Video transcript: The Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences

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March 2011

Professor Wayne Powell, Director of IBERS
IBERS is a brand new institute formed by the merger of IGER, a BBSRC institute, with two university departments to create a vigorous new hybrid. IBERS is very much focused on the big challenges facing society of the 21st century grand challenges, that include food security, climate change and biodiversity. So we are very much involved in translational research in translating basic scientific discoveries and producing them into practice and, for example, we have major public good plant breeding programmes which are geared towards the food security agenda mitigating the effects of a changing climate.

Dr Steve Fish, IP Development Manager, IBERS
Well the biorenewables team focuses very much on plant sciences and using particular plants like Miscanthus, rye grass and willow, and how we can use those to best mitigate climate change. For example, we can use biomass, we can burn and that will generate energy from heat, or the other alternative is to take that biomass and use it to make chemicals that can then be used in a series of industrial processes. For example, you can make potentially bioplastics from grass or a whole series of organic acids that are used in everyday goods like, for example, plastics, pharmaceuticals, biocomposites.

Dr Kerrie Farrar, Principal Investigator, IBERS
Miscanthus is a biomass crop, it has very high yields, it's a tropical crop but unlike its close relatives it tolerates low temperatures so its an ideal crop for temperate zones like the UK. On the whole we have two types of Miscanthus, some have a small number of very strong thick stems and others have a very large number of very fine stems, and we need to understand how we can breed those together to give an optimal stem number and stem thickness for the type of biomass that we need.

Dr Steve Fish, IP Development Manager, IBERS
Well the crops that we grow here at IBERS, for example the grasses and Miscanthus, the aim is to grow those on more marginal land. We don't intend to compete with the production of grain that is grown on high quality arable land. So the two activities should be cooperative and there should essentially be no competition for land use either as a biofuel or for the production of grain.

Dr Kerrie Farrar, Principal Investigator, IBERS
Biomass is a renewable form of either liquid transport fuels or other chemicals. So instead of digging up fossil fuels that have sequested carbon underground for millions of years, we're only using the CO2 that was taken up by the plant as it grew. So in that sense we're not contributing to atmospheric CO2. In fact, if we can get the plants to sequest the carbon underground in their roots, then we're actually taking carbon out of the air at the same time that we're generating high value products.

Professor Wayne Powell, Director of IBERS
So we have a multidisciplinary approach to plant breeding at IBERS. This includes breeding programmes for renewable energy with Miscanthus, we have major breeding programmes for oats together with rye grass. And in each of these we're interested in public good, so in other words we're interested in producing plants that reduce the environmental footprint of agriculture and, for example, with ryegrass reduce the methane emissions that come from livestock. So we have major programmes, for example, looking at developing new grass varieties that result in increased livelihood gain for livestock but also reduce greenhouse gas emissions. So we're really looking for win-wins between food security, via public plant breeding, and reducing environmental footprints.

We see plant breeding as a major technology platform that doesn't recognise borders. So we have a very strong international perspective on plant breeding, we're involved in training plant breeders and our work on pearl millet in India is a good example of where we're using the expertise that exists in IBERS to work with colleagues in India to produce pearl millet which is resistant to various pests and pathogens.

We employ over 300 people, we have about 1000 undergraduates, more than 100 postgraduates, and we're located in Aberystwyth in Wales. Our total turnover is around £25M, approximately £16M is research enterprise based, and £8M is associated with our eradication programmes.

Our focus in the future is going to be to invest, both in terms of the competencies and skills together with the infrastructure, to ensure that Aberystwyth is an international centre for food, water and energy security, and ensure that we can make a major contribution to the challenges that are facing society in the 21st century.