'Revolutionary' plant science vision wins £1.1m grant

Artist's impression of the Advanced Technology Centre planned on the Norwich Research Park.

An artist's impression of the planned 'Advanced Technology Centre' at the Norwich Research Park - Credit: BDP

Ambitions for a "world-class" Norwich plant science hub aiming to revolutionising farming's carbon footprint have been boosted with a £1.1m grant.

The Sainsbury Laboratory and the John Innes Centre are working on the development of an "Advanced Technology Centre" for biomolecular sciences and bio-imaging on the Norwich Research Park.

The state-of-the-art facility is part of their joint "Healthy Plants, Healthy People, Healthy Planet (HP3)" vision, which has been awarded £1.1m by the Wolfson Foundation.

The institutes said the new centre will enable them to be "truly world-leading in plant and microbial sciences research and establish the Norwich site as a national research hub".

And they hope this will spark a step-change in their ability to address "one of the world’s most significant scientific challenges" - making agriculture a net-zero carbon industry which no longer relies on fossil fuels.

Prof Nick Talbot, executive director of The Sainsbury Laboratory, said: “The HP3 vision is a bold and ambitious one, which is what we need if we are to achieve net-zero agriculture in the face of the climate emergency. 

"With the generous support of the Wolfson Foundation, the Advanced Technology Centre will enable us to be at the very cutting edge of plant and microbial research, with complete integration of structural, analytical and cell biology facilities with the latest approaches in artificial intelligence and machine learning."

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Prof Dale Sanders, director of the John Innes Centre, added: “We are delighted to have such a prestigious foundation backing the project.

"HP3 aims to enable a step change in plant and microbial science and this funding will support an innovative Advanced Technology Centre within a state-of-the-art research hub to provide solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges."

Prof Dale Sanders, director of the John Innes Centre

Prof Dale Sanders, director of the John Innes Centre - Credit: John Innes Centre

The programme is at the first stage of consultation.

The two Norwich institutes are working in partnership with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council to secure funding from government, private and charitable sectors.

Last year, the project was also awarded £1.1m by UK Research and Innovation to enable early concept designs for the zero-carbon main building complex.

The partners said they cannot commit to a total project figure at this stage but, if the funding bid is successful, the new infrastructure will also include new glasshouses and refurbishment of the existing Chatt building.

If the project wins approval, it is hoped construction could begin in 2025.