Video transcript: Rothamsted Research

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July 2012

Professor Maurice Maloney, Director, Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted Research is the largest and oldest agriculture research institute in the UK and probably in Europe. We have traditionally been a very inventive organisation that has influenced the way agriculture is practiced and now moving into the twenty-first century we are developing all the modern tools of genetics and genomics in order to improve crop lands. Rothamsted Research is funded predominately by the BBSRC.

Video shows the laboratories and the external building of Rothamsted Research

We have 3 sites and overall we have approximately 500 people employed. We specialise in the development of arable crops in the UK particularly in wheat and oilseed rape and we have a strong tradition as well through Brooms Barn working on sugar beet.

Professor John Lucas, Programme Leader, Rothamsted Research
Well Rothamsted still have a major research effort focussed on wheat, focussed on improving the quality of the crop, the productivity of the crop, its resistant to stresses, diseases, pests all elements of crop production and this research is on-going at the moment with international effort and collaborators as well.

Professor Maurice Maloney, Director, Rothamsted Research
I think that the major challenges facing agriculture, we see there is a perfect storm in a way, are the issues of food security, environmental protection and dealing with the issues of climate change and the carbon economy. We are doing work in the area of biofuels and this is a bit of a controversial area because many people worry about the competition between acreage for food crops and acreage of biofuels. We have taken a bit of a different approach at Rothamsted by the development of cellouse biomass through very rapidly growing trees using willow as an example.

Video shows willow trees used in Rothamsted's research

Dr Angela Karp, Programme Leader, Rothamsted Research
So our part of the centre is to concentrate on the crops of willows, fast growing trees and also Miscanthus grass which is a tall exotic grass that also grows extremely quickly. And the point about these is that willow if you take a stick no longer than this and poke it in the ground within a period of only 4 years you get not only one stem but between 5 and 10 stems that are up to 5 metres in height, so taller than this room.

Video shows tractor in field harvesting willow

So you can imagine a plantation of willow with these stems of 5 metres high how much woody biomass that produces in a very small area of land and what we are using this woody biomass for already is in combustion to produce heat and electricity. Now fuels at the moment, liquid transport fuels, can be made from plants but that is coming from sugars or starches or even oils that are readily available in plants and that tends to be food crops. So at the moment all of our biofuels, as they are called, that are coming from plants come from food crops because they made readily available sugars that we can easily get hold off. Now trees and grasses also have sugars but they are locked up in the cells, in the stems of these woody stem pieces like this so we need to be able to get methods to release those sugars from the cell walls and that is more tricky and that is where the research comes in.

Professor Maurice Maloney, Director, Rothamsted Research
Rothamsted can address these challenges all from the points of view of developing new technologies but in addition we are very committed to the idea of translating these technologies into the user sector, whether that be in the UK or Western Europe, or in fact in the developing world and we have quite a few major projects for example in Africa in which we use techniques that are now low tech but were developed using high tech methods that we can now introduce into Africa, into nations where they have yields that are much lower than the yields that we would accept in this country but at the same time we can double and triple their yields using very simple interventions.

Video shows scientists in the laboratory

We need to develop science that is relevant and likely to move out of the laboratory and into common practice in agriculture and consequently simply being in regular contact with the industry is a critical factor because it does keep us grounded on the things that are most important to the agriculture community. But in addition, we are a bit of an engine for innovation and we do develop science that the industrial companies want to licence and some of the technologies we are developing now we would love to see develop as spin outs and could then become employment hubs in appropriate centres in the UK.

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Image, music and video credits:

  • Rothamsted
  • North Wyke
  • Broom's barn
  • 'Push-pull' diagram and biofuels production video (c) Rothamsted Research
  • 'Push-pull' images (c) ICIPE
  • Sound 'Beautiful Thing' from audionetwork.com