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Crop Science

Russell R Geiger Professorship of Crop Sciences

An Update from Professor Sir David Baulcombe, Regius Professor of Botany - Department of Plant Sciences

Donations by the Geiger Estate and Trinity alumnus Robert Cawthorn have endowed a Professorship of Crop Sciences. The Professor will lead research in crop science with an emphasis on cutting edge science and its translation into technology that contributes to sustainable intensification of crop production and food security. We also expect the Professor to develop strategic initiatives and raise the profile of crop science and related technologies in the University, nationally and internationally. The successful candidate will also teach crop science to undergraduate and postgraduate students.

The crop science Professor's research will be based in a new custom-built facility at the NIAB on the outskirts of Cambridge. This facility is close enough to the centre of Cambridge for easy movement of people to and from the Plant Science Department and other parts of the University. This location will also allow for important collaboration with NIAB scientists and access to their facilities including those for field scale experimentation. This link with NIAB is important for translation of the Professor's research.

A bid to the HEFCE Research Partnership Infrastructure Fund

The HEFCE Research Partnership Infrastructure Fund (RPIF) will provide £17M towards the cost of the new facility. RPIF matches funds from other sources and, in this instance, the size of the joint University and NIAB bid was dependent on the Geiger/Cawthorn donations and other contributions from the applicants. The bid was for the Cambridge Centre for Crop Science (3CS) with the Crop Science Professor being a lynchpin in the project. Without the Geiger/Cawthorn donations this bid would not have been successful: it would not have even been started.

The impact of the RPIF funds on the 3CS project is transformational. With the opportunity to recruit into a new facility with secured funding for research and a senior researcher to work with the Professor there is the prospect of recruiting at the very highest international level. It means that 3CS will begin to have major impact very quickly. We have set a target of ten years: within this period we expect the Crop Science Professor’s research to improve sustainability, productivity or quality of crop production and crop products.

In addition to the Crop Science Professor’s output we are also expecting the existence of the new 3CS facility to catalyse new translational activity by other members of the University and NIAB. There are several existing University and NIAB projects with translational potential that will be given impetus by opportunity to collaborate with the new Professor. The new facility will also stimulate new translational crop science and collaborations between the University and NIAB.

3CS will make Cambridge more attractive than at present for industry partners in crop science research. An alliance with Nestlé is well advanced and we are in a good position to secure additional industrial partners in due course.

Since the success of the 3CS bid was announced in July the partners have provided additional information to HEFCE about objectives and outputs of 3CS, and various

The 3CS building

The RPIF must be spent by 2020 and, since July, we have been refining the plans for the 3CS building and formulating specifications for glasshouses and other facilities for growing plants. The planning application was submitted on December 5th and the building design has reached RIBA stage 3. The responsibility for delivering the building project is with NIAB but the process is overseen by a project Board in the University that is chaired by Pro Vice Chancellor Chris Abell, and involves the RPIF bid leads Professor Baulcombe and Dr Barsby (University and NIAB respectively).

The Crop Science Professor

A series of meetings is planned over the next two months to discuss recruitment of the Crop Science Professor. The issues to be discussed are the subject areas of particular interest or to be avoided, the type of person to be recruited and the timing. In preliminary discussions the topics of interest include orphan crops, accelerated breeding methods, advanced agronomy with an emphasis on sustainability and productivity of agricultural systems. Given the interest in translation we would be interested in candidates from industry as well as academia, but excellence and innovation in science will be key criteria. An additional consideration will be the need to enhance the UK research capability in crops. For that reason we will not seek to duplicate existing research areas – wheat, for example, in which the UK is already strong. Timing of the recruitment will allow the crop science professor to take up the appointment at or just before completion of the building in 2019/2020.

 

Images by permission of Smith Evans Architects