Agricultural institutes and universities have been boosted after the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) announced plans to invest £250m into research programmes for part one of a five-year investment into bioscience.
The funding will ensure the UK’s bioscience research base remains globally competitive and at the forefront of meeting the grand challenges faced by society in the coming decades, according to the government-backed BBSRC, which is already funding the GM wheat trial at Rothamsted Research.
This latest investment will help the UK to meet challenges such as sustainably feeding the growing world population, finding alternatives to dwindling fossil fuels and supporting an ageing society to remain healthy for longer.
David Willetts, minister for universities and science, said: “This £250m investment from BBSRC for the first phase of major five year research programmes will sustain excellent science at some of the UK’s leading institutes and universities.
“This will drive growth, support highly skilled jobs and keep the UK at the very forefront of bioscience, with benefits ranging from healthcare to energy and global food security.”
The grants will be used to fund 26 strategic science programmes and 14 key national research capabilities, to be delivered by eight of the UK’s world-leading bioscience research institutes and their university partners.
The institutes receiving funding have a vital role in supporting BBSRC’s mission to further scientific knowledge to promote economic growth and job creation in important sectors such as food, farming and renewables.
The grants will support research, key national scientific infrastructure, knowledge exchange, public engagement and institute development.
Highlights for agriculture from the 26 Institute Strategic Programme Grants (ISPGs) include:
- A wheat pre-breeding programme at the John Innes Centre (JIC), Rothamsted Research and university partners – to build on BBSRC funding in the UK’s first wheat pre-breeding programme in two decades. This programme will support the development of new varieties of wheat for farmers by broadening the number of traits available for breeding.
- Investment in a vector-borne diseases programme at Institute for Animal Health (IAH), Pirbright, Surrey, investigating economically important diseases of livestock spread by insects, such as Bluetongue and African Horse Sickness, to improve control strategies
Of the key national research capabilities, several will be developed or maintained by this funding. These include:
- ARK-Genomics at The Roslin Institute – funding to support this national capability in livestock animal genomics
- Long-term experiments at Rothamsted Research – funding to support historic and scientifically important
- Long-term experiments, including the long-term sustainability of various cropping systems, particularly the impacts of intensive agriculture and environmental pollution, on sustainable agricultural systems, especially nutrient cycling, soil quality and plant diseases
“This funding”, said IAH Director Professor John Fazakerley, “will enable the Institute to maintain its position as a world-leading centre for research into virus diseases of livestock and viruses that can transmit from animals to humans.
“We are delighted with this endorsement from BBSRC. We are proud of the work that we do and are committed to delivering the science strategy of the UK through excellent research. We share with BBSRC a commitment to using bioscience research to underpin future global food security as well as improvements in the wellbeing of humans and animals.”
The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) will receive investment which will be used to ensure the institute can continue to deploy the latest advanced high-throughput sequencing and bioinformatics for the UK bioscience community
BBSRC Crop Phenotyping Centre at Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University (IBERS) – investment to establish a new national centre in plant phenotyping
Professor Douglas Kell, BBSRC Chief Executive, said: “This investment is a major commitment to realising the potential of a bio-based economy in the UK.
“This is only possible through a sustainable, excellent fundamental research base with the right people, skills and facilities.”
The institutes being funded and the total* amounts allocated are:
- Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences, Aberystwyth University (IBERS) – £13M
- The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), Norwich – £19M
- The Roslin Institute, University of Edinburgh – £23M
- Institute for Animal Health (IAH), Pirbright, Surrey– £38M
- Institute of Food Research (IFR), Norwich – £29M
- Babraham Institute, Cambridge – £37M
- John Innes Centre (JIC), Norwich – £42M
- Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Herts – £41M
* £7M has also been allocated for university grants linked to these institutes.