Norwich scientists making a big difference

Sarah BrealeyFrom purple tomatoes to a possible cure for TB, young scientists in Norwich are doing work which could change our world in future - making us healthier and saving lives.Sarah Brealey

From purple tomatoes to a possible cure for TB, young scientists in Norwich are doing work which could change our world in future - making us healthier and saving lives.

This week people in Norwich had a chance to hear about the work which is happening on the Norwich Research Park, where 120 PhD students from all over the world work at the John Innes Centre, the Institute of Food Research and the Sainsbury Laboratory.

UEA graduate Rebecca Handley is in the first year of a PhD at the Institute of Food Research, being supervised by Arnoud van Vliet.

She is looking at the campylobacter food poisoning bug and specifically a protein inside it which helps it to survive in air, which is not its preferred environment. Campylobacter is the most common cause of food poisoning in the UK and Europe.

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Miss Handley, 22, who lives in Norwich, said: 'This work is important, as if we can understand how campylobacter survives living in the air, we be able to reduce survival in that environment, and lower incidence of campylobacter food poisoning in the long term.'

Usually it only causes a stomach upset, but in severe cases it can lead to paralysis. It is thought to be present in most chicken meat, although it is destroyed by proper cooking and handling.

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Meanwhile, the John Innes Centre is famous for having developed a special kind of tomato.

Cathie Martin developed genetically modified tomatoes which are deep purple all the way through, using genes from a snapdragon plant. She is now supervising Katharina Bulling, 26, a first-year PhD student, who is asking whether the purple tomatoes are better for us because of their high anthocyanin content, as well as working to create tomatoes high in other anthocyanins with a red colour, and cyanidin, a type of anthocyanin with a pink colour. She said: 'I am particularly interested to see if anthocyanins have particular health benefits or if they are just the same as other polyphenols.'

At the Institute of Food Research Emma Meader, 28, is looking for a new way of tackling a hard-to-treat hospital superbug, Clostridium difficile.

And Shantanu Karkare, 27, a final-year PhD student at the John Innes Centre, is looking for a new treatment for TB with supervisor Tony Maxwell. Eight million people a year get TB and two million die from it worldwide.

Prof Maxwell said: 'We have recently secured funding from the European Union to pursue this with more vigour and more resources, building on Shantanu's work. There will be a lot more done on this in Norwich.'

Earlier on in the day, around 50 A-level students had a chance to hear the same presentations in the hope that it will inspire them to follow a career in science. The audience at the Forum had a chance to vote for which research they would give continued funding to if the decision was up to them. The A-level students picked Emma Meader's C difficile study, while the evening audience selected the research into TB.

Are you working on a scientific breakthrough in Norwich? Contact Evening News reporter Sarah Brealey on 01603 772485 or email

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