History of the John Innes Centre

John Innes Institute

The John Innes Horticultural Institution was founded in 1910 at Merton in South London under the directorship of William Bateson. Bateson was a hugely influential figure in the field which is now known as genetics, even coining the term in a letter to Adam Sedgwick in 1905. The Institution was originally a training school in advanced horticulture for gardeners; a fruit-breeding research station for the Board of Agriculture; and a national centre for horticultural ‘experiment and research’.

Following Bateson’s death in 1926, A. Daniel Hall was appointed director, and it was under his directorship that the formulae for ‘John Innes Composts’ were developed. The John Innes Horticultural Institution made the formulae generally available, but never manufactured composts for sale or benefited financially from their production.

After the Second World War, under the directorship of C. D. Darlington, the Institution was moved to a large estate at Bayfordbury in Hertfordshire. In the 1950s, as cell biology and biochemical and microbiological approaches to genetics developed, fruit breeding research diminished, and the large grounds became less important. The Institution was renamed the John Innes Institute in 1960 to better reflect the fundamental research being done there.

In 1967, the John Innes Institute moved to its present site on the outskirts of Norwich to form an association with the University of East Anglia. The first director at the new site was Roy Markham, who brought with him his Virus Research Unit team from Cambridge. In 1994 the Institute was renamed the John Innes Centre, after the John Innes Institute integrated with part of the former Plant Breeding Institute, relocated from Cambridge, and the AFRC Nitrogen Fixation Unit which moved from the University of Sussex.

Plant Breeding Institute and the Nitrogen Fixation Unit

In 1990, the non-privatised part of the Plant Breeding Institute moved from Cambridge to the John Innes Institute to form the ‘Cambridge Laboratory’.

Since its establishment in 1912, PBI had produced over 130 new varieties of wheat, barley, oats, triticale, potatoes, field beans, maize, oilseed rape, clover, sugarbeet and grasses.

In 1992, the John Innes Institute was also joined by the Nitrogen Fixation Unit, which had been based in London from 1963, and the University of Sussex from 1968. Founded for the interdisciplinary study of the biological process of nitrogen fixation, the Unit’s team of biologists, biochemists and chemists moved to a new purpose built laboratory and was renamed the ‘Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory’.

With the coming together of the three institutes in 1994, the John Innes Centre has played a leading role in research and training, with state-of- the art facilities for genome-based platform technologies and world-leading research for the understanding and exploitation of plants and microbes.

In 2009, the John innes Centre celebrated its centenary.

Information on the John Innes Foundation's Historical Collections, housed at the John Innes Centre.

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