Timeline of our contribution to science

1829 – John Innes Born

John Innes born in Hampstead, London

1864 – John Innes purchases ‘Merton Park’

City of London Real Property Company formed by James and John Innes. John Innes purchased Merton Manor House and estate at ‘Lower Merton’ in Surrey. This was re-named ‘Merton Park’ and developed as a residential area.

1902 – Death of James Innes

Death of James Innes, elder brother of John Innes. His son, W.E.R. Innes inherited his estate.

1904 – Death of John Innes

John Innes died leaving money for a horticultural institution or a public art gallery. The three executors of his will became the first John Innes Charity Trustees. They were his friend Charles Clare Scott (a barrister-at-law of the Middle Temple), his step-nephew Frederick George Courthope (of Southover near Lewes in Sussex), and his nephew William Ernest Reid Innes (of Roffey Park near Horsham in Sussex). The last two became directors of the City of London Real Property Company. The gross value of John Innes’s estate was £338,026 and the greater part of it went to endow the new institute (yielding a gross annual income of £10,000, the equivalent of over a million pounds today). W.E.R. Innes contested the will but after a High Court ruling lost his claim on the estate and the work of the John Innes Charity (now John Innes Foundation) began.

1909 – John Innes Horticultural Institution begins & local charities funded

Agreement under a scheme of the Charity Commissioners to found the ‘John Innes Horticultural Institution’, ‘to carry out investigation and research whether of a scientific or practical nature, into the growth of trees and plants generally. Sir David Prain, Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, was appointed the first Chairman of the Institution’s Advisory Council. From the beginning, with their right to appoint three members of the Governing Council, the John Innes Charity Trustees played an active part in the management of the Institute. For John Innes Centre’s governance today, see 2011, below. Ten of the 12 acres John Innes had occupied at Merton became the John Innes Park in Mostyn Road; it opened to the public on 31 July. The Will also secured the funding of the John Innes (Merton) Boys’ Club, and while the Institute remained at Merton the John Innes Charity took a close interest in its affairs. The scheme also provided an educational endowment to Rutlish School at Merton: yearly grants were made by the Trustees to maintain a number of scholarships there. These were the first ‘John Innes Scholarships’. John Innes had been the Chairman of the Rutlish Charity and was instrumental in bringing together plans and funding to enable Rutlish School to be created in 1895.

1910 – Laboratories built and William Bateson appointed Director

Two acres of John Innes’s land, his Manor House and garden, and his conservatories, were set aside for the new horticultural institution. Building of laboratories commenced on the Manor House site and five extra acres were purchased at Merton Park and laid out in plots. Research started under first Director William Bateson, FRS. Bateson, formerly Professor of Biology at the University of Cambridge, was a leading figure in the new science of genetics. In this year Bateson and his associates launched the Journal of Genetics, a quarterly periodical ‘for the publication of original research in Heredity, Variation and allied subjects’. Bateson used the Journal to promote the work of the new Institute.

1919 – W Bateson and Rebecca Saunders launch the Genetical Society

William Bateson FRS and E. Rebecca Saunders launched the Genetical Society (now Genetics Society). In the early years John Innes staff formed a high proportion of the membership and officers of the Society. Since then seven John Innes staff or ex-staff have served as Presidents, including J B S Haldane, Cyril Darlington, Sir Kenneth Mather, Dan Lewis, John Fincham, Sir David Hopwood and Enrico Coen. All of them were also Fellows of the Royal Society.

1920 – Church House acquired

The Trustees acquired the Church House garden and cottages (formerly held on lease) for JIHI.

1920 – Bateson awarded Royal Society medal

William Bateson was awarded the Royal Society’s Royal Medal for his contributions to biological science, especially his studies in genetics, and also the Society’s prestigious Croonian Medal and Lecture, the premier award in the biological sciences.

1921 – New laboratory and library built

The Trustees funded the building of a new laboratory and library. The new lab building provided seven new bench places, two small private rooms, a prep room, dark room, office, and a small room for the cultivation of mosses and similar plants. The library was equipped with a lantern projector to serve as a meeting room and lecture room.

1923 – An additional 4.5 acres purchased and fruit breeding research expands

The Trustees purchased an additional 4.5 acres of land, south of the main garden of the Institute. Part of this land was used as a subsidiary station for commercial fruit variety trials under the direction of the Joint Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture and the Royal Horticultural Society. The fruit industry was important in shaping the early history of the John Innes Horticultural Institution which under the 1909 agreement was designated as the Board of Agriculture’s fruit-breeding research station. Representatives of the Fruiters’ Company and the National Fruit Growers’ Federation were on the Institute’s governing body and soon after the Institute was founded research started on fruit genetics; many of the early crosses were to study inheritance and not aimed at producing new varieties. The first ‘John Innes’ variety, a blackberry, was released in 1930. Over the next 50 years 53 new fruit varieties were released by John Innes (the early varieties all included the prefix ‘Merton’) and many received the RHS Award of Merit. Additionally, 28 new flower-varieties and 15 vegetable varieties were produced. Fruit breeding was one of the main lines of research at John Innes until around 1970.

1926 – More new facilities

Completion of new plant breeding house, new laboratories, fruit room, workshop and outbuildings.

1927 – New Director Daniel Hall appointed

Sir (Alfred) Daniel Hall, FRS was appointed Director to replace William Bateson who had died suddenly the year before. Not a geneticist himself, he appointed J B S Haldane as ‘Officer in charge of Genetical Investigations’. Hall extended the activities of the Institute, adding a new chemistry department and expanding the cytology department. He also arranged for the extension of the fruit work, and improved the training offered to the Institute’s student gardeners. Most importantly Hall affiliated the Institution to the University of London, and introduced biennial summer courses to bring staff into regular contact with students. These courses helped attract new recruits to the staff from all over the country and established John Innes as a centre for genetics training. Hall retired in 1939.

1929 – Research on anthocyanin plant pigments begins

Research on anthocyanin plant pigments began when biochemical research was first introduced to the Institute by J B S Haldane. He recruited biochemist Rose Scott-Moncrieff to help make thousands of flower pigment identifications using the extensive experimental plant collections at Merton. By the end of the 1930s Scott-Moncrieff  had clarified the basic biochemical nature of the action of genes involved in anthocyanin synthesis (one family of flower pigments) and is commemorated today for contributing significantly to the development of biochemical genetics. Her work confirmed and extended the idea of gene-enzyme relationships.

1934 – Work on John Innes composts begins

Between 1934 and 1938 Garden Curator William Lawrence and his assistant John Newell undertook a long series of trials to find an improved growing medium for the Institute’s experimental plants. Prompted by heavy losses of Primula sinensis seedlings in the 1933-34 season (an important crop for genetics experiments at John Innes), and initially helped by primula experts at Sutton’s Seeds in Reading, Lawrence and Newell began their own exhaustive trials of the best chemical and physical composition of soil to germinate seedlings and for potting on. After hundreds of trials, they perfected methods of soil sterilisation, established optimum amounts of N, P and K fertilisers required, and arrived at two standardised ‘John Innes’ composts. The formulae were published in 1938 but never patented. No monetary advantage has ever been obtained from them, and the Institute has never made or sold John Innes compost. As part of the war effort John Innes staff published a series of leaflets and gave radio broadcasts to inform the public of their improved methods for raising garden crops and new composts, making ‘John Innes’ a household name.

1938 – A possible move from Merton

The Trustees received a statement from the Director and Council of JIHI suggesting that the site at Merton was no longer suitable for the Institute. There was no room for expansion, and urban air pollution was causing deteriorating soil and poor light quality. Discussions about a possible move began but plans for the sale of the Merton site were delayed owing to the outbreak of war. The subject of the Institute’s proposed move was raised again in 1943 but the Charity Commissioners were not convinced that moving the Institute from its site, on which so much John Innes Charity money had been spent, was necessary. The Trustees took on the task of convincing the Commissioners of the urgency of the move and succeeded.

1939 – Cyril Dean Darlington appointed Director

Cyril Dean Darlington was appointed third Director of the Institute following the retirement of Daniel Hall. Darlington held the post until he moved to take up the Sherardian Professorship of Botany at Oxford in 1953. Under his guidance the Institute consolidated its reputation for excellence in genetics and horticultural research and grew from 64 to 100 staff. Darlington was elected FRS in 1941 in recognition of his contribution to research in cytogenetics and was awarded the Royal Society’s Royal Medal in 1946.

1943 – The move progresses…

The subject of the proposed move was raised again but the Charity Commissioners were not convinced that moving the institute from its site, on which so much money had been spent, was necessary. The Trustees took on the task of convincing the Commissioners of the urgency of the move and succeeded.

1945 – Trustees buy Bayfordbury estate

The Trustees purchased the 372 acre Bayfordbury estate, near Hertford in Hertfordshire. Over the next few years the Trustees contributed to the conversion of the Georgian mansion, which had been a Dr Barnardo’s Home, into laboratory space and offices and built fourteen new cottages within nearby Broadgreen Wood to accommodate staff. All the other facilities needed for a research institute were also built, including glasshouses and roads, with the Ministry of Agriculture contributing to the capital costs of the move. All the buildings on the Bayfordbury site, with the exception of the glasshouses, were the Trustees’ property. The increased land availability enabled experimentation with glasshouse design, and furthered the fruit-breeding and horticultural programmes, including what became internationally recognised work on snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus), see 1964, below.

1946 – John Innes Park transferred to Urban District Council

The Trustees, with the sanction of the Charity Commissioners, approached the Merton and Morden Urban District Council with an offer to transfer the John Innes Park and Recreation Ground at Merton to the Council by Deed of Gift, as alternatively provided for in the will of John Innes. This was accepted. Since 1909 the Trustees had spent £40,000 laying out and maintaining the park and its buildings. The Urban District Council took over the administration of John Innes Park on 1st October 1949.

1946 – JIHI receives grant from Ministry of Agriculture

The Institute became a grant-aided station of the Ministry of Agriculture and received a supplemental grant from 1st April 1946. The Trustees’ application for a maintenance grant anticipated ‘greatly increased future expenditure’ as they planned for expansion.

1948 – Colonel James Innes made Trustee

Colonel James Innes appointed Trustee and member of the Governing Council of John Innes. He was to maintain an active interest in the life and work of the Institute over more than 40 years.

1949 – JIHI moves to Bayfordbury in Hertfordshire

Between 1948 and 1949 the Institute moved from its 19 acre site at Merton to the 372 acre estate at Bayfordbury, Hertfordshire.

1950 – JIHI opened by Lord Cranborne

The new John Innes Horticultural Institution in Bayfordbury was declared open by Lord Cranborne in June. The occasion was recorded in Nature on July 15th

1951 – The inaugural Bateson Lecture

The Trustees funded the inaugural ‘Bateson Lecture’ by Professor R. A. Fisher, FRS, to commemorate JI’s first Director, William Bateson. The ‘Bateson Lecture’ series held at the John Innes Centre today represents a more recent revival of this commemorative event.

1951- New apple rootstocks launched

In 1951 a series of woolly aphid-resistant apple root-stocks, raised jointly by JIHI and East Malling Research Station, were sent to research stations all over the Commonwealth and the United States. The root-stocks, the result of thirty years’ experimental breeding, were named the Malling-Merton series and one is still a standard rootstock for garden and commercially grown apples. This series (MM 101-114) is used to control tree size and vigour, also carries genes for powdery mildew resistance, and was produced by crossing Malling and Merton rootstocks with the American rootstock Northern Spy.

1954- Kenneth Dodds appointed Director

Professor Kenneth Dodds was appointed Director following the resignation of C D Darlington. Dodds brought with him expertise and a team of researchers on potato genetics. He held the Directorship until 1966 when he left to take up a post with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. From the late 1950s Dodds began to recruit staff to expand microbial genetics at John Innes, including the key appointment of leading fungal geneticist John Fincham to head the Institute’s Genetics Department in 1960.

1954 – New John Innes compost launched

John Innes staff developed a special compost for Ericas, Rhododendrons and other lime-hating plants. Around 80% of Britain’s nurserymen and gardeners were now using John Innes composts.

1955 – New Cell Biology laboratory planned

The Trustees resolved to fund a specially built laboratory for a new department of Cell Biology; the Agricultural Research Council (ARC) later agreed to equip the labs and support the research. The Trustees supported the Director (K.S. Dodds) in his conviction that the new building, which was planned to facilitate active collaboration between cytologists, physiologists, biochemists and physicists, was needed ‘if the Institution was not to be left behind in its scientific activities’.

1955 – Dan Lewis elected FRS for research on incompatibility in plants

Dan Lewis, Head of the Institute’s Genetics Department was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in recognition of his pioneer work on the genetics of incompatibility in flowering plants. Lewis’s election followed on from his outstanding 1954 article summarizing 18 years of work and thought at John Innes, giving a comparative treatment of seven genetic systems of incompatibility. Lewis’s work on the incompatibility or ‘S’ gene, was important for contributing to understanding of incompatibility relations and breeding systems in higher plants; for adding to the tools geneticists had for studying rare spontaneous mutations; and for the potential to induce self-fertility in normally cross-pollinated species, which could be valuable in plant breeding.

1957 – Agricultural Research Council

In April the administration of scientific research in England and Wales was transferred to the Agricultural Research Council which became responsible for the institute’s grant-in-aid. This change did not affect the operations of JIHI apart from the requirement that the ARC would appoint three representatives on the Council of JI.

1959 – Cell Biology building completed

Completion of the two-storey Cell Biology building at Bayfordbury.

1960 – 50th anniversary celebrated

The 50th anniversary of the founding of the Institute was presided over by the Duke of Northumberland, Chairman of the Agricultural Research Council. The John Innes Horticultural Institution was re-named the John Innes Institute to better describe the plant and microbial research that was then in progress.

1962 – A possible move to Norwich?

The Trustees began discussions on the future direction of JI and its place within a state-aided research structure. With urging from the Agricultural Research Council the John Innes Council entered into discussion with several universities with compatible research programmes. After investigation, formal talks were entered into with the new University of East Anglia’s founding Vice Chancellor Frank Thistlethwaite (VC, 1961-1980). A book written by Lord Hailsham called Science and Politics (1963), which stressed the importance of not separating scientific research from teaching, played a part in the Trustees’ views on the proposal to re-locate the Institute, while the Zuckerman Report (1961), which argued for research institutes to be located in close proximity to universities, influenced ARC policy. In the consultations the Trustees stressed the intention of the John Innes Institute to maintain its separate identity. The initial decision to move to Norwich was taken in 1963, though uncertainty and negotiations continued until 1965. The Trustees would bear the cost of buying land and building new temporary laboratories, roads and fencing. The Agricultural Research Council contributed to the costs of equipment, glasshouses, potting sheds and boreholes, and on completion of the buildings, were responsible for running costs. In the short term the move to Norwich meant a very substantial contraction of the Institute.

1963-65 – Pioneering work in fungal genetics

John Fincham’s extensive research on the red bread mould Neurospora crassa, which included studies of glyoxylate metabolism (with student R. B. Flavell), as well as genetic complementation (with biochemist colleague Alan Coddington), resulted in his lab at the John Innes becoming a leading laboratory for the study of fungal genetics. At the time their research on complementation posed a challenge to gene theory because mutations in the same gene were supposed to affect the same polypeptide and never to complement each other. That they could demonstrate complementation raised questions of great importance concerning the definition of the gene and the relation between the polypeptide chains, presumed to be the primary products of genetic translation, and finished proteins. Fincham’s prowess helped establish and sustain fungal genetics in Europe to balance the larger interest in the topic in the USA. His comprehensive book with colleague Peter Day, Fungal genetics (1963), was influential around the world.

1964 – Trustees acquire land in Colney, Norwich and a field station for fruit breeding

The Trustees acquired 29 acres at Colney to accommodate the Institute labs and offices. This was adjacent to the site of the new Food Research Institute (now IFR) which was being built on the University’s land, and with which JI had several shared research interests. In preparation for the move to Norwich it was also necessary to acquire suitable land for the fruit growing and research as none was available near the University. The Trustees bought 165 acres at Stanfield Farm, 20 miles north-west of Norwich, for a continuation of fruit breeding. This field station was managed by Mr Donald Smith, NDH. Mr Smith first joined the Pomology Department at Merton in 1943 and formed a key part of the advance guard supervising the move to Bayfordbury and then to Stanfield in 1964. Fruit research at Stanfield focused on helping growers reduce their costs of production, especially their losses from disease. Many popular apple varieties were highly susceptible to apple mildew and apple scab. Collaborating with researchers in America, Canada and Europe, the Institute produced new disease-resistant apples: the variety ‘Gavin’ resulted from this work. The initial plantings at Stanfield included some 2,600 apple seedlings that had been screened for scab resistance, and 300 American and Canadian scab resistant selections planted for testing for susceptibility to mildew. Apple research stopped around 1970, though research continued on producing disease-resistant cherries and strawberries. Fruit and flower research ceased in the early 1980s as part of a wider re-organisation of horticultural research by the Agricultural Research Council.

1964 – Birth of ‘Holliday Junction’

Robin Holliday, working on DNA damage and genetic recombination in Ustilago maydis (corn smut) and the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae in the Genetics Department, published a model of DNA-strand exchange to try and explain the major features of crossing-over, gene conversion, and post-meiotic segregation that had been documented in several fungi. His simple model incorporated the cross-stranded (or cruciform) DNA structure that later became known as the ‘Holliday Junction’ (a mobile junction between four strands of DNA). These junctions were later found to occur from prokaryotes to mammals and are central intermediates in the process of homologous recombination. Holliday’s junction became a cornerstone of recombination models once geneticists began to be persuaded that this recombination intermediate might be real. Visualization of cruciform structures by electron microscopy from 1973 and other molecular studies helped the model gain acceptance. Fifty years on the Holliday junction is still celebrated and investigated, although the model within which it was embedded has evolved from its original statement to fit the present picture of DNA recombination and repair.

1964 – Pioneering work on snapdragons

In 1964 Brian Harrison and John Fincham, building on Harrison’s work which had been ongoing since the 1950s, published the first of a series of papers on genetic instability in snapdragons (Antirrhinum majus). They showed that the level of instability (reflected in the number of colour mutations) is extremely sensitive to the temperature at which the plants are grown, and that this effect is also manifested in the germline. Their research was enabled by the availability of illuminated, controlled-temperature rooms at Bayfordbury. Over the next four years their studies established important features of genetic instability in snapdragons. The significance of their work, with research assistant Rosemary Carpenter, was only fully realised 20 years later when molecular techniques introduced at JII enabled the transposable elements responsible for their observations to be isolated. The first active snapdragon transposons to be cloned in the early 1980s (at the Max Planck Institute in Cologne) used Harrison’s and Carpenter’s material, and ushered in the molecular era of snapdragon research (see 1985-6, below). Harrison and Carpenter’s extensive collection of naturally occurring mutant snapdragons also proved key to Enrico Coen’s landmark studies on flower morphology which began in the early 1980s (see 1998, below, for a summary). Cathie Martin’s pioneering studies of a gene controlling the shape of cells in the petal epidermis of Antirrhinum flowers (MIXTA gene) in the 1990s, however, relied on a mutant held in another internationally important Antirrhinum germplasm collection held at IPK Gatersleben, Germany.

1965 – Funding the ‘John Innes Youth Centre’ in Merton

The Trustees part-funded the demolition of the old John Innes (Merton) Boys’ Club building and its replacement with a new building for the ‘John Innes (Merton) Youth Centre’. The new building was handed over to the Greater London Authority and representatives of the Youth Centre in November 1965.

1965 – Trustee Sir F C Stern retires

Trustee Sir Frederick C Stern retired, after twenty-five years in the service of John Innes Council.

1967 – The Institute moves to Norwich

The Institute moved from Bayfordbury to Norwich to form an association with the University of East Anglia. The Agricultural Research Council Virus Research Unit (VRU) at Cambridge (Directed by Dr Roy Markham) was moved to Norwich and amalgamated with the John Innes Institute. Markham was appointed Director of the John Innes Institute. Initially most of the Institute occupied temporary buildings by architect Alan Paine of Skipper, Corless and Paine, but Markham’s group was temporarily housed in the new permanent buildings of the Food Research Institute.

1967 – Trustees fund three ‘John Innes Professors’

The Trustees agreed to fund the appointment of three professors within the School of Biological Sciences (BIO) at the University of East Anglia. By 1968 Dr David Hopwood had been appointed as John Innes Professor of Genetics; Dr D. Roy Davies as John Innes Professor of Applied Genetics and Dr Roy Markham as John Innes Professor of Cell Biology. This proved to be a masterstroke because it created a new vibrancy in the Institute’s research. In return for lectures and other university duties, the Institute was able to recruit talented PhD students and a mutually beneficial interaction with the University was established.  The Trustees ensured that JI staff were granted facilities equal to University lecturers, and Davies and Hopwood played a crucial role in teaching and university duties in BIO. The three professors were also Departmental Heads at John Innes: of Genetics, Applied Genetics, and Cell Biology and Virus Research respectively. The JIF Professorships ended with Markham’s death-in-service in 1979, and the retirements of Professor Davies and Professor Hopwood in 1994 and 1998. Professor Hopwood became a John Innes Foundation Emeritus Fellow. The symbiosis established between the John Innes Centre and UEA continues to sustain an ethos of excellence in biological sciences in Norwich today.

1967 – New facilities for electron microscopy

With the arrival of the Virus Research Unit staff it was necessary to build a new electron microscope laboratory and photographic section. The new building (which became the Cell Biology building) was funded by the Trustees and was completed in 1971. It incorporated a state-of-the-art optical bench for ultrastructure research and space for a classroom to teach embedding, staining and sectioning techniques, and the interpretation of electron micrographs. Using these facilities Roy Markham and his team pioneered optical diffraction techniques, and applied them to the investigation of plant viral coat (capsid) protein molecules.

1968-1973 – Trustees buy Hill House and complete the main Institute buildings

In 1968 the Trustees bought Hill House with 19 further acres at Colney and later converted it to provide accommodation for visiting workers. Over the next few years the Trustees built a new library upstairs above and adjacent to Virus Research, and a Recreation and Conference Centre with a lecture room to seat 150 people. This room doubled as space for Badminton and staff recreation. The Centre was equipped with all the normal facilities, including a squash court and swimming pool, and could provide lunches for staff and visiting workers. The cost of maintaining and managing Hill House and the Recreation and Conference Centre was met by the John Innes Charity. The main John Innes laboratory and administration buildings, by architect Alan Paine, were built between 1969 and 1973. The Institute was now equipped with modern laboratory accommodation, cold rooms, controlled environment rooms, glasshouses, seed stores and recreational facilities.

1968 – Streptomyces genetics launched

Streptomyces genetics began at John Innes with the arrival of John Innes Foundation Professor David Hopwood and four members of his group from Glasgow University. Streptomyces are microscopic soil-dwelling bacteria that are of interest today because many of the most important antibiotics used in medicine around the world come from them, and recent discoveries have shown that they could also be the source of new antibiotics and other medicines. Over the next forty-five years, and with long-term investment from the ARC (now Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council or BBSRC), Hopwood’s expanding Department was instrumental in developing much of our understanding of Streptomyces biology and its potential for the pharmaceutical industry. The group has been responsible for training highly skilled researchers who have since moved on to senior positions in companies and academic institutions around the world.  John Innes landmarks include (1970s) the discovery that antibiotic genes are clustered, so easier to manipulate; with others around the world, pioneering protoplast fusion (used to improve strains for antibiotics) and genetic engineering techniques; (1980s) with partners, cloning a complete set of antibiotic genes from Streptomyces and engineering the first hybrid antibiotic; (1990s) developing combinatorial biosynthesis, a technique to create new natural products from existing antibiotics; (1997-2002) with the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, sequencing the Streptomyces genome, the largest microbial genome to be sequenced at the time. Exploration of the sequence since then has shown that many more natural products are to be discovered, while groups around the world are using genetic engineering to create a variety of new antibiotics from Streptomyces. Hopwood’s achievements were recognised by his election to FRS in 1979. In 1994 he was made Knight Bachelor for ‘services to genetics’, and in 2003 he was awarded the first Ernst Chain Prize. The prize is for a career scientist who has made an original and substantive contribution in any field of science which has furthered, or is likely to further, understanding or management of human disease. Two long-standing members of Hopwood’s team have also gained the prestigious FRS in recognition of their contributions to Streptomyces science: Keith Chater (elected 1995) and Mervyn Bibb (elected 2013). Today the Streptomyces group is part of the Department of Molecular Microbiology, led by Professor Mark Buttner, where research also includes plant-pathogenic Pseudomonas species and members of the genus Azotobacter, which fix atmospheric nitrogen.

1971 – John Innes Charity PhD Studentships began

John Innes Charity PhD studentships began in 1971. When fully developed the studentship scheme allowed the four scientific departments at JI (Genetics, Applied Genetics, Virology and Ultrastructural Studies) to share twelve 3-year studentships around the cluster of project leaders. This system ensured that every few years each project leader had a chance to take on a student in order to explore a new area of scientific research. Up to three annual John Innes Charity Postdoctoral Fellowships were also awarded for periods of 1 to 3 years. Two early fellows in particular have impacted on the success of Norwich Research Park science. In 1973 Andy Johnston was awarded a 2-year JIF Postdoctoral Fellowship in the Genetics Department. After a successful career as a microbial geneticist at JIC, he was appointed Professor of Biological Sciences at UEA, and later UEA Professor Emeritus. In 1980 George Lomonossoff started his career as the first JIF Postdoctoral Fellow in Virus Studies. Today he is a Project Leader in Biological Chemistry at JIC and Honorary Professor at UEA. Among his outstanding career achievements are his Fulbright Scholarship at Cornell University, USA (1987-88), the BBSRC ‘Innovator of the Year’ Award in 2012, and his selection to give the Society for General Microbiology Colworth Prize Lecture in 2015. See 2008, below, for a summary of his work.

1972 – First John Innes Symposium

The first John Innes Symposium was held in 1972. This event inaugurated a series of John Innes Symposia (normally held biannually), all of which were generously supported by grants from the John Innes Charity: John Innes Symposia 1972 The Generation of Subcellular Structures 1974 Modification of the Information Content of Plant Cells 1976 Structure Function Relationships of Proteins 1980 The Plant Genome 1982 Genetic Rearrangement 1984 The Cell Surface in Plant Growth and Development 1986 Virus Replication and Host Genome Interactions 1988 Protein Targeting 1990 The Molecular and Cellular Basis of Pattern Formation 1992 The Chromosome 1994 The Biochemistry of Development 1996 Protein Machines 1999 Attack and Defence in Plant Disease 2001 Chromosome Dynamics and Expression

1976 – Trustees purchase Newfound Farm facilitating development of new types of peas

Following the scaling down of the Institute’s fruit-breeding research Stanfield farm was sold and the Trustees purchased extra land close to Colney at Newfound Farm. This agricultural farm of 56 hectares was conveniently close to the buildings of the Institute and large enough to take care of most field experiments for the foreseeable future. The costs of estate maintenance were met by the Trustees. This purchase greatly facilitated work planned for developing new types of peas. Between 1976 and 1978 the Institute, assisted by the Processors and Growers Research Organisation near Peterborough, developed new ‘leafless’ and ‘semi-leafless’ pea plant models. These plants, in which leaves are replaced by tendrils, especially the semi-leafless form, proved to have particular advantages for growers, including improved standing ability, machine-harvesting, water-efficiency and yield. In many countries, as the result of extensive breeding, they have come to represent the majority of new varieties being registered and grown. In the UK semi-leafless peas account for 100% of UK dried pea varieties.

1977 – Trustees bring Special Collections to life

The Trustees took steps to make their Special Collection of rare botanical books better known and to ‘bring the collection to life’. These included publishing and circulating the first catalogue by Librarian Elizabeth Atchison, holding an exhibition, and setting aside funds to purchase additional rare books for the collection. Liz, who was the first to recognise the value of the Institute’s rare botanical books, was later awarded an MBE and an Honorary Fellowship of the Linnaean Society in recognition of her work in fostering the John Innes Special Collection (1992). In 1977 the Trustees’ also began to invest in building up a comprehensive William Bateson archive, with a purchase of microfilmed Bateson letters from the American Philosophical Society and funds for cataloguing the Bateson letters and papers. Today the Bateson collection includes over 10,000 items. http://collections.jic.ac.uk/  

1978 – Claire Domoney awarded John Innes Charity studentship

Claire Domoney was awarded a John Innes Charity PhD studentship. Today Claire is Head of the Department of Metabolic Biology at JIC and in 2015 was awarded the prestigious Royal Agricultural Society Research Medal for work of outstanding merit which promises benefit to agriculture.  

1979 – Death of Director Roy Markham

Death of Director Roy Markham. With the support and close involvement of the Trustees, Markham’s legacy included the re-building and expansion of the Institute on the Colney site (effectively retaining John Innes’s independence as a research institute), the creation of a new Department of Virus Studies, and the founding of an Ultrastructural Studies Department equipped as an ARC centre of excellence in electron microscopy. Under Markham’s guidance the Institute developed as an interdisciplinary research centre in plant and microbial science with state-of-the-art facilities attractive to visiting scientists.

1980 – Ultrastructural Studies Laboratory

Completion of the extension to the Ultrastructural Studies Laboratory, funded by the Trustees (£121,000).

1980 – Professor Harold Woolhouse appointed Director

Appointment of Professor Harold Woolhouse as Director. Woolhouse introduced research on understanding the biochemistry of photosynthesis (C3-C4 metabolism). With the support of the Trustees he played a pivotal role in making the John Innes a world centre for plant and microbial sciences, with strategic measures including negotiating the founding of the Agricultural and Food Research Council’s (AFRC) new Institute of Plant Science Research at Norwich (see 1986-7, below), facilitating the foundation of The Sainsbury Laboratory, and initiating the transfer of the AFRC Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory from the University of Sussex.

1981 – History of Genetics Library created

The Trustees, with the assistance of Brian Harrison, established a History of Genetics Library at JI. Today this library contains around 4,000 books on Darwin, evolution, genetics, and many other subjects – http://collections.jic.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/History-of-Genetics-Catalogue.pdf. The Trustees also appointed JI’s first honorary Archivist, Rosemary Harvey, to help acquire a significant history of genetics archive, sort and catalogue the growing collection of archives at the Institute, and provide archive quality packaging and storage. Rosemary’s unpublished five-volume biography of William Bateson (2000) is available for consultation in the John Innes Centre Library. To view a list of significant collections at JIC today, see http://collections.jic.ac.uk/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/significant-collections.pdf

1981 – Sixth Form Scholarships introduced

Establishment of annual John Innes Charity Sixth Form Scholarships to support the development of able young biologists with potential to contribute to biological research in the future. These scholarships were offered to pupils who had completed one year of ‘A’ level biology at local schools and had been identified as high ability by their tutors. The scheme enabled three or four pupils a year to attend summer work placements at the Institute. Later (1997) a scholarship scheme was extended to about ten pupils a year, financed by the Nuffield Foundation.  Follow the links for examples of the Nuffield scheme as it operates today at UEA and JIC

1983 – Charity renamed the ‘John Innes Foundation’

The John Innes Charity was re-named the ‘John Innes Foundation’.

1983 – First Demonstratorship funded

The Trustees funded the first Joint Demonstratorship with the University of East Anglia in the UEA’s School of Biological Sciences.  

1983 – New Growth Room building completed

New Growth Room building completed (c. £87,000 of Trustees’ funding) to house eight plant growth rooms and their associated services, offices, laboratory and preparation area.

1984 – JIF Professor appointed as UEA Dean

John Innes Foundation Professor D. Roy Davies was appointed Dean of the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia, a post he held for six years.

1985 – 75th anniversary

75th Anniversary celebrations. The Trustees funded a special colour brochure showcasing the work of the John Innes Foundation and the John Innes Institute to mark the occasion.

1985 – William Bateson’s library purchased

The Trustees purchased the private library of William Bateson (1861-1926) and paid for it to be shipped from the United States. This library contains c. 230 titles, mostly on scientific and literary subjects, but also including works on travel and topography, language, sociology, religion and music. Many books include annotations by William Bateson.

1985 – Trustees negotiate on independence of John Innes

The Agricultural and Food Research Council (AFRC) circulated its ‘Forward Policy’ which included the proposal that its research institutes should be re-organised into eight ‘super’ institutes. The key concern that all employees would have to be directly employed by AFRC, and that the proposed ‘super institute’ for plant science would have a Director with authority over the Director of the John Innes Institute, were issues addressed by the Trustees as likely to affect the future of JI. The Trustees began negotiations to safeguard the interests and independence of JI.

1985-6 Molecular era of snapdragon genetics begins

Cathie Martin and Enrico Coen ushered in the molecular era of snapdragon (Antirrhinum) genetics at the Institute with two landmark papers in the EMBO Journal and in Cell respectively. Their work represented one of the first examples of the use of transposon tagging to identify genes and had an important impact on understanding of pigment biosynthetic pathways. Their research focused on instability in one of the most intensively studied genes of higher plants, the pallida gene of A. majus, which encodes a product required for the synthesis of red flower pigment. Mutations in this locus block anthocyanin synthesis, giving rise to uncoloured or partially coloured flowers. By correlating the changes in the level and pattern of colour expression with different transposon-induced mutations Martin and Coen revealed the function of different promoter sequences. Martin and Coen had been recruited in 1983 to work on the Institute’s extensive Antirrhinum collections (see 1964, above) and were trained in molecular techniques in the lab of Hans Sommer at the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research (MPIZ) in Cologne in 1984. The collaboration between the John Innes and Cologne groups, and the excitement generated by transposon work in both labs, has been credited with originating the present Antirrhinum research community and the revival of Antirrhinum as a model system for plant genetics.

1985-1990 Lab training in genetic manipulation of Streptomyces launched

The John Innes Genetics Department ran a series of very successful fortnight-long laboratory training courses in the genetic manipulation of Streptomyces funded by the European Molecular Biology Organisation (in 1985, 1987 and in 1990), and a similar course at the Huazhong Agricultural University in Wuhan in 1989 in the laboratories of Deng Zixin and Zhou Xiufen, funded by the International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology.  The courses had a positive effect in promoting Streptomyces genetics internationally, and many collaborations resulted from contacts made on them. Protocols handed out as loose-leaf files at the first course were written up and published as a Streptomyces laboratory manual (Hopwood et al., 1985), which sold over 2000 copies over the following decade, and a Chinese translation was produced for the Wuhan course. A second updated and expanded edition of the laboratory manual was published in 2000; both editions were published by the John Innes Foundation. Demand for the courses was still strong in the early 1990s, but the classroom used for training was redeveloped to house the Institute’s computing department, removing the possibility of running practical courses at the Institute until new facilities opened in 2011.

1986-87 – Formation of Institute of Plant Science Research

In 1986-7 the Institute of Plant Science Research (IPSR) was formed as a virtual organisational entity comprising the John Innes Institute, JI’s sister institute in Cambridge, the Plant Breeding Institute (fundamental and strategic science element), and the AFRC Unit of Nitrogen Fixation at the University of Sussex. All remained in situ until new facilities could be built at Colney. Harold Woolhouse resigned as Director of JI and was appointed Director of IPSR in January 1987 with his Headquarters on the John Innes site. During his time as Director the staff on the John Innes site grew from just over 200 to over 800. This re-organisation was the outcome of the Agricultural and Food Research Council’s (AFRC) ‘Forward Policy’ (see 1985, above).

1987 – Sale of Plant Breeding Institute and formation of ‘Cambridge Lab’

In 1987 the applied programmes and farm site of the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge were sold to the private company Unilever. A new three-storey ‘IPSR Cambridge Laboratory’ was built at Colney to accommodate the non-privatised PBI staff and resources, directed by Dr Colin Law. The Cambridge Lab was formally opened by HRH Princess Royal in September 1990. The remainder of the proceeds of the Cambridge sale (the £38.8M regarded as the value of the intellectual property sold) was used by the Trustees of the PBI to build a new library, laboratories, glasshouses, controlled environment chamber facilities for plant growth, and many other facilities at Colney on land leased from the John Innes Foundation (for a fee of one tree per year). New facilities included a large seed store to house PBI’s nationally important collection of seeds, and a barn for field research at the Morley Research Centre. Proceeds of the sale also covered the Cambridge Lab’s running costs for a number of years. The Plant Breeding Institute, founded in 1912, had begun as a flagship national research institute under the leadership of wheat breeder Rowland Biffen (knighted for his services to agriculture in 1935), and ended as an international research leader with its wheat varieties occupying 90% of the UK wheat acreage and with over 86% of UK cereal crops being PBI varieties (many recognizable by the prefix ‘Maris’, reflecting the former location of the PBI in Maris Lane, Trumpington). Over 80% of the National Seed Development Organisation’s revenue (£10.8 million in 1984/5) came from royalties on over 130 varieties created at PBI. PBI’s success was marked by four Queen’s awards to industry: in 1973 for new varieties of wheat; in 1975 for marrow stem kale; in 1982 for Maris Piper potatoes; and in 1987 for bread making wheats. Since then the financial and scientific legacy of PBI and the Cambridge Lab has been integral to the success of large, multidisciplinary teams working on Arabidopsis, wheat, and brassica genetics and developmental biology. https://www.jic.ac.uk/research/  

1987 – Introduction of John Innes Foundation prizes

Introduction of John Innes Foundation Prizes, awarded annually to the best first and second year students in the School of Biological Sciences at the University of East Anglia.

1988 – Colonel James Innes celebrates 40 years service

An event was held to celebrate Col James Innes JP 40 years’ service on the John Innes Council

1988 – Completion of administrative extension

Completion of the administrative extension building to accommodate the Institute of Plant Science Research and its new Director at a cost to the Trustees of c. £180,000

1988 – Dr Richard Flavell appointed new Director of JI

Appointment of Dr Richard Flavell as Director of the John Innes Institute. Flavell, who started his career at JII as a PhD student with John Fincham (PhD 1967), led an Institute that had independence from the Agricultural and Food Research Council, carefully safeguarded by the John Innes Trustees, and with strengthened connections to University of East Anglia. Flavell’s appointment marked John Innes’s expansion as a major UK focus for plant and microbial genetics, cell and molecular biology. Flavell had been Head of the Molecular Genetics Department at the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge where his research group was among the very first worldwide to successfully clone plant DNA (1979), isolate and sequence plant genes, and produce transgenic plants. An expert in cereal plant genetics, Flavell produced the first molecular maps of plant chromosomes to reveal the constituent sequences. During his Directorship at JII (1988-1998), Flavell was a leader involved in guiding European plant biotechnology research programmes. Flavell was awarded an FRS in 1998 and a CBE in 1999 for his contributions to plant sciences. In 1998 he moved to California, USA to become research director of an agricultural biotechnology company, Ceres, Inc.

1989 – James Innes awarded Honorary Degree

Colonel James Innes awarded silver jubilee Honorary Degree from the University of East Anglia, making him an Honorary Doctor of Civil Law

1989 – Cyril Darlington library purchased

The Trustees purchased the working library of the Institute’s third Director, Cyril Dean Darlington. This library comprises c. 200 volumes on Sociology, Eugenics, Economics, Genetics, History, Language, Agriculture, Psychology, Literature, Politics, Race, Crime, Intelligence, Philosophy, Folklore, Biography, etc. Many are heavily annotated by Darlington.

1989 – The Sainsbury Laboratory founded

The 3-storey Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL), designed by David Luckhurst of Feilden and Mawson was built. It was linked to the Cambridge Laboratory building and formally opened on 2nd May 1990. TSL was founded for the investigation of the molecular biology of plant-pathogen interactions, through the foresight of Sir David Sainsbury and his representative Dr Roger Freedman, with funding from the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, a Sainsbury Family Charitable Trust. TSL was the fruit of the success of the JII Genetics Department research programme. Founding Director Mike Daniels brought from JII his expertise and reputation for research on Xanthomonas campestris, a “normal” plant pathogenic bacterium. He led TSL together with Drs David Baulcombe and Jonathan Jones, the two other founding senior scientists. http://www.tsl.ac.uk/about-tsl/history/

1989 – Mike Gale produces first RFLP map in wheat

Mike Gale in the Cambridge Lab produced the first RFLP map in wheat (an early form of genome mapping) to reveal the conserved marker order between three ancestral wheat genomes. These data were key elements brought together by Graham Moore to demonstrate synteny between rice and wheat in the 1990s (see 1995, below). Gale was elected FRS in recognition of his contribution to cereal genetics in 1996., the Rank Prize for Nutrition in 1997, and with Graham Moore the Royal Society Darwin Medal in 1998.

1989 – AFRC support for plant molecular biology launches

The Agricultural and Food Research Council launched an imaginative support programme for plant molecular biology with a third of the funding allocated to work on Arabidopsis thaliana, with 33 grants awarded nationally. This initiative boosted Arabidopsis work already underway in the Molecular Genetics Department of IPSR’s Cambridge Laboratory led by Professor Mike Bevan. The year before three outstanding young biologists, George Coupland, Caroline Dean, and Nick Harberd, joined Bevan’s Department to lead the Arabidopsis work, each studying genes that are regulators of key crop traits. Dean was also asked to co-ordinate AFRC’s UK Arabidopsis effort, and with David Flanders, co-ordinated and produced the first newsletter and protocol books which opened an effective channel for the Arabidopsis community to communicate. Bevan’s Department pioneered Arabidopsis as a model and developed key genetic and genomic resources. Research landmarks over the next decade included Nick Harberd’s team identifying and isolating the dwarfing gene that was central to the ‘Green Revolution’ through their research on synteny and Arabidopsis in 1999. Mike Bevan initiated the sequencing of the Arabidopsis genome in 1996 and coordinated international efforts until the genome was completed in 2000. In 2000 Caroline Dean’s team identified and isolated the plant gene FRIGIDA which controls whether or not a plant needs a winter period before it will flower. Professor Bevan’s lab today seeks to identify genes that determine the final sizes of organs and seeds in order to understand the mechanisms involved and to identify genes for use in agriculture, for example, to increase seed size and seed yields. Bevan’s outstanding work on Arabidopsis and wheat genomics was recognised by his election as FRS in 2013. He is leader of the Institute’s Strategic Programme on ‘Growth and Underpinning Yield’ (GRO). Professor Dean’s Lab has focused on the timing of the transition to reproductive development of plants, yielding novel insights on epigenetic mechanisms and microevolution. Her team uses Arabidopsis as a reference to establish the regulatory hierarchy and then their findings are translated into other species. Dean’s outstanding contribution to plant science has been recognised by a series of awards in 2004, 2008, 2014 and 2015 (see 2004, below). Professor Coupland, FRS is now Director of MPIZ in Cologne, and Professor Harberd is Sibthorpian Professor of Plant Sciences, University of Oxford.

1990 – James Innes retires

Trustee Colonel James Innes retired and his place was taken by his son, Peter.

1990 – New John Innes Library opens

The new John Innes library building, by David Luckhurst, opened. This building created Woolhouse Court enclosed by the Cambridge Laboratory, the main John Innes building, and the Library. The John Innes Archives and History of Genetics Library, and the John Innes Trustees’ Special Collection of rare books was established in purpose-built accommodation in the new library. The historical collections represents a significant investment in history of science by the Trustees.

1990 – International development role for Cambridge Lab begins

Early in 1990 members of the Cambridge Lab began to be heavily involved in international agricultural research, using the expertise of the Institute to help poor disadvantaged farmers in developing countries improve their livelihoods through better farming methods. Mike Gale was already an important figure in the Rockefeller Rice Biotechnology Program but from the 1990s most of his and colleague John Snape’s work focussed on working with the Plant Breeding Division of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) based in Vienna, and with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) which funds the network of International Centres – the main instruments for getting new agricultural technologies and new plant varieties into the hands of developing country farmers. Both Gale and Snape served as Consultants for IAEA and CGIAR Centres, managing projects in diverse countries such as Bangladesh and Mexico. Gale was on the Board of Trustees of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based in the Philippines from 2000 to 2005, and then joined the Science Council of CGIAR in 2004, until his death in 2009. Snape was on the Board of Trustees of the International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT), based in Mexico, from 2011-2016, and served as Chairman of the Board from 2014-2016.

1990 – Cathie Martin and Alison Smith publish landmark pea research

Cathie Martin, Alison Smith and colleagues at John Innes published their landmark investigation into a pea mutant that is very important commercially for the frozen pea market, explaining the genetic and biochemical basis of the mutation. Their research, which combined Martin’s skills in molecular genetics (which had been honed in earlier Antirrhinum research, see 1985-6, above) with Smith’s biochemical expertise, focused on the first pair of characters described by Gregor Mendel in his (1865) study of the laws of inheritance in peas: the round and wrinkled seed characters. They showed that the wrinkled seed character is caused by a transposon-like insertion in a gene encoding the starch-branching enzyme (SBEI). This discovery, showing that the mutant pea carried a mistake in a crucial gene for starch formation, was the starting point for Smith’s realisation that even though starch is very important to plants and to us, very little was known about how it is made and subsequently used in plants. Altogether Martin and Smith collaborated on starch for 15 years, building on the success of this seminal paper. Today Professor Cathie Martin leads investigations into natural chemical compounds in plants with a view to improving the human diet, while Professor Alison Smith is leader of the Institute’s Strategic Programme on ‘Understanding and Exploiting Plant and Microbial Metabolism’ (MET). Her personal research is directed at understanding primary metabolism in plants, particularly the metabolism of sucrose and starch and how this affects growth and yield.

1990 – Cambridge Lab staff move in

In March 1990 the ex-Plant Breeding Institute staff moved from Cambridge and joined the John Innes Institute and the Sainsbury Laboratory at Colney in their newly constructed Cambridge Laboratory. Over time the Lab’s staff were integrated into the teaching of University of East Anglia’s student base. This access to students was an advantage compared with the more distant relationship PBI staff had held with the University at Cambridge.

1991 – 10th anniversary of Sixth Form Scholarships

Tenth anniversary of John Innes Foundation Sixth Form Scholarships- each of the three students appointed that year spent four weeks of the summer in the John Innes labs under this scheme which was introduced to stimulate interest in molecular biology as students considered their future careers.

1992 – Mike Gale appointed Head of Cambridge Lab

Mike Gale succeeded Colin Law as Head of the Cambridge Laboratory when Law retired in 1992.

1993 – Norwich Research Park formed

The research laboratories on the John Innes site, the Institute of Food Research, MAF Food Science Laboratory and British Sugar Technical Centre combined with the UEA Schools of Chemical and Biological Sciences to form the Norwich Research Park (sign unveiled on November 12th).

1994 – Institutes merge into the John Innes Centre & NFL moves to Colney

The Trustees of the John Innes Foundation, the Agricultural and Food Research Council, and the Trustees of the Cambridge Laboratory agreed to merge the John Innes Institute, the AFRC Unit of Nitrogen Fixation, and the Cambridge Laboratory into a new institute – the John Innes Centre. Plans were agreed to relocate the AFRC Unit from Sussex and re-name it the ‘Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory’ with a new purpose-built laboratory. Funding for the new building for NFL staff came from money held in trust by the Cambridge Laboratory from the sale of the Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge (this would spend out the funding received from the PBI sale, and the Cambridge Lab would be reinstated to AFRC funding which had been denied while the Lab was independent). The Unit of Nitrogen Fixation, one of the AFRC’s largest Units, had been founded under the directorship of leading inorganic chemist Professor Joseph Chatt, FRS. The original team of biologists, biochemists and chemists was assembled in London from 1963, and moved to the University of Sussex in 1965. It was directed first by Chatt, then (1980-1987) by his former deputy John Postgate, a chemist turned microbiologist. Chatt and Postgate developed independent but interlocking research programmes and within a few years the Unit was widely admired for its interdisciplinary approach and its research on the fundamentals of nitrogen fixation. By 1993, the Unit of around 45 scientific staff plus visiting scientists had generated over 1150 scientific papers. Their work had always been complementary to the work of the John Innes research leaders, who focused on rhizobial-legume interactions (a major research strand at JII since the early 1970s), but NFL’s arrival in Norwich created and sustained a significant concentration of microbiologists on site that is one of the ingredients of the success of Molecular Microbiology at JIC today. Among the staff joining the new lab in Norwich was Dr Ray Dixon, one of Postgate’s PhD students, whose work on transferring the nitrogen fixation genes between bacteria had resulted in the formation of a microbial genetics group at NFL. Dixon, who created the first ‘engineered’ nitrogen-fixing microbe, was elected FRS in 1999 for his major contributions to understanding the genetic basis of nitrogen fixation. He is a JIC Project Leader and co-Director of the Chinese Academy of Sciences – JIC Centre for Excellence in Plant and Microbial Sciences (CEPAMS).

1994 – Plant Bioscience Ltd is formed

Plant Bioscience Ltd. (PBL), previously John Innes Centre Innovations Ltd., was formed in 1994 by the John Innes Centre and the Gatsby Charitable Foundation to manage the knowledge-based assets of JIC and The Sainsbury Laboratory. PBL is now jointly and equally owned by the JIC, TSL, and the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council). PBL commercialises innovative technologies from public and private sources worldwide – turning ideas into patented, scientifically validated and licensable technologies. PBL markets technologies internationally and has regular contact with a very wide range of industrial customers, licensees and development partners. http://www.pbltechnology.com/  

1994 – Professor David Hopwood knighted for ‘services to genetics’

Professor David Hopwood FRS was made Knight Bachelor in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for ‘services to genetics’.

1994 – JIF Trustees lease the Colney site to JIC for 50 years

Creation of the John Innes Centre from the merger of the John Innes Institute, the Cambridge Laboratory and the Nitrogen Fixation Laboratory (April 1994). As part of the arrangements for the merger the Trustees of the John Innes Foundation gifted the assets of the John Innes Institute to the John Innes Centre and leased the Norwich site to JIC for 50 years at an annual rental of one tree.

1995 – Joseph Chatt building opens

The Joseph Chatt Building, designed by Charles Broughton of the Building Design Partnership, opened to house NFL scientists. JIC re-named two of its existing buildings ‘Biffen’ (formerly the Cambridge Laboratory building) and Bateson (the main John Innes labs and administration), to complement the new Chatt building and to commemorate two other significant figures in JIC history: Rowland Biffen, and William Bateson.

1995 – John Innes Conference Centre opens

The John Innes Conference Centre, first proposed in 1991 and underwritten and part-funded by the Trustees, was built. JIC now had suitable facilities for holding the John Innes Symposia, and large national and international meetings associated with their role as a major centre for biotechnology worldwide. The Lecture Theatre (now ‘Merton Auditorium’ following re-naming during the JI100 centenary celebrations), funded by public appeal and funds from the Trustees (£250,000), provides a superb facility for the communication of JIC science and is used by many external clients for concerts, conferences and other business and public events. In addition to their financial contribution, the Trustees, including former Trustee Lt. Col. Jimmy Innes, were key players in the fundraising effort.

1995 – Retirement of Professor Derek Burke CBE, Chairman of John Innes Governing Council

Retirement of University of East Anglia’s Vice Chancellor Professor Derek Burke CBE. He also retired from the offices of Chairman of the John Innes Governing Council (1987-1995), Chairman of its Finance and General Purposes Committee, Member of the Sainsbury Laboratory Council, and Chairman of its Finance and General Purposes Committee. Professor Burke generously gave substantial leadership and guidance to JIC and TSL throughout his term of office, especially during the years of the formation of the Institute of Plant Science Research and the merger of PBI, NFL and JII. The Norwich Research Park grew considerably in stature due to his belief in ‘the value of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts’.

1995 – Graham Moore published synteny concept

Graham Moore in the Crop Genetics Department at JIC published his synteny concept in a landmark paper. Using genetic mapping data for rice (from Japan), maize and sorgum (USA), sugar-cane (France), and rye, wheat and millets (Mike Gale at JIC), Moore and colleagues showed that the order of genes in regions of the wheat genome is the same as in certain regions of rice and other cereal genomes. As a result, researchers can use rice, which has a much smaller genome than wheat, to find the same genes in wheat, and make predictions from one crop to another. Moore’s concept enabled a step-change in breeding strategies and the cloning of genes from these species and since 1995 synteny has been at the heart of wheat breeding and cereal genetics research around the world. Moore was recruited to PBI in 1987 and joined John Innes as part of the Cambridge Lab. His work was recognised in 1998 with the award of a Royal Society Darwin Medal, jointly with Professor Mike Gale. Today Professor Moore is Leader of the national Wheat Improvement Strategic Programme (WISP).

1997 – Funding of new Controlled Environment Rooms

The Trustees agreed to fund a new building to house additional Controlled Environment Room facilities (£0.55m) and a horticultural barn (£0.1m). The CER facility was to enable JIC to cope with the planned future extension of transgenic work on site. BBSRC provided £174k for the CER equipment.

1997 – Archivist appointed

Funded by the Trustees, professional Archivist, Elizabeth Stratton, was appointed with responsibility for the Special Collection of Rare Books and the John Innes Archives. A new strategy for conservation and cataloguing in the collections was launched.  

1997 – JIF Emeritus Fellowships inaugurated

The John Innes Foundation Emeritus Fellowships inaugurated. These facilitate the extension of senior scientists’ research activity beyond their retirement date, and include provision of office and bench space at JIC. John Innes Foundation Emeritus Fellows (with dates of first appointment) Professor Roger Hull                    (April 1997) Professor Sir David Hopwood   (October 1998) Professor Barry Smith                  (June 2000) Professor Jeffrey Davies             (July 2001) Professor Mike Gale                      (August 2003) Professor Keith Chater                 (April 2004) Professor Philip Dale                    (March 2005) Professor Keith Roberts              (July 2006) Professor John Snape                 (September 2010) Professor Clive Lloyd                   (September 2011) Professor Allan Downie               (March 2012)  

1998 – Trustees purchased Church Farm, Bawburgh

The Trustees purchased Church Farm, Bawburgh, 290 acres close to JIC. This important acquisition ensured that JIC and The Sainsbury Laboratory had sufficient land available to meet future demand for experimental plots and field trials for cereals research. Field trials for crop genetics research had formerly been run at Morley Research Centre under the auspices of the Norfolk Agricultural Station. This new investment by the Trustees secured good quality land for growing cereals closer to JIC, a considerable saving on the staff time involved in managing field trials.  

1998 – Professor Enrico Coen elected FRS for outstanding research on how flowers are formed

Professor Enrico Coen was elected FRS for his outstanding research into how flowers are formed. Amongst other important genes that control flowering, he discovered the genes that switch growing shoots to produce flowers. In 1999, Coen’s team solved the 250 year mystery of peloric or ‘monster’ flowers in toadflax (Linaria vulgaris). They showed that the abnormal toadflax flowers are caused by a naturally occurring mutation of a single gene that controls flower symmetry. Coen’s work on flower development originated in the early 1980s when he began to study the collection of snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus) specimens with mutant flower morphologies assembled at John Innes over more than three decades. Coen (1989-90) developed a simple model to explain how flower shape develops in snapdragons, and in collaboration with Arabidopsis researchers in the USA (Coen and Meyerowitz, 1991), played a key role in popularizing the ‘ABC’ model of flower development, which is still widely used as a framework for understanding floral development today.  Coen’s landmark research was recognised by his election as a member of USA’s National Academy of Sciences in 2001, the honour of CBE in 2002, and with Rosemary Carpenter, the award of a Royal Society Darwin Medal in 2004. Today Coen’s lab combines several conceptual and experimental approaches to model biological shape change and growth and Antirrhinum remains one of the key reference plants studied within Cell and Developmental Biology at John Innes. Coen was awarded the Royal Society’s prestigious Croonian Medal in 2015 for his work to understand how the shapes of flowers and leaves arise through development and evolution.

1999 – New Genome Centre planned

Plans began for a new JIC Genome Centre, to be occupied by industrial partner Zeneca’s Wheat Improvement Centre (ZWIC) and JIC. The new venture provided the most advanced research facility in the UK for plant and microbial genomics and post-genomics studies. The Genome Centre owed its creation to strong support from the John Innes Foundation, and incorporated the JIC Innovation Centre, a first route for developing small industries as spin-outs of JIC research.  

1999 – Graduate Studies Office opened

The Graduate Studies Office (GSO), sponsored by the BBSRC, was founded as a ‘one-stop-shop’ to oversee all postgraduate student programmes and deliver JIC’s objectives of attracting and selecting the best students, providing appropriate training, monitoring progress, and helping postgraduate students grow as a community at JIC with a recognised ‘student voice’. When it was set up there were 150 JIC PhD students and GSO was also responsible for postgraduates at IFR and TSL. Today GSO is part of the Postgraduate Research Service of the University of East Anglia, and is the powerhouse behind the Norwich Biosciences Doctoral Training Partnership, which involves five world-class centres: JIC, UEA, IFR, TSL and The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC). Its mission is to support colleagues on the Norwich Research Park to improve student pathways through higher education to employment, setting internationally recognised standards in postgraduate training. Over the 17 years since GSO was founded, JIF has funded or part-funded 98 PhD students, enabling them to begin and progress their scientific careers. This built on a tradition of JIF studentship support which from 1972 to 1998 funded over 70 students.

1999 – Professor Chris Lamb appointed Director of JIC

Professor Chris Lamb was appointed Director of JIC. A leading and influential plant biologist, Lamb was founder and Director of the Plant Biology Laboratory at the Salk Institute, California for 16 years during the 1980s and 90s, and briefly Regius Professor of Plant Science at the University of Edinburgh (1998). He made seminal contributions to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underpin how plants defend themselves against attack by pathogens. One of the world’s most highly cited researchers, his work not only advanced understanding of how economically important crops can be protected from disease but also established new conceptual frameworks that have been adopted by scientists in other fields. As Director (until his death-in-service in 2009), he managed to continue his research and ensured that JIC reached its full potential as an international leader in plant and microbial science, attracting some of science’s most talented researchers to the Institute. He re-organised the existing nine departments into six, based on scientific themes, and augmented and promoted Computational and Systems Biology, which became a department in its own right. It was his initiative to start the Friends of the John Innes Centre (FoJIC), recognising the vital importance of explaining science to the wider world. He also took a leading role working with adjacent research organisations to implement a science and enterprise vision for the Norwich Research Park. His achievements were recognised by his election as FRS in 2008 and the award of CBE in 2009.

2000 – Trustees support postgraduate training

The Trustees agreed to support a new programme of postgraduate training at JIC and for a student seminar programme.

2000 – Trustee Professor Chris Leaver awarded CBE

Trustee Professor Christopher Leaver was awarded CBE in the New Year’s Honours for services to plant science.

2001-03 ‘Growing the future’ workshops sponsored

JIF co-sponsored (with the Lawes Agricultural Trust) three ‘Growing the Future’ Workshops, jointly organised by JIC and Rothamsted Research. The series aimed to produce an ‘authoritative, scientific analysis of a set of closely focussed topics that relate to complex global problems’ (including insect pests and their control, non-food crops, and the need for nitrogen).These workshops provided an opportunity for scientists and other stakeholders to engage in a free-ranging exchange of information and perspectives. Each convened a small group of international experts with diverse experience, interests and backgrounds to deliver insights on areas requiring further research, and offered a synthesis of key messages to inform and influence public opinion and policy.

2001 – Genome Building opens

Opening of £13 million state-of-the-art Genome Building to accommodate separate JIC and Syngenta (as Zeneca had become) laboratories on the ground floor, shared equipment space for JIC genome sciences, and a top floor Norwich Bioincubator. The purpose of the JIC-Syngenta alliance was to ensure that discoveries from the fundamental research on wheat at JIC were used to develop new wheat varieties. The Bioincubator was to encourage ‘spin-out’ companies to locate to JIC and was partly funded by the East of England Development Agency. Although the Bioincubator flourished, Syngenta’s alliance with JIC proved short-lived. The company signalled its intention to withdraw within less than a year following its decision to move its R&D to USA. The Genome Building today houses The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC), see 2009, below.  

2003 – Rotation PhD Programme begins

The 4-year rotation PhD programme was established to support outstanding UK, EU and international students. JIF agreed to sponsor 5 rotation studentships rather than eight three-year studentships as previously. Later the number of studentships was reduced but JIF remains the major sponsor of this flagship PhD programme today which is used to provide studentships within JIC, TSL and TGAC. http://students.jic.ac.uk/programmes/rotation/

2004 – Caroline Dean elected FRS and awarded OBE

Caroline Dean was elected FRS (and awarded OBE) for her outstanding contributions in the study of developmental timing in plants. Her work on vernalization – the period of cold some plants need in order to flower – revealed the mechanism by which plants remember they have experienced winter and demonstrated novel RNA processing mechanisms controlling flowering. Dean’s pivotal role in the development of Arabidopsis as a model for plant genetics was also recognized. Dean went on to be elected a member of USA’s National Academy of Sciences in 2008, and received BBSRC’s Excellence in Bioscience Award in 2014. Recently (2015) Dean won a prestigious Women In Science Award from the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and the Federation of European Biochemical Societies (FEBS). The Dean Lab ‘s research, which includes how plants will adapt to climate change, is part of the Cell and Developmental Biology Department at John Innes.

2006 – Plans for old Cell Biology building

JIC decided to close down operations in the 1960s Cell Biology building (part of the original JI buildings funded by JIF) and relocate the science into the Biffen Building, adding the Annexe to the building to accommodate office space. A series of planned refurbishments and laboratory moves started in the Biffen and Bateson buildings. However, before its complete demolition, the Cell Biology building was reprieved and re-configured in 2009 to provide purpose-built accommodation for the Finance, Contracts and Computing sections of The Operations Centre (TOC, now NBI Partnership), the shared administration function supporting JIC, TSL, IFR and TGAC. It was also configured to house the data centre for TGAC, a purpose-built facility to handle data created during genome sequencing and analysis, and the Chris Lamb Training Suite.

2006 – Landmark research in nitrogen fixation

Giles Oldroyd’s group showed that the characteristic responses of roots to nodulating bacteria could be triggered by small signalling molecules and by mutations in genes in the nodulation response pathway. Plants such as legumes use bacteria in their root nodules to convert nitrogen from the air into a form that can be used by plants, a process called “nitrogen fixation”. The group’s achievement was reported in Nature as an important step towards transferring the ability to form nodules and fix nitrogen to non-legume crops, which could reduce the need for inorganic fertilizer in the future. His work, using the model legume Medicago truncatula, which normally interacts with the rhizobial species Sinorhizobium meliloti, complemented long-standing work on beneficial legume/rhizobial interactions at JIC. Oldroyd’s Lab, part of Cell and Developmental Biology at JIC, is particularly interested in the signalling molecule generated by the bacteria that activates key responses in the plant.

2006 – Key gene characterized that controls how chromosomes pair (Ph1)

Dr Graham Moore’s group at JIC, using their prior work on synteny, characterised a key gene complex that controls how chromosomes pair (Ph1).  A major advance in wheat genetics, this knowledge is being utilised today to help breeders to cross elite wheat varieties with wild varieties, to give new traits like increased tolerance to drought, disease resistance and other desirable characteristics. The importance of the Ph1 locus, which normally prevents chromosomes from wild wheat varieties pairing with commercially grown varieties, was first recognised in 1958 (by Ralph Riley at PBI and Ernie Sears, University of Missouri, USA). Moore began working on the problem in 1987, and during the 1990s, together with colleagues in Cambridge and France, developed genetic resources in wheat, rice and Brachypodium (a grass used as a model plant) to help solve it. The research gave breeders perfect DNA ‘markers’- stretches of DNA that identify a particular location in the genome – that can be used to trace the movement of particular genes, or a cluster of genes, through breeding programmes. Moore’s work was enhanced by a collaboration with Professor Peter Shaw at JIC (Cell and Developmental Biology). At the beginning of the 2000s researchers were studying meiosis using squashed preparations, but Peter Shaw was developing 3-D cell biological approaches. Moore’s group collaborated to apply these 3-D approaches to wheat meiosis enabling chromosome associations in intact preparations to be maintained and studied,  and the effect of Ph1 on them.

2006 – Professor Alison Smith awarded OBE

Professor Alison Smith was awarded an OBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

2007 – JIF co-fund new Outreach Curator

JIC and JIF co-funded the appointment of a new Outreach Curator, Dr Sarah Wilmot, to begin planning the John Innes centenary celebrations and raise awareness of the John Innes Historical Collections.  

2007 – Trustee Frank Oldfield awarded Honorary Doctorate

Trustee Frank Oldfield was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Civil Law by the University of East Anglia. Mr Oldfield had been a member of JIC’s Governing Council since July 1994 and a Trustee of JIF since 1997. In 1998 Mr Oldfield was appointed Chairman of JIF.

2008 – Bioimaging suite opens

Opening of Bioimaging suite in the Biffen Building.

2008 – Professor George Lomonossoff patents CPMV-HT technology

Professor George Lomonossoff’s CPMV-HT technology was patented by Plant Bioscience Ltd. (PBL). This plant molecular production system can be used to produce a wide range of novel substances (molecular pharming) and is an example of synthetic biology in practice. Potential applications include vaccine production, anti-cancer drug delivery and HIV drugs. The system has since then been refined and supplied on an open-IP basis to around 120 labs worldwide for experimental use, greatly contributing to scientific understanding of application opportunities. The CPMV-HT technology is a good example of a John Innes project coming to fruition after long-term support from the John Innes Foundation in partnership with the BBSRC and EU funders. Lomonossoff’s research on the molecular genetics of Cowpea mosaic virus (CPMV) started in the 1980s. In the first decade his research was targeted at understanding the fundamental science of the virus. Lomonossoff’s lab sequenced the complete genome structure and, in collaboration with Purdue University, USA, determined the virus particle structure. In the 1990s his lab explored ways of manipulating the virus’s naturally high-yielding properties. In the 2000s their systems were refined, with the breakthrough coming in 2005-8 when the technology finally enabled plants to express a wide variety of proteins of potential pharmaceutical interest (including antibodies or potential vaccines). Plant systems can express complex products that simpler organisms such as bacteria cannot. The highly efficient system designed today could reduce the costs and time of vaccine development and production allowing vaccines to be tailored to specific threats. In 2012 Lomonossoff was awarded the accolade BBSRC ‘Innovator of the Year’ for his work with Dr Frank Sainsbury on this technology.

2008 – Purple tomatoes with potential to promote human health

Professor Cathie Martin, Dr Eugenio Butelli and colleagues made a significant breakthrough when they expressed genes from snapdragon (Antirrhinum) in tomatoes to grow purple tomatoes with enhanced levels of anthocyanins. Anthocyanins (a class of pigments produced by higher plants) offer protection against certain cancers, cardiovascular disease and age-related degenerative diseases. There is evidence that anthocyanins also have anti-inflammatory activity, promote visual acuity and hinder obesity and diabetes. Martin’s group’s research was one of the first examples of plant metabolic engineering to offer the potential to promote human health through diet. Her earliest work at the Institute had involved working with transposable elements in genes affecting anthocyanin production (see 1985-6, above), but her interest in the possible health benefits of an anthocyanin-rich diet was stimulated by later collaborations with Italian scientists and doctors interested in research on the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet. Butelli and Martin’s 2008 paper, published in Nature Biotechnology, was the start of new research programmes at JIC using model foods for comparative nutrition analysis. Their work attracted widespread media coverage, with Sue Bunnewell and Andrew Davis’s photograph of the tomatoes selected by Nature as one of the ‘Images of the Year’.

2009-10 – John Innes Centenary celebrations

JIC celebrated its centenary, the public celebrations beginning with a ‘History of Genetics’ conference and ‘Discovery Day’ in September 2009. . ‘Discovery Day’, the first open day for over 20 years at JIC, attracted over 1700 visitors to its ‘centenary trails’.

2009 – The Genome Analysis Centre established

The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) was established as a new BBSRC funded institute on the John Innes site and began occupancy of the Genome Building.

2009 – Professor Mike Bevan appointed Acting Director

Professor Mike Bevan was appointed acting Director following the unexpected death of Professor Chris Lamb.

2010 – Launch of centenary ‘John Innes’ rose

As part of its centenary celebrations the ‘John Innes’ rose was launched by Peter Beales Roses at the Chelsea Flower Show with Trustee Peter Innes in attendance.

2010 – Number One ranking for JIC and TSL

JIC and The Sainsbury Laboratory were ranked number one for academic citations in the world in the field of plant and animal science, based on an independent survey by Thomson Reuters from its Essential Science Indicators of scientific literature January 1999- June 2009, published in Times Higher Education.

2010 – Professor Dale Sanders FRS appointed Director

Professor Dale Sanders, FRS was appointed Director of JIC. Formerly Head of the Department of Biology at the University of York (from 2004), Sanders is a leading authority and highly cited researcher on the mechanisms for the transport of chemical elements across cell membranes in plants. Working within JIC’s Department of Metabolic Biology, the mechanisms he studies have key roles in the control of crucial crop traits such as nutritional value of foods, seed germination, the response to drought conditions and how plants cope with toxic compounds in the soil.

2010 – Long service presentations

Long service presentations of the commemorative ‘John Innes rose’ developed by Peter Beales Roses were made to the staff who’d worked at John Innes for 25 or more years.

2011 – Chris Lamb Training Suite opened

The Chris Lamb Training Suite was officially opened by JIF Trustee Peter Innes. East of England Development Agency funds were important in the funding of this facility which can be booked by external groups. This was another important step in opening up the site and its facilities to a wider community of users. Courses today include EMBO practical courses in multi-level modelling of morphogenesis; Year 10 Science Camp; and Year 11 and 6th Form ‘Inside Science’ courses, which give an insight into research at the Centre. This is a shared training facility with TSL and is used for JIC/TSL undergraduate studentship programmes. It is named after the late Chris Lamb (JIC Director 2001-2009) and signifies the great emphasis JIC Faculty place on the role the Centre has to play in training the science leaders of the future.  

2011 – New corporate governance

BBSRC undertook a full review of corporate governance of BBSRC-supported institutes, responding to the Costigan Report (2006) and Follett Reviews (2006) with the aim of developing a more appropriate relationship between BBSRC and the institutes. This new relationship would meet the standards and ethos of a modern Public Sector and good governance practice, promoting and delivering sustainable research institutes. The new John Innes Centre members’ agreement and articles of association were accepted on the 27th September 2011. This changed the previous arrangements whereby the Board of Trustee Directors (also known as John Innes Governing Council) had also been members of the Institute. The new governance arrangements created three corporate members: UEA, JIF, and BBSRC, each with rights to appoint to the Board. JIC Governance

2012 – Norwich Research Park (North) created

The JIF Trustees joined UEA and BBSRC in pooling assets to create Norwich Research Park (North), comprising land on the John Innes site, including a sizable chunk of the JIC experimental plots, and opposite across Colney Lane. The park is operated by Norwich Research Partners LLP.

2012 – Church Farm developments

The JIF trustees worked with JIC to develop Church Farm facilities to anticipate loss of field plot land on the JIC site (in three phases from 2013 through to 2020) and at Newfound Farm, anticipating development of the latter for housing.  

2012 – Symposium to celebrate PBI centenary

The John Innes Centre hosted a symposium ‘PBI 100’ to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the Plant Breeding Institute. The event, organized by John Snape, brought together PBI alumni from Cambridge, Europe, USA, and around the world to celebrate PBI’s achievements and enormous influence on plant science and lasting legacy in the plant breeding sector. The symposium included eminent speakers in prominent academic and industrial positions, all of whom were PBI alumni. A series of growing demonstrations on cereals, brassicas, potatoes and legumes charted the landmark cultivars PBI released through its history, a legacy that is still feeding through to current recommended varieties.

2012 – Giles Oldroyd’s group wins grant from Gates Foundation

Giles Oldroyd’s group was awarded a $10m (£6.4m) grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop their research on nitrogen fixation with the long-term aim of introducing the ability to fix nitrogen into crops other than legumes. The goal would be to produce staple crops like maize, wheat, and rice that need little or no fertiliser. Professor Oldroyd, a UEA graduate, joined JIC as a Project Leader in 2002. The group’s work has implications for global agriculture, but they are most interested in the application of their work to benefit small-holder maize farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa. Oldroyd’s group is part of the ENSA project, an internationally collaborative project between UK, USA, Denmark and France, founded to explore engineering nitrogen symbiosis for Africa.

2012 – Wheat Improvement Strategic Programme established

BBSRC established and funded the Wheat Improvement Strategic Programme (WISP), led by Professor Graham Moore at JIC. This wheat pre-breeding programme brings together UK researchers and plant breeders to exploit the latest advances in wheat genetics. The John Innes Centre is responsible for WISP’s ‘Landrace Pillar’ whose overall aim is to develop germplasm to facilitate identification, dissection, and assessment of novel genetic variation for traits available in landraces and exotic bread wheat lines that have not yet been utilised in the UK germplasm, and to help deploy this variation into UK wheat breeding programmes. This is important because it is believed that currently less than 10% of the diversity of available in wheat landraces and wild relatives is captured in commercial wheat varieties. The ability to harness the diversity of wild wheat varieties by crossing them with commercially grown varieties rests on scientific understanding, developed by Moore’s group at JIC in 2006, of how chromosome pairing in wheat is controlled. The WISP initiative developed from a report published by BBSRC in 2004 identifying a gap between private breeders’ requirements for germplasm and the UK public research sector, and a meeting held at JIC in 2008 to re-establish a public sector breeding commitment in the UK.

2012 – JIC’s Germplasm Resource Unit a ‘National Capability’

JIC’s Germplasm Resource Unit (GRU) became a National Capability supported by the BBSRC. These collections, the largest and most authoritative in the UK, were formed through the amalgamation of the John Innes seed collections with the working collections of a range of institutions, including barley stocks from the James Hutton Institute (formerly the Scottish Crops Research Institute at Invergowrie, Dundee), wheat from the former Plant Breeding Institute in Cambridge, and oats from the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research at Aberystwyth (now IBERS of the University of Aberystwyth). The old reference collections of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB), which were disbanded in the 1960’s, are also included. Together they represent an internationally recognized reference and working collection for peas, wheat, oats, and barley and peas. The collections serve the needs of JIC science, and UK and non-UK academic, agro-industrial and non-industrial groups. The oldest collection kept at GRU is the Watkins Landrace Wheat Collection assembled by A. E. Watkins at the PBI in Cambridge in the 1930s from 32 different countries in Asia, Europe and Africa. The Pisum collection was assembled at John Innes and contains all of the elite pea varieties registered in the UK National Listing and several specialist genetic collections. Both cereal and pea collections are a testament to the long-term investment in plant research resources by the PBI and John Innes charities respectively, in partnership with BBSRC and its predecessor organisations. Conserving the seed and therefore the genetic diversity of small grain cereals is essential for securing our future food supply.

2012-13 Plans anticipate loss of plot land

The Trustees worked with JIC to develop Church Farm facilities to anticipate loss of field plot land on the JIC site due to the planned expansion of Norwich Research Park (in three phases from 2013 through to 2020) and at Newfound Farm, anticipating development of the latter for housing.  

2013 – Frank Oldfield awarded an MBE

Trustee Frank Oldfield was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

2013 – Professor Cathie Martin awarded MBE

Professor Cathie Martin was awarded an MBE, recognizing her outstanding contributions to biotechnology and her service to plant sciences as editor of The Plant Cell, the highest ranking international journal for research on plants, sponsored by the American Society of Plant Biologists. Martin was the first woman and the first non-American ever appointed as editor-in-chief, a post she held from 2008-2014. During her term Martin introduced important innovations in the journal’s publishing strategy, developed teaching tools in plant biology, and encouraged many UK and JIC authors to publish in the journal.

2014 – JIC signs new lease with JIF

JIC signed a 60-year lease with JIF, with an option for another 60 years, for the reduced demise encompassing the JIC buildings.

2014 – Three JIC scientists in top 1%

A study by Thomson Reuters named three JIC scientists in the top 1% of highly cited plant and animal scientists across the world: Professor Alison Smith, Professor Caroline Dean, FRS and Professor Giles Oldroyd.

2014 – Professor Cathie Martin and Dr Eugenio Butelli win ‘Most promising innovator’ award

Professor Cathie Martin and Dr Eugenio Butelli were named BBSRC ‘Most Promising Innovators’. The BBSRC award celebrated the development of their research on model foods which included genetically modifying tomatoes to contain high levels of anthocyanins, flavonols, resveratrol and genistin. These model foods can be used to test and compare the impact and activity of specific dietary phytonutrients or ‘bioactives’ on a range of chronic diseases. In addition they are foods that can be taken directly from preclinical trials with animal models, through human intervention studies to the market.  The award highlighted in particular their development of purple (anthocyanin rich) tomatoes, containing the health benefits of blueberries (see 2008, above). Future work will establish the beneficial effects (if any) of consumption of purple tomato juice on markers for risk of cardio-vascular disease.  Martin’s Lab is part of the Department of Metabolic Biology at JIC and specializes in the connection between diet and health, with a particular focus on the phenolic compounds present in fruit and vegetables, also considered to be the main ‘active ingredients’ of many ‘super foods’ and ‘super drinks’.

2014 – The Centrum opens

The Centrum Building opened. This facility, providing flexible laboratory, office and public meeting space for innovative biotechnology businesses, was a centrepiece of the £26m investment from BBSRC through P26 funding for Norwich Research Park (2011-2014).  

2014 – Chinese Academy of Sciences – JIC Centre of Excellence

The joint Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) – JIC Centre of Excellence in Plant and Microbial Science was launched. The new £12m Centre, which spans the two countries, will enhance research to support the agricultural technology and microbial genetics agendas of both countries. Funding for the new Centre of Excellence was provided by BBSRC and JIC in the UK and by the two CAS institutes in the partnership: the Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology and the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology in Beijing.

2015 – Trustees sell Church Farm to JIC

The Trustees sold Church Farm, Bawburgh to the John Innes Centre securing both JIC’s long-term use of the farm for field trials and more flexibility to JIF in its future funding programme.

2015 – JIC signs agreement with Chinese Agricultural Academy of Sciences

The Chinese Vice-Minister of Agriculture and President of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), Professor Jiayang Li, visited the John Innes Centre in November 2015 to sign a Memorandum of Understanding between CAAS and JIC to work on cutting-edge research that will address the global challenge of food security.

The John Innes Centre today

Facilities at the JIC on a 50 acre (20 hectare) site today include over 8,000m2 of conventional and containment glasshouses, 187 m2 of controlled environment suites for plant growth, a germplasm storage unit (housing more than 40,000 accessions) and over 400 acres (160 hectare) for field trial sites. Over, 30,000 m2 of specialised laboratories cater for microbial, cell biological, biochemical and molecular biological research supported by a range of specialist research facilities which are part of the shared resources of Norwich Research Park There is also a modern conference centre, an extensive library and a collection of rare books and archive material. About 900 scientists and support staff work on the John Innes site (including JIC, TSL, Quadram, Earlham Institute and the shared administration function, the NBI Partnership). For over 100 years the John Innes Foundation has supported hundreds of scientific careers and is proud of its John Innes Alumni and their awards and achievements.