There are many potential beneficiaries of our research, including industries ranging from plant breeding to food processing, pharmaceuticals and agrochemicals, public bodies concerned with health care and food safety, and international organisations seeking to improve crop and food production in developing countries.
To maximise the impact of our research and facilitate its translation into useful commercial products, we participate in many national and international consortia of industries and academic institutions. For example, our research on pea seed quality is in collaboration with Defra, umbrella organisations for pulse growers and the food industry, and pea breeders, processors and supermarkets.
Research on production in plants of vaccines against animal disease viruses and on therapies for tuberculosis is carried out in multidisciplinary networks of European collaborators. MET researchers co-lead three UK industrial biotechnology consortia to investigate novel applications of plant and microbial products.
MET researchers use many channels to communicate their discoveries. We publish in open access, peer-reviewed scientific journals and speak at international conferences. We publicise resources we have developed, and make them freely available. MET scientists at all levels participate in events for the public and for schools, explaining our research on topics include antibiotic resistance, the development of healthier foods, and ‘green’ manufacturing and listening to the reactions and suggestions of these communities.
To learn more about the wider impact of JIC, and our integrated strategy on Knowledge Exchange and Commercialisation, visit
Bluetongue virus causes a serious disease in farmed animals. It is endemic in the Mediterranean and parts of Africa, and has also occurred recently in the UK. Farmed animals in endemic areas are vaccinated with a live attenuated virus, but this vaccine can occasionally cause disease and cannot be used in the UK.
Using engineered tobacco plants, MET scientists have generated the protein ‘shells’ of the virus without the infective nucleic acid component. When used to immunise sheep in South Africa, these shells are effective in protecting against disease. This technology is potentially a great improvement on the existing vaccine.
The purple pigments found in some fruits and vegetables – anthocyanins – are believed to act as anti-oxidants in the diet. However, it is difficult to study their health-promoting properties because different types of fruit contain different classes and amounts of anthocyanins.
To overcome this problem, MET scientists have engineered tomato fruits that contain different levels and classes of anthocyanins but are otherwise identical. Feeding trials on animals show that anthocyanins have anti-inflammatory effects and can slow the progression of soft-tissue carcinomas. As an added benefit, these purple tomatoes also have a longer shelf-life than normal tomatoes.
Precise diagnosis of virus diseases like bird flu can take several days, making their spread very difficult to control. MET scientists have devised a new, rapid means of detecting flu viruses by exploiting unique sugar-binding molecules on the virus particles. They attached sugars that are bound by specific strains of viruses to tiny gold particles in solution. When viruses with the correct sugar-binding molecules are added, their interaction with the gold particles causes the solution to change colour.
Although it will take some time to develop this product, it holds great promise for the fight against future flu epidemics.
The John Innes Centre has made major contributions to knowledge of antibiotic production by soil bacteria, in particular Streptomyces which produces half the antibiotics in use today.
MET scientists provide fundamental understanding, methods, materials, databases and training and generate spin-out companies and important intellectual property in this area. A recent discovery is that that the antibiotic planosporicin - from Planomonospora alba – can switch on its own production. Production of a small amount when soil nutrients become limited triggers the synthesis of much higher levels in the bacterial community. This discovery can be used to increase production of useful antibiotics in future.
MET research on peas is strongly focussed on the challenges facing UK breeders, producers and end users of peas and other pulses. MET researchers lead the Pulse Crop Genetic Improvement Network, which provides the route by which scientific resources, results and knowledge are delivered to the public and commercial sectors.
MET researchers also lead on QDiPs, a project with Defra and private sector participation that is identifying the scientific basis for seed quality parameters in vining, canning and dried pulses; and on ProtYield, a major academic-industrial partnership that uses modern genetic approaches to achieve sustainable improvements in the yield and quality of protein from pulses for animal feed.
Wheat grains contain only low levels of the essential micronutrients iron and zinc. Up to two billion people worldwide for whom wheat is a staple food suffer from iron and zinc deficiencies. Although these nutrients can be added to flour, a more sustainable solution is to develop new wheat varieties with higher levels of iron and zinc.
With JIC wheat research colleagues, we are using our expertise on the transport and storage of iron and zinc in plants to engineer wheat with enhanced zinc and iron content. This research is part of the HarvestPlus programme sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.