competition in the House of Commons, for the excellence of his biology research today, walking away with a £1,000 prize.

Dr Christopher Burt. Credit JIC
Dr Christopher Burt . Image: JIC

Christopher presented a poster on research into eyespot, a fungal disease of wheat, which was judged against dozens of other scientists' research in SET for Britain, the only national competition of its kind.

Eyespot costs the UK £15M in crop losses annually, driving a need for new resistant varieties. However, the best source of genetic resistance may cause a yield penalty when the disease is absent. Christopher's work has potentially broken the link between the yield penalty and the disease resistance, and also pinned down other good sources of resistance. His BBSRC-CASE award that funded this work is with the Home Grown Cereal Authority, making his findings readily available to the plant breeding community.

Christopher was shortlisted from hundreds of applicants to appear in Parliament on Monday 12th March.

Christopher said, "I'm just surprised, really. Crops can be a bit unfashionable but it's great to see the work we do recognised in this way."

"This was a great opportunity to discuss my work with policy makers and to demonstrate how research at the John Innes Centre can directly benefit the development of new wheat varieties."

It is the second year in succession that a JIC student has been invited to take part in this competition.

Andrew Miller MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, said, "This annual competition is an important date in the parliamentary calendar because it gives MPs an opportunity to speak to a wide range of the country's best young researchers.

"These early career scientists are the architects of our future and SET for Britain is politicians' best opportunity to meet them and understand their work."

Jill Rodney, the Chief Executive at IBMS, The Institute of Biomedical Science, sponsors of the Bronze Medal, said, "We're delighted to be supporting early career scientists in this way and it's great to see so many enthusiastic scientists talking about their projects."

Dr Stephen Benn from Society of Biology, Dr Christopher Burt , Jill Rodney, the Chief Executive at IBMS, The Institute of Biomedical Science (sponsored the Bronze prize) and Andrew Miller MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee
Dr Stephen Benn from Society of Biology, Dr Christopher Burt , Jill Rodney, the Chief Executive at IBMS, The Institute of Biomedical Science (sponsored the Bronze prize) and Andrew Miller MP, Chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee. Credit: JIC

Three early-career researchers from the Institute for Animal Health at Compton near Newbury also had the chance to present their science to parliamentarians at the House of Commons . All three work on diseases of livestock that can cost the UK economy a great deal of money and threaten food security and animal welfare.

Kirsten Bentley works on Infectious Bronchitis Virus, which costs the UK poultry industry an estimated £23 million per year and causes debilitating illness in chickens. Kirsten's work is aimed at improving vaccines against the disease.

Clare Grant presented her work on immune responses in cattle to foot and mouth disease virus - one of the most important diseases for economic and food security, which is estimated to have cost the UK several billion pounds during an outbreak in 2001.

Dr Helena Maier also works on Infectious Bronchitis Virus. Helena works to understand how the virus hijacks the host cell to replicate.

They said they were delighted to have the opportunity to discuss their work with parliamentarians and early career researchers from other disciplines at this unique event. All three are experienced in public engagement and regularly take part in events to inspire young scientists in schools.

SET for Britain is a poster competition in the House of Commons - involving approximately 180 early stage or early career researchers - judged by professional and academic experts. All presenters are entered into either the engineering, the biological and biomedical sciences, the physical sciences (chemistry), or the physical sciences (physics) session, depending on their specialism.

The Parliamentary and Scientific Committee run the event in collaboration with The Royal Academy of Engineering, The Institute of Physics, the Society of Biology, The Royal Society of Chemistry, the Physiological Society, the Wellcome Trust and the Society of Chemical Industry, with financial support from BP, Airbus/EADS, The Institution of Engineering and Technology, AgChem Access, Oxford Instruments, IBMS and GE Hitachi.



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Funded by Government, and with an annual budget of around £445M, we support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.

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