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Norwich Research Park uses knowledge of living systems and agricultural biotechnology to address global societal challenges, such as food production, climate change and improving human and animal health.

At Norwich Research Park knowledge of plants and microbes is used to address global societal challenges, such as food production, climate change and improving human and animal health. Multidisciplinary research on the Park that directly impacts crop resilience helps to combat disease and increases yield benefiting both agriculture and the environment.


Agricultural Biotechnology involves using scientific techniques to modify living organisms. Genetic engineering, molecular markers, molecular diagnostics, vaccines, and tissue culture are all examples of techniques that can be used to do this.


Crop biotechnology is an area of agri-biotech that focuses on giving crops desired traits, like faster growth rate, larger harvested products, increased nutritional value and resistance to drought, flooding, diseases and pests.


Genomic analysis, bioinformatics, mathematical modelling and imaging techniques has advanced the understanding of how genes influence crop yield. A multidisciplinary approach resulting in enhanced crop performance and increased yields in global crops such as wheat and oilseed rape.


Wheat is one of the main crops that scientists on the park study. Wheat is one of the most important global crops and is grown on more land than any other commercial crop, 225 million hectares worldwide. It currently provides 20% of total calories consumed by humans daily worldwide so it’s important to produce food products. Wheat yield must increase by 1.6% each year to ensure that we can continue to feed a rapidly expanding global population expected to reach upwards of 9.6 billion people by 2050.


Researchers at the John Innes Centre, Earlham Institute and Quadram Institute are all part of BBSRC’s Designing Future Wheat Institute Strategic Programme. The programme includes a total of 8 research institutes and universities all working to develop new wheat germplasm (living genetic resources such as seeds or tissues) containing the next generation of key traits.


Agricultural Biotechnology Research in Wheat


Various different research groups study different aspects of wheat across the Park and below are a few examples:


  • Nicholson Group at the John Innes Centre – study 3 main diseases and how plants can resist them; Fusarium head blight, wheat blast and eyespot. While all three diseases reduce yield, Fusarium head blight is of particular concern because the fungi produce toxins that can contaminate grain and pose a health risk to human and animal consumers.


  • Matthew Moscou Group at The Sainsbury Laboratory – concentrates on cereal rust diseases and their interaction with several grass species, including wheat, barley, oat and purple false brome. We apply a suite of approaches to rapidly accelerate our research, including genetics, bioinformatics, molecular biology, and next-generation sequencing.


  • Anthony Hall Group at the Earlham Institute – this group is investigating the genes behind the process of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is one of the most inefficient biological mechanisms on Earth so the researchers are searching for the genetic markers and genes that are associated with higher photosynthetic efficiency.


Agricultural Biotechnology Research in Other Crops


Here are some more examples of different research groups studying other crops and plant species:


  • Cathie Martin Group at the John Innes Centrethis group studies biofortification and plant metabolic engineering. This means breeding or gene-editing plants to improve their nutritional content and therefore help improve human diet and health. A lot of their work has been on tomatoes and they have generated a variety of purple tomatoes that contain phenolic compounds and these are considered to be some of the main ingredients of many ‘super foods’ and ‘super drinks’.


  • Nicola Patron Group at the Earlham Institute – the aster family (Asteraceae) is one of the largest plant families with over 25,000 species, of which many have been cultivated for medicinal purposes. This group works on a project that aims to identify genes required for the creation of useful metabolites with therapeutic properties found in UK species of Asteraceae, in the hope of being able to enhance production of valuable molecules in plants.


  • Nick Talbot Group at The Sainsbury Laboratory –rice is another very valuable crop as it is a staple for nearly half of the world’s seven billion people. This group studies how fungi cause diseases in plants and specifically the genetics underpinning one of the world’s most devastating crop diseases, rice blast.


This is just a portion of the work going on at Norwich Research Park, for more information visit our partner’s websites using the links on the ‘Our Community’ page.

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