Funding boost to scope zero-carbon hub for plant and microbial science

The John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory  have been awarded £1m to progress plans to develop a world-leading plant and microbial research hub on the Norwich Research Park.

The award, announced by UK Research & Innovation (UKRI), is part of a £50m investment in more than a dozen science and innovation infrastructure projects and scoping studies.

This funding will further a project to develop of a state-of-the-art, zero-carbon hub to deliver the ambitious vision, Healthy Plants, Healthy People, Healthy Planet (HP3).

Together the world leading research institutes are building a case for capital investment in the hub as the centerpiece of this vision. The £1m award will enable the early-stage concept designs to progress and will speed up work streams that have been delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Director of the John Innes Centre, Professor Dale Sanders FRS said: “This is the next step on our journey to provide a new home for the John Innes Centre and The Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich, securing our place as a global interdisciplinary hub for plant and microbial sciences.”

“The funding will enable the next stage of design development, allowing us to finalise the concept design of the new infrastructure, and to further our plans to be energy self-sufficient and carbon net-zero into the future”.

Executive Director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, Professor Nick Talbot FRS said: “The Sainsbury Laboratory and John Innes Centre share a commitment to securing a safer, healthier and more sustainable future through the power of plant and microbial science”.

“The new facilities that we are planning will enable us to be at the very cutting edge of biological research, with seamless integration of structural, analytical and cell biology facilities and the latest approaches in artificial intelligence and machine learning. It is an exciting prospect”.

“This investment shows the confidence that UKRI has in the future of our institutes and their ability to transform global agriculture through innovation”.

If the full project is ultimately taken forward, following this concept design phase it will:

  • Create the infrastructure for a global interdisciplinary hub for plant and microbial sciences on the Norwich Research Park,
  • Integrate capabilities for plant genetics, genomics, pathology and phenotyping alongside field trial facilities to address global research challenges
  • Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture through understanding plants, microbes, and plant-microbe interactions, and delivering genetic crop improvement strategies
  • Develop clinical treatments and dietary interventions to improve human health

The UKRI infrastructure fund represents the first portfolio of investments to come from UKRI’s Infrastructure Roadmap programme to boost the UK’s research and innovation capabilities. It marks the first time UKRI has a long-term strategic approach to infrastructure across all research disciplines.

The projects span the research and innovation spectrum. They include:

  • A boost to the world’s largest and most sensitive radio telescope network
  • Carbon capture technologies
  • A state-of-the-art airborne research laboratory
  • A £17 million investment in digital research infrastructure

UKRI Chief Executive Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser said: “Infrastructure and the skilled people who design, build, maintain and operate it are vital to research and innovation. This investment provides the foundation from which the UK will continue to play an important role in the advancement of scientific research and understanding around the world.”

Science Minister Amanda Solloway said: “If the last year and a half has taught us anything it’s that new challenges can arise from anywhere at any time. By investing millions in the UK’s research infrastructure, we are putting science and innovation at the heart of our efforts to build back better while ensuring that we can respond to challenges now and in the future – from pandemic preparedness to tackling climate change.”