NIAB - National Institute of Agricultural Botany

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Our work

We employ over 400 people, mainly at the Cambridge HQ site but also at ten Regional Centres. Dr Tina Barsby is Chief Executive and is supported in her executive functions by Finance Director and Company Secretary, Stephen Masson.

NIAB is organised to reflect its position in the industry: ‘Genetics and Breeding’, underpinning and supplementing the commercial plant breeding industry by providing links with upstream genetic research; ‘Varieties and Seeds’, born out of the traditional business of the National Institute of Agricultural Botany in supporting variety and seeds legislation and ‘Crops and Agronomy’. An Operations team provides core, centralised services such as overall quality management, and trials delivery as well as site services.

A Business Services team provides finance, HR and IT support to the business. Conference facilities with a lecture hall, break-out rooms and on-site parking are available for events and meetings. Hotel or university halls accommodation is available walking distance and Cambridge is very well-connected to major road routes. Central London is a 50 minute train journey away and all the London airports are easily accessed.

Genetics and Breeding

DropperLed by Dr Alison Bentley, the Genetics and Breeding research programme is committed to connecting research excellence in crop science to targets that have relevance to its various stakeholders.

Funding comes from a range of organisations, including the NIAB Trust, AHDB, BBSRC, DFID, DEFRA LINK, The Food Standards Agency and the European Commission. Importantly, aspects of the research has implications for the UK and other parts of the developed world, and for developing countries.

The Genetics and Breeding team is based in the John Bingham Building on the Cambridge site. It houses a group of thirty scientists in modern office and laboratory accommodation with state-of-the-art equipment that supports research targeted at the genetic improvement of crop species.

John BinghamWith the capability for high throughput DNA preparation, sequence analysis and genotyping the research team are highly skilled in the characterisation and evaluation of genes that have the potential to impact on global challenges of food, water and energy security. In our pre-breeding projects smart breeding approaches are applied using molecular markers to transfer these genes into crop species so that the benefits they provide can be fully evaluated. The NIAB pre-breeding platform is unique in its degree of integration from lab to field and in its interest in public good and focus on useable plant products. NIAB also has a facility for generating transgenic wheat plants that supports its own research and is available for contract services to third parties.

The group continues to develop a number of research collections of germplasm that will be uniquely relevant in the provision of solutions to the contemporary challenges faced by society, the government and the agricultural industry. These include collections of synthetic wheats, non-food crop species, beans and BBSRC funded MAGIC populations.

Varieties and Seeds

SeedsThe core business of Varieties and Seeds delivers the technical services that underpin National List, Plant Breeders Rights, statutory seed certification and many non-statutory commercial activities for a wide range of species in the UK and Europe. Major customers include FERA, plant breeders, various levy bodies as well as governmental agencies, researchers, agribusiness, industry funded non-governmental organisations, plant breeders, commercial companies, consultants and farmers. The teams also work closely with many supra-governmental organisations such as UPOV, ISTA, OECD, CPVO.

The business is delivered by three teams; Agricultural and Food Crops; Ornamentals and Analytical Services.

GermplasmNIAB is guardian to a number of germplasm collections of significance. For example, the national variety reference collection for cereal species, winter oilseed rape and a number of other fodder and oilseed species. This includes over 4500 accessions of authenticated, living samples in useful quantities of current UK crop varieties. NIAB also holds the European collection of chrysanthemum germplasm and is home to a unique cereal species archive with museum specimens of seed and ear material from the Percival collection and 2300 entries of UK land-races (early 1900’s-1964) and UK varieties submitted for National Listing (post-1964) which includes detailed phenotypic information.

The unique and extensive plant phenotyping skills of staff, datasets and biological resources are increasingly utilised for discovery purposes in research projects.

Crops and Agronomy

Led by Stuart Knight, Crops and Agronomy carry out variety evaluation including plant pathology based activities.

The business delivers agronomy trials and membership services and field crop research, knowledge transfer and training activities and extension services via project development and delivery and the TAG Consulting on-farm consultancy.

The strategy of Crops and Agronomy is informed by a high level Agronomy Strategy Group (ASG) that is made up of representatives from the NIAB TAG Membership across regions and farming situations as well as by representatives from all relevant industry sectors.