Celebrating our achievements under Professor Dale Sanders’ leadership

After twelve years leading the institute, Professor Dale Sanders FRS retires this month from his role as Director.

Under his leadership, the John Innes Centre has achieved many scientific and organisational successes and Professor Sanders has had a lasting positive impact on the organisation, our outward collaborations, and the wider plant science community.

Whilst Director, Professor Sanders continued to run a successful research lab that made major advances in our understanding of plant nutrition with respect to human health.

Here, we look back at a small selection of Professor Sanders’ organisational achievements since his appointment in 2010.

Scientific Collaborations in China

Professor Sanders was instrumental in driving forward our international collaborations. Throughout his time here at the John Innes Centre Professor Sanders was at the forefront of a major collaborative UK-China project, CEPAMS.

This collaborative initiative brings together three world-leading research institutes, the JIC and two institutes of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology, Beijing and the Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology, Shanghai).

The virtual centre of excellence was first created in 2014 with funding from UKRI-BBSRC and CAS and aims to transform global nutrition and health through excellent strategic plant and microbial science.

CEPAMS is built on a strong history of scientific links which stretch back to the earliest days of UK-China research collaboration and now has 10 group leaders working in Beijing and Shanghai, with close links to the John Innes Centre in Norwich.

In recognition of this work to establish world-leading scientific collaborations in China, Professor Sanders was awarded the China International Science and Technology Cooperation Award in 2021. The award is made directly by the Chinese state and is the nation’s highest scientific honour for non-national individuals and institutions.

Trilateral alliance in Europe

In 2018 Professor Sanders was instrumental in the formation of an alliance with two leading plant science institutes in Europe – the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics in Barcelona and the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research in Cologne, to promote the vision of a pan-continental European Research Area and will aims to build European networks for early career researchers.

This alliance brings PhD students and post-docs together to discuss science and facilitate their next career steps.

People and Culture

During Professor Sanders’ tenure, Dr Carole Thomas led the John Innes Centre’s applications for an Athena SWAN award.  In 2017, the John Innes Centre became the first independent institution to a be awarded an Athena SWAN Gold Award.

The Athena SWAN Charter was originally established to encourage and recognise commitment to advancing women’s careers in science, technology, engineering, maths, and medicine (STEMM), and now includes addressing inclusivity more broadly.  These wider values are now practiced and appreciated by the John Innes Centre community.

Under Professor Sanders’ leadership, the John Innes Centre became a founding signatory of the Technician Commitment, which aims to ensure visibility, recognition, career development and sustainability for technicians working in higher education and research.

Infrastructure and Vision

In 2019, the John Innes Centre opened the Dorothea de Winton Field Station set in the 110 hectares of Church Farm, Bawburgh. The site includes two laboratories, ambient and climate-controlled grain storage, meeting rooms, seed processing and agricultural equipment storage and enables scientists to grow experimental material in a commercial farming environment.

This infrastructure development marked an important point in the development of the institute taking our research from the lab into the field, providing an environment where plant and microbial research provides solutions to global challenges.

To support this ambition, the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory launched Healthy Plants, Healthy People, Healthy Planet, a joint vision to secure a safer, healthier and more sustainable future through the power of plant and microbial science.

The John Innes Centre work s with The Sainsbury Laboratory and BBSRC to secure capital funding, to create a world-leading hub for plant and microbial sciences in Norwich to tackle major global challenges of climate change, net zero agriculture, food security and human health.

Professor Sanders was one of the drivers behind the formation of the Norwich Institute for Sustainable Development. This landmark Norwich Research Park collaboration between social scientists and biologists seeks to develop novel solutions to enable farmers globally to build resilience to variability in rainfall, periods of drought and more extreme and unpredictable weather events.

Looking to the Future

As Professor Sanders retires, we welcome Professor Graham Moore into the role of Director.

Reflecting on the past 12 years, Professor Moore said, “I would like to warmly thank Dale for his success over the last 12 years in making the John Innes Centre such a wonderful place to work and supporting the delivery of world-class research. We all wish him a very well-deserved, long and happy retirement.”

Looking to the future, Professor Moore comments, “The John Innes Centre is well known for its unique interdisciplinary approach and I’m looking forward to working closely with colleagues to continue to build on our strength in fundamental science as well as applying our knowledge to global challenges such as food security, climate change, and health and well-being.”

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