The University of Cambridge, in collaboration with NIAB, has secured funding from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) to establish a new centre for crop science research.

The Cambridge Centre for Crop Science (3CS) will link academic plant science with the farm and food industries to translate research findings into practical solutions in the field, food chain and wider bio-industry. It will boost the University and NIAB’s existing research initiatives around global food security.

 The project has £16.9m from the HEFCE-managed UK Research Partnership Investment Fund plus additional funding from the NIAB Trust.  The Centre will occupy a new state-of-the-art dedicated research laboratory at NIAB’s Huntingdon Road site in Cambridge, as part of the site’s redevelopment, which should be ready by 2020. The funds will also enable new 3CS field stations and offices to be constructed in the next 18 months at NIAB’s Park Farm, Histon site, including new glasshouse facilities with full environmental controls.

As well as University researchers from the Plant Sciences and other departments, NIAB and the Cambridge Sainsbury Laboratory, the Centre will link with other UK and international research institutesincluding the John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research, the Agri-Tech East research and business network and with major industry partners.

While 3CS is already up and running using current facilities and staff across the University and NIAB, the next 2-3 years will see a more formal coming together of the initiative as new projects and research start and recruitment of new research staff begins.  The 3CS initiative will be led by a new Cambridge Professor of Crop Science.

In addition to working on the major globally-traded crops such as wheat and rice, 3CS intends to focus on advancing the genetics and agronomy of other UK crops such as potato and legumes, as well as what it terms ‘orphan crops’ – those that lag in technological advances but are vital for smallholder farmers across the developing world.

“3CS innovations will generate new crops and new ways of growing crops for food, fuels, industrial feedstocks and pharmaceuticals,” says Professor Sir David Baulcombe, head of Cambridge’s Department of Plant Sciences and the project lead for the University.  “We envisage that new 3CS crop technologies will enable higher crop yields and lower environmental impact for crop-based food production – as well as contributing to improved dietary health.”

 “The delivery of both public goods and economic growth is an essential agenda for today’s plant scientists, with the need to produce sufficient healthy nutritious food without harming the environment being at the top of the international agenda,” adds NIAB chief executive and director Dr Tina Barsby. “Creating the facilities to bring together NIAB and the University in 3CS presents an extraordinary opportunity for impacting this agenda through the development of world-class science and translation.”

Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, Cambridge University’s vice-chancellor, states: “3CS will be unlike anywhere else in Europe because it connects a world-leading University directly to growers, breeders and other sectors of industry associated with crops. The opportunity could be compared to the potential for advances in healthcare when a research-active medical school co-locates with a hospital and pharmaceutical company.”