A guide to our Top 5 blogs of 2018

In August 2017 we launched our weekly blog, to tell some of the stories from broad range of topics from the John Innes Centre.

We started with three blogs about Arabidopsis, which were written by a volunteer, an A-level biology teacher from Norwich who did a fantastic job researching and writing the story behind the humble weed, and we’ve never looked back.

We now see a steady stream of people visiting the site to read our blogs, with topics ranging from interviews with staff (Dr Chris Morgan and Gary Wortley), to looking at an initiative (European School Science Project), awards (Athena Swan Gold– one year on) or techniques (What is plant transformation?) that caught our attention, or occasionally to take a closer look at a specific publication or scientific breakthrough (e.g. Mistletoe Mystery).

This week’s blog is a bit different.

As it’s a period of rest, relaxation, and contemplation we’re going to take a whistle-stop tour through the “top” five blogs of 2018. But before that, a few stats.

In 2018 we published 57 blogs, a few more than one a week as we have additional Molecules from Nature blogs (e.g. Catnip and Geosmin), and the GENius of the month blog (e.g. Robert Bellow and Dr Sadiye Hayta). Over the past year we’ve had almost 19,000 visitors to these blogs over the past year.

This top five is essentially a popularity contest and is judged purely on the number of visits to each post. Because of this the older ones (e.g. from January and February) have a slight advantage in this ranking, but let’s not worry about that too much because there are some great reads in this list.

Starting with the fifth most read blog of 2018, it’s a behind the scenes look at a project and piece of research into “Detoxifying the plant with the poisonous past”. This interview style blog dives into a project to unlock the potential of the grass pea, and features Professor Cathie Martin and Dr Peter Emmrich.

The grass pea is an extremely resilient insurance crop, which has been harvested for 8,000 years in many countries of the world. It is particularly resilient to drought and can be a lifeline during prolonged dry periods.

The twist in this tale is that it contains a neurotoxin, (β-ODAP) which can cause lathyrism, and lead to irreversible paralysis, particularly of the lower limbs. Professor Martin and Dr Emmrich, and the team aim to breed a low-toxin grass pea to ensure that this insurance crop can be safely used around the world. This blog is also accompanied by a great animation and got picked up the The Times.

In at number four, is part of the Meet the Molecules series, from the Molecules from Nature ISP. This popular blog takes a look at the molecules Vinblastine and Vincristine. Lorenzo Caputi and Eleni Vikelli’s explore the history of how these compounds arose to medical science, and found their way from an attractive flower, the Madagascan Periwinkle into an effective cancer drug. Eleni devised the Meet the Molecules blog series and this high ranking proves just how popular they are.

It’s a great overview and highlights why we work to understand how plants make molecules, so that we can use this knowledge to benefit society.

Nanopore sequencing for plant disease diagnostics in Ethiopia comes in at number 3. Written by Dr Diane Saunders this blog explains how a collaborative project is aiming to speed up diagnostics for wheat rust and is working with international partners to deploy cutting-edge techniques in Ethiopia.

Abel Debebe Mitiku from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research, joined Dr Saunders and was trained in fungal crop diagnostics using a new device developed by her team, using a handheld MinION nanopore sequencer, built by Oxford Nanopore.

The blog about our LED light trail and speedier breeding comes in to grab silver for 2018. This project to upgrade one of our existing glasshouses not only works for science, but also saves energy. It’s a win-win.

As speed breeding hit the headlines in early 2018, this blog took a behind the scenes look at the support that technology developments, science and scientists get at the John Innes Centre and on the Norwich Research Park. It appealed to a wide range of people and engaged with both the science and the technology. It is a worthy second place.

And now, onto our top blog of 2018. Drum roll please…

This blog, was by far the best performing blog on the site. It alone grabbed nearly 5,000 hits, outstripping its closest competitor by a country mile.

It was written by Professor Richard Morris and Hugh Woolfenden, and was originally posted on TheScienceBreaker.com. They let us re-post the blog, and we’re glad that we did.

It looks at a fundamental process, a simple question that any of us might ask. How do plants breathe?

They start by highlighting how important plants are to everyday life, they clearly explain how plants breath, and they delve into the research that they do. Getting an insight into how they approach a topic like this from an experimental angle, giving a great mix of easy to understand science, and a fascinating look into life as a scientist.

Now, if that’s not inspired your Christmas reading I am not sure what will.

We look forward to plenty more blogs in 2019, and already have a few cracking ones lined up, plus some exciting topic ideas that we’re hoping to get our scientists to tackle to make a riveting blog.

If you have an idea for a topic, or have a blog that we should feature, then do get in touch.