40 years of service recognised by Royal Horticultural Society

3rd Nov 2011

Steve Reader, Germplasm and Field Trials Manager at the John Innes Centre, has received a Long Service Medal from the Royal Horticultural Society in recognition of his 40 year contribution to plant science and crop research.

Steve started working at the Plant Breeding Institute, in Cambridge, on 23rd August 1971, as an Assistant Scientific Officer.

“My first week’s pay was £12 and I then immediately received a 25% pay rise thanks to a nationally negotiated pay settlement. It meant I earned more than my father!” said Steve.

Steve’s research area is cytogenetics, which is the study of the way the genetic material within cells is organised, duplicated and passed on to progeny cells. For cereals, and especially wheat, this has great importance for breeding programmes, as it helps to integrate natural variation into varieties.

During his time at PBI, Steve worked on methods of combining wheat and its close relatives, such as rye, barley and the goat grasses. The aim was to tap into the extensive genetic variation available in these species and to identify agronomically useful genes. Using traditional plant breeding techniques, he created amphiploids, which are plants that contain all of the chromosomes of both parents. 

“We were able to transfer useful genes to wheat, but in the early days, biochemical marker screening techniques had not been invented so occasionally less productive genes crept in as well,” said Steve.

Whilst at PBI, he met his wife, who was working as a chef at PBI, and they married in 1983 and now have two sons.

In 1989 the Plant Breeding Institute at Cambridge saw its applied research programmes, farm site and National Seed Development Corporation sold to a private company.Steve, along with the non-privatised departments of PBI, moved from Cambridge to Norwich, into purpose built laboratories on the John Innes site, then known as the Cambridge Laboratory.

Steve’s research has contributed to 86 peer-reviewed papers to date, in journals including Heredity, Hereditas, Theoretical and Applied Genetics, the Journal of Cell Science and Nature. He is now regarded as being the most experienced wheat cytogeneticist in the UK. He now curates one of the largest collections of wheat precise genetic stocks (WPGS) in the world at the JIC. These collections are an invaluable resource for the scientific community. They have been built up over 75 years and provide a valuable genetic resource for researchers all over the world.

“In 40 years of Government sponsored research, I have worked under 7 Directors, and have had the privilege to have worked alongside Prof. Sir Ralph Riley and Prof Ernie Sears, regarded by most as the ‘grandfather’ of wheat cytogenetics, as well as Prof. Colin Law and Prof John Snape.”

Steve took on the role of Field Trials Manager at the JIC in 2005, during which time the trials area on site, and at Church Farm, has continued to grow. As well as this role, and curating the wheat germplasm collections, he still regularly receives phone calls and emails from fellow researchers at JIC, within the UK and around the world, seeking to tap into his 40 years of knowledge and experience.

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