Everyday impacts

The research we do at the John Innes Centre directly benefits the everyday lives of people around the world, even if this journey from our lab to your life can take many years.

From advances in medicines, the production of more nutritious bread, new types of broccoli and new beers our science can be seen all around you.

Read about some of the discoveries that have made it out of the lab into our everyday lives.

Developing new
antibiotics from ants

Speeding up the time
to produce vaccines

Developing new beers
and reviving old varieties

Growing healthier

Making bread
better for you


At the John Innes Centre we are working on a number of medical advancements including working towards new antibiotics and how we can produce more vaccines, faster.

Developing new antibiotics from ants

Antibiotics are an essential component of modern clinical care, used to prevent and treat bacterial infections. However, the dependence on antibiotics and their widespread misuse has led to bacterial pathogens evolving resistance to an ever-wider range of treatment options.

The emergence of multi-drug resistant bacteria has brought a marked increase in the number of untreatable infections, and tackling this problem constitutes one of the major global challenges facing humanity.

South American leafcutter ants are living under the spotlight within our entomology and insectary department.

Leafcutter ants are better known for marching through rainforest in single file carrying leaf sections twice their size but Dr Ian Bedford is one of a team of scientists which include Prof Matt Hutchings from the University of East Anglia and fellow John Innes Centre scientist Prof Barry Wilkinson, looking to apply leafcutter ants’ natural bacteria fighting capabilities towards finding effective drugs.

Leafcutter ants do not eat the leaf sections they carve from plants, but transport the material underground where it decays and forms a garden of fungus.

To protect this food source from unwanted microbes and parasites and to regulate the growth of the fungus, the ants also cultivate antibiotic-producing bacteria on their own bodies.

One antibiotic already discovered on leafcutter ants is related to an antifungal used in modern medicine. It is also 300 times more soluble in water making it potentially more useful.

Speeding up the time to produce vaccines

Flu is the curse of the winter season and accounts for over 400,000 trips to see a GP each year, costing the UK health service over £22 million.

Flu viruses are changing continuously allowing the virus to escape the immune system, meaning each year we must update the seasonal influenza vaccine.

Technology invented at the John Innes Centre is driving a revolution in the speed at which large volumes of vaccines and other valuable proteins can be produced.

Using a plant virus technology developed by, Prof George Lomonossoff, avian-flu vaccines are now being produced with pharmaceutically-relevant proteins in plants reducing production times for 10 million doses from 9 months to 30 days.s.

These can be used as a vaccine that can stimulate the human immune system to make antibodies.

This versatile system is not only being used to make season flu vaccines, but also vaccines to combat outbreaks of pandemic flu such as H5N1 avian flu and to produce animal vaccines that could stop the viruses before they move from animal to human.

Developing new beers and reviving old varieties

Brewers in the UK and USA are using a heritage barley variety called ‘Chevallier’ grown by our researchers to create unique craft beers.

The barley, last grown commercially in the UK in the 1930s, has been preserved at our Germplasm Resources Unit.

Shane Swindells at The Cheshire Brewhouse was one of the first UK brewers to use the new variety. Using Chevallier malt, he created 1,000 bottles of Govinda ‘Chevallier Edition’ – a cask-aged pale ale created using an authentic 1830's recipe and methods.

“There’s a lot of complexity from the malt. Chevallier is very aromatic, and the flavours were fantastic,” says Swindells. “I’ve been getting some fantastic feedback, because it is quite different to other beer.”

Among new breweries there is demand for novel ingredients and new flavours, as well as for locally-grown ingredients or those that have been produced organically. Heritage varieties such as Chevallier could help meet that demand.

As an additional benefit, researchers also found that Chevallier barley was resistant to a costly fungal disease of barley known as Fusarium, which reduces yield and grain quality by producing fungal toxins that cause health problems in people and animals. They are now working with colleagues in the USA and Canada to produce other varieties that are resistant to Fusarium infection.

Growing healthier broccoli

Developed by plant breeding at the John Innes Centre and Quadrum Institute, Beneforté broccoli contains 2-3 times more glucoraphanin, a naturally-occurring compound.

A wild relative of broccoli was found to have high levels of glucoraphanin, this wild relative was then crossed with commercial broccoli to produce the Beneforté variety that you can now buy in the supermarkets.

Glucoraphanin is converted in the gut to the bioactive compound sulforaphane, which may be beneficial to human health. It has been linked with reducing chronic inflammation and may be able to reduce the uncontrolled cell division associated with early stages of cancer.

Further studies into the benefits of glucoraphanin in our diets are ongoing.

Grown and sold in the UK, Beneforté broccoli is available in ASDA and Marks & Spencers. In the first 12 months of Beneforté sales in the UK, over 500 tonnes were sold in British supermarkets.

Making bread better for you

Scientists at the John Innes Centre have developed a variety of wheat that contains high levels of iron.

White flour made from the engineered wheat contains twice the typical amount of iron, something that cannot be achieved by normal breeding.

Naturally occurring in wheat, iron is largely found in the outer parts of the grain. Unfortunately, these parts of the grain are removed during production of white flour, resulting in low levels of iron in the final product.

The amounts of iron in the wheat we have developed are significantly higher than commercially grown varieties of wheat, and could alleviate problems of iron deficiency in people around the world.

Dr Janneke Balk said; "This breakthrough means that higher levels of iron from the wheat itself could replace added iron in everyday items such as white flour and breakfast cereals, helping the estimated 1 billion people that suffer from iron deficiency worldwide.”

We are still working towards making this commercially available.

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