Video transcript: The John Innes Centre

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September 2011

Director, Professor Dale Sanders
The John Innes Centre is one of the world's leading centres for plant microbial research so we address issues of food security, healthy aging and industrial biotechnology in our research. We have around 45 research groups, most of them are working on plants but we regard the microbial work as equally important.

Video shows the JIC logo on their building

The strategic priorities are addressing issues such as food security where we focus not only on the quantity and yield of crops but also on the quality and their resistance to pests and pathogens.

Prof Giles Oldroyd, Programme Leader, JIC
As our climate changes we are experiencing the emergence of new pathogens of our crop plants, particularly new fungal pathogens and new insect pests that are coming into the UK and creating new challenges for stable food production.

Video shows barley in a greenhouse, being studied and recorded by the scientists

Here at the John Innes we are identifying natural resistances that occur in the diversity of, say, wheat and barley to breed those in, help breeding companies breed those resistances into those crop plants so that we have naturally resistant crop plants to those new and emerging pathogens and pests.

Growing more food in the same arable area we really need to increase productivity of crops and that is going to require a lot of new technologies and new agricultural processes to double the amount of food that we produce. The big challenge is to be able to do that in a sustainable way and not increase the global carbon footprint of the food that we consume.

Professor Dale Sanders
One of the most important questions that we are working on at the John Innes Centre is how to develop more sustainable agriculture and by this I mean agriculture that is not so dependent on agricultural inputs for example, fertilizer which are potentially pollutants or emitters of greenhouse gases.

Video shows a head of barley in close-up

One of the things that scientists are working on more specifically in this area is how to develop cereals which are able to fix their own nitrogen. This is a hugely ambitious protect and we don't expect to see it come to fruition for another 20 to 30 years, yet if it does come to fruition, the pay-offs for society, the benefits for society are enormous with respect to producing more sustainable agriculture.

Video shows the large laboratory building at JIC

This type of long range research programme wouldn't be possible without the strategic grant that we received from the BBSRC which enables us to focus on long-term strategic gains rather than short-term problems.

Prof Anne Osbourn, Programme Leader, JIC
My research group has spent many years trying to understand how microbes cause disease on plants and looking at interactions between plants and microbes and this is what led to my interest in plant natural projects and their role in plant defence. The reason for studying plant metabolism, there are many good reasons to study plant metabolism. Plant metabolism underpins yield, food, how plants make food, food quantity and food quality. It influences how they interact with organisms, for example, pollinators, seed dispersal agents, pests and diseases and, of course, it can be exploited in many ways.

Video scans the large greenhouse full of barley and then scans the laboratories of JIC showing the scientist working there

Plants are a huge source of chemical diversity and their metabolism can be exploited to make new fuels, industrial materials, pharmaceuticals as a source of enzymes. There is a huge repository of potential.

Prof Giles Oldroyd, Programme Leader, JIC
At the John Innes Centre we have been around now for 100 years and this is very much founded on genetics and the understanding of genetics and genetics is the foundations to plant breeding. Plant breeding is what was perceived as a natural process of improving crop varieties and something that has been going on since mankind started to develop their own crop plants. We have been selecting crop plants that give better yields under better environments and in the last 100 years we have seen a marked improvement in our capability and speed by which we can breed new crop varieties for the problems that we face and with new technologies, particular genomics, we can greatly increase our capability to breed new varieties and this is obviously very important because the speed by which we need to improve our crop varieties is very short.

Prof Anne Osbourn, Programme Leader, JIC
We need to keep improving crop varieties because we can't be complacent. They succumb to disease, we're living in a time where climate change is a cause of great concern, we don't know what the future will be like for crop plants, we don't know what climate change will do for plant disease, we don't know what the impact of climate change will be on plant metabolism so we can't sit still, we have to keep moving.

Professor Dale Sanders
It is important to remember that the work we do at the JIC isn't just research, it is also about training.

Video shows students doing research in the JIC laboratories

We have around 80 PhD students on site and those are the people who will be tomorrow's scientists addressing tomorrow's problems. We take our training aspects very seriously and give the students a wonderful research environment in which they have not only state-of-the-art technical facilities but also a vibrant intellectual environmental in which they can discuss ideas and interact with some of the world's leading scientists.