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John Innes Centre Touts Impact on UK Economy

NEW YORK (GenomeWeb News) – The UK's John Innes Centre said this week it generates £170 million ($272.1 million) annually for the UK's economy and, together with predecessors, has yielded discoveries that could generate millions more pounds in economic activity for the UK and the rest of the world.

Just how much in future economic activity will be known as JIC makes additional progress against additional diseases, the center said in its new Economic Impact report, released earlier this week.

According to the report, JIC scientists have identified the wheat genes that confer resistance to the fungus Septoria tritici through a collaboration with plant breeders that resulted in the 2006 launch of the Alchemy, now the most widely-grown variety of winter wheat.

"Full resistance is still yet to be achieved, so the collaboration with JIC continues to combat this pest," JIC said in the 16-page report.

Septoria tritici is "by far the most damaging foliar disease for wheat," and one of numerous diseases that account for £240 million of lost production of both wheat and barley in the UK, the report noted. Individually, Septoria tritici accounted for £35.5 million in losses to UK growers back in 1998. Developing resistance to just that fungus, the JIC said, may yield as much as £4.6 billion a year in additional global economic impact.

The report said JIC researchers were working on discoveries intended to save the UK a combined more than £250 million in costs from two factors alone.

The first is deaths from Clostridium difficile, which in England and Wales rose by 72 percent in just two years, to 6,480 in 2007, at an estimated economic cost of £194 million to the National Health Service, according to a 2007 study by the National Institute of Clinical Excellence. A JIC spinout company, Novacta, is focused on discovering products that target Clostridium difficile and the superbug MRSA.

The second is damage to about half the UK's wheat crop due to take-all disease, at a cost to the agricultural industry of up to £60 million. JIC researchers, according to the economic impact document, have begun experiments to transfer from oats into wheat and other crops the components of a cluster of genes that make an antimicrobial product that protects against the fungus that causes take-all.

The report also cited the creation of several multi-million-pound markets for products developed through past JIC work, such as the research and breeding that led to the development of semi-leafless peas, which now account for virtually all of the UK's £38 million-a-year dried pea market.

Also, scientists from a JIC predecessor, the Plant Breeding Institute, helped plant breeders develop new varieties faster by pioneering doubled haploid lines, while the center helped develop genetic maps showing the position of genes that control traits of interest. The maps were the foundation upon which marker-assisted breeding work has taken place on oilseed rape, which is used for producing animal feed, vegetable oil for humans, and biodiesel fuel.

Last year, the UK produced 3.5 percent of the world's oilseed rape, or 2 million tons, with prices rising to $900 per ton.

JIC's economic impact is several times its annual budget. According to the most recent BBSRC annual report, JIC generated £28 million in revenue during the year from April 1, 2008, to March 31, 2009, up slightly from £27.8 million a year earlier. The center also drew £2.4 million in BBSRC capital funding in 2008-09, compared with £2.6 million in 2007-98.

This year's economic impact report was published as part of JIC's observance of its 100th anniversary. The center was founded in 1910 as the John Innes Horticultural Institution.

Renovation and 'Barn' Raising

Almost a week before the economic report's release, JIC awarded a construction contract toward the renovation of a building and the creation of a new Arabidopsis growing facility, or "barn," at its site at Norwich Research Park in Colney.

Norwich construction firm Morgan Ashurst was awarded the contract for the two-phase JIC project, according to a Jan. 20 notice. The first phase consists of refurbishing the 1,200-square-meter (about 12,917-square-foot) Building 26 to accommodate a new data center, as well as IT support space, and offices for scientific support staff, including finance and contracts administration.

"By the end of the year, the data centre will house at least 1 petabyte of storage, 1,000 computing nodes, and several large memory machines (256Gb)," Andrew Chapple, a JIC spokesman, told GenomeWeb Daily News on Tuesday.

The data center is being built for The Genome Analysis Centre, which is housed at JIC and analyzes plant, animal, and microbial genomes, in addition to carrying out genome sequencing. TGAC was established last year as an initial £13.5 million (about $21.9 million) effort by the UK's Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council — which sponsors the JIC — in partnership with the East of England Development Agency, Norfolk County Council, Norwich City Council, South Norfolk Council and the Greater Norwich Development Partnership.

The first phase work will also include re-roofing and re-cladding Building 26. JIC is considering an option for a wet training lab within the refurbished building. "The intention is still to include the wet training lab," Chapple said.

During the second phase, JIC will begin construction of a new 480-square-meter (about 5,167-square-foot) facility containing eight rooms for the controlled growth of Arabidopsis, and associated study areas, as well as climate-controlled growth chambers for research groups covering all areas of the center's work, and a direct link to the existing Bateson Laboratory.

"The JIC has been working on Arabidopsis for over 20 years, and the new facility will provide additional environmentally controlled needed to allow the JIC's research to expand," Chapple said.

The project is due to be completed by autumn 2010, he added.

Chapple could not immediately furnish the anticipated cost of the project. The original contract notice, posted on the European Union's official Tenders Electronic Daily web site, gave the project's estimated value, excluding Value Added Tax, at £3.4 million.

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