£6.8m phenomics centre opens

The new greenhouse at the National Plant Phenomics Centre.

The new greenhouse at the National Plant Phenomics Centre.

14 May 2012

Today, Monday 14 May 2012, the new National Plant Phenomics Centre, which features the most advanced research greenhouse in the UK, will be formally opened at Aberystwyth University’s Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences.

The new Centre is a Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) supported national facility and has been developed at a cost of £6.8m.

The research conducted at this new national centre will help to develop new plant and crop varieties to help tackle the global challenges of climate change, food security and replacing oil based products.

Located on the University’s Gogerddan campus, it will be will be opened by BBSRC Chairman, Professor Sir Tom Blundell FRS at 12.00 p.m.
The new building is one of two significant capital investment developments that are being opened on the same day.

At 3.30 p.m. Welsh Government Education and Skills Minister Leighton Andrews will open new teaching and researcher facilities on the University’s Penglais campus.

The new Penglais facility represents an investment of £5.6m and houses the Bioinformatics and Spatial Modelling laboratories as well as offering a hub for undergraduate and postgraduate teaching.

Together the developments represent the culmination of a four year £25m capital investment programme made possible by financial support from the BBSRC, the Welsh Government and the European Union.

Professor April McMahon, Vice Chancellor of Aberystwyth University said:
“This is an immensely significant day for Aberystwyth University and IBERS. The opening of a new national facility here at Aberystwyth reflects the ambition we have as a University to contribute as an international centre of excellence, both in terms of research and in inspiring a new generation of highly trained graduates who are equipped with the skills to tackle some of the pressing environmental challenges faced by society.”

“I would like to take this opportunity to thank the BBSRC and the Welsh Government for their investment in this flagship project and to all who have been involved during design and construction,” she added.

Professor Wayne Powell, Director of IBERS said: “The combined effects of world population growth, climate change and the scarcity of water and land mean that food and water security represent key global challenges for the 21st century. The National Plant Phenomics Centre means that researchers based in the UK and internationally have the very latest technology at their disposal to develop new crop varieties that can thrive in challenging conditions and make a significant contribution to future food production.”

BBSRC Chairman, Professor Sir Tom Blundell, said: “The benefits of this investment will reach well beyond the walls of the University, offering a new national capability in crop science. Discoveries made here will contribute to combating major challenges, such as feeding a growing population. This investment in bioscience infrastructure not only creates immediate jobs, in areas such as construction, it also contributes to the potential for growth of the UK knowledge-based bioeconomy."

Leighton Andrews said: “This superb facility for research and teaching in the land based sciences is a great example of the kind of cutting-edge Higher Education the Welsh Government wants to see. We've made a significant capital investment in Aberystwyth University as part of our ambitious agenda for science and innovation here in Wales. This new centre will develop the University’s reputation as a globally-significant centre of bioscience research which should be celebrated.”

The National Plant Phenomics Centre
The centre, which features a state of the art greenhouse - the only one of its kind in the UK and one of only seven in the world, will enable researchers to study individual plants in a way that has never before been possible.

With the capacity to house up to 850 individually potted plants on a series of conveyor belts measuring over 300 meters long, scientists will be able to apply different feeding and watering regimes to individual plants as they study the influence of individual genes.

Ten computer controlled cameras using fluorescence, infra-red and near infra-red, laser and root imaging technology combine to provide 3D images of the plants and monitor their growth on a daily basis.

This level of detail, which cannot be achieved using current research methods, will enable researchers to speed up the process of identifying potentially beneficial genes.

The beneficial genes will be used for the development of new plant varieties to tackle the global challenges of climate change and food security and to replace oil based products.

IBERS Penglais
The new teaching and research facilities at IBERS Penglais are designed to provide a hub for innovative collaboration between IBERS scientists and researchers in other areas at Aberystwyth University.

Working closely with computer scientists, IBERS scientists are collaborating on exciting new developments that pave the way for processing huge amounts of data about the new varieties of plants that are being developed. This work is based at the newly established Bioinformatics Laboratory.

The Spatial Modelling Laboratory brings together biologists and geographers to understand how the geography of an area affects biological processes. One area of research at Aberystwyth is looking at the spread of Malaria in Africa, and how this might be affected by climate change.

The new facilities have also been designed to develop new postgraduate courses including a new degree in Green Biotechnology and Innovation.

This new MSc will train students in green biotechnology research, management, business and interaction with industry and provide a new generation of business aware biotechnologists skilled to develop bio-based products to replace fossil fuels and meet global government targets for carbon reduction.