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New £12m Centre of Excellence agreed for plant and microbial science

Scientific partnerships between the UK and China are being strengthened with the establishment of a £12M centre for plant science and microbiology spanning the two countries.

The joint John Innes Centre/Chinese Academy of Sciences Centre of Excellence in Plant and Microbial Science will enhance research to support the agricultural technology and microbial genetics agendas of both countries.

This new agreement is the most advanced partnership between the UK and China of its kind and was developed with support from BBSRC, from which the John Innes Centre receives strategic funding.

Scientists working within the new Centre of Excellence, a collaboration between the John Innes Centre (JIC), located on the Norwich Research Park, the Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology (SIPPE) and the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) in Beijing, will investigate challenges facing agriculture and human health. These include increasing crop yield and resistance to disease as well as developing the use of plants and microbes for the production of health-promoting natural products

Professor Dale Sanders, Director of the John Innes Centre in Norwich, said: "We have a long history of joint research projects with Chinese scientists, many of whom are also JIC alumni. This strategic partnership with institutes within the Chinese Academy of Sciences will establish ten new research groups in the new centre in Beijing and Shanghai to work collaboratively with our internationally-leading researchers at JIC, as well as providing reciprocal placements for UK and Chinese staff and students."

The strategic agreement was signed on July 11 by Professor Sanders alongside representatives of the two research institutes within CAS: the Deputy Director of the Shanghai Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology (SIPPE) Dr Chengshu Wang and the Director of the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (IGDB) in Beijing Dr Weicai Yang.

Dr Chengshu Wang said: "JIC is one of the world's leading institutions for plant and microbial science. Quite a few of our faculty have received excellent training in JIC and there are ongoing projects jointly performed between our colleagues. In line with this strategic partnership, particular interests for the joint centre in Shanghai will be focused on the metabolic, interactive, and biosynthetic mechanisms in plants and microbes. Both our researchers and students will surely benefit from this strategic collaboration to boost our research to a new level, and promote science advances in mutually complementary ways."

Dr Weicai Yang said: "The joint centre will further strengthen the collaborations between IGDB and JIC scientists in plant sciences and promote internationalisation of both institutes. The hybridisation of Chinese and British culture will bring vigour and inspiration to students, and therefore have a broad impact on IGDB."

The two Chinese institutes are part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. 

CAS President Prof Chunli Bai, who witnessed the signing, said: "The CAS-JIC Centre of Excellence for Plant and Microbial Science is CAS' first joint research centre focusing on the studies of crop improvement and natural products. Both research areas are of strategic importance to the UK and China. Agriculture plays a vital role in our countries' economies, and has a substantial influence to the health and welfare of the society. At the same time, this joint centre is a key component of the Academy's outreach initiative. By bringing together the brightest talents in the field, we hope to maximize their scientific impact and produce top quality research, and further facilitate the international collaboration between Chinese and UK scientists."

Funding for the new Centre of Excellence was provided by BBSRC and JIC in the UK and by the two Chinese institutes in the partnership: IGDB and SIPPE. BBSRC will contribute £2M over the next five years to the Centre. JIC is contributing £1M over the next five years. IGDB and SIPPE will together contribute in the region of £9M over the five years.

BBSRC Chief Executive Prof Jackie Hunter said: "I am delighted that BBSRC has been able to support the creation of this new Centre. The new partnership between plant and microbial scientists in the UK and China will strengthen the ties between the excellent scientists in both countries. The researchers collaborating as part of the Centre will help us to meet some of the most important global challenges today, such as increasing crop yields sustainably to feed a growing world population."


Story source: BBSRC news release, 14 Jul 2014

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