The Biffen Lecture

Rowland Biffen was Director of the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge from its foundation in 1912, until his retirement in 1936.

Biffen’s research interests were founded in cereal rust, in which he made outstanding advances in genetics and wheat breeding.

Following privatisation, the non-privatised section of the Plant Breeding Institute became a part of the John Innes in 1990 with staff moving into a newly constructed building, named the Biffen Building.

Previous Biffen Lecture speakers

2024 – Professor Ken Giller, Wageningen University & Research – ‘Land sparing and land sharing: regenerative agriculture, populism and the role of science’

2023 – Professor Beat Keller, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of Zurich – ‘From the field, to the field: molecular characterization and breeding application of wheat resistance to fungal diseases’

2022 – Professor Venkatesan Sundaresan, University of California, Davis – ‘Gametes to zygotes to self-cloning plants: The importance of being egg-centric’

2016 – Edward Buckler, US Department of Agriculture – ‘Breeding 4.0? Sorting through the adaptive and deleterious variants in maize and beyond’

2015 – Professor Lord May, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford – ‘Unanswered questions in ecology, and why they matter’

2014 – Professor Pamela Ronald, Department of Plant Pathology & The Genome Center, University of California Davis – ‘Engineering crops for resistance to disease and tolerance of stress’

2012 – Sarah Hake, Plant Gene Expression Center, USDA-ARS – ‘Patterning the maize leaf’

2010  Peter Langridge, University of Adelaide, Australia – ‘Miserable but worth the trouble: Genomics, wheat and difficult environments’

2009  Susan McCouch, Dept Plant Breeding & Genetics, Cornell University – ‘Gene flow and genetic isolation during crop evolution’

2008 – Rob Martienssen – ‘Propagating silent heterochromatin with RNA interference in plants and fission yeast’

2006 – Dick Flavell

2004 – Michael Freeling

2003 – Steve Tanksley

2002 – Francesco Salamini

2001 – John Doebley

Speaker portraits and prints

Speakers at the Biffen Lecture are presented with a print of a work of art by the late Leonie Woolhouse, a local artist and wife of the former Director Harold Woolhouse, which illustrates the life and career of Sir Rowland Biffen FRS.

During their visit to the John Innes Centre, speakers of the named lectures are given the opportunity to have their portrait done by Professor Enrico Coen.