Research Medal for John Innes Centre Scientist

26th Aug 2010

Professor James Brown of the John Innes Centre, an Institute of the BBSRC, has been awarded the Royal Agricultural Society of England Research Medal in recognition of his work to combat cereal diseases.  The Research Medal is presented for work of outstanding merit carried out in the UK, which is proven or likely to be of benefit to agriculture.  Professor Brown’s work has been vital in protecting wheat production in the UK and is continuing to combat the threats crop diseases pose to UK food security.

Professor Brown was awarded the Research Medal for his invaluable work in the area of crop disease, in particular his pioneering work against Septoria tritici blotch in wheat.  Regarded as one of the most serious crop disease in the UK, James’ work has underpinned the breeding of resistant varieties to Septoria, radically improving the UK’s ability to control this disease. 

15 years ago there was very little resistance to Septoria in UK wheat, and breeders were struggling to produce resistant varieties. Recognising the severity of the problem, James and his group at the JIC focussed their research on looking for resistance genes.  They found a number of potential resistance genes, but these were widespread across wheat varieties, and in many cases were associated with lower yields.  This would have presented a significant problem to plant breeders, but the fundamental science James led, in close association with breeders and farmers, allowed several different sources of resistance to be combined into high yielding varieties suited to UK agriculture.

 James Brown’s work to control septoria tritici blotch combining excellent science with application to the problems facing farmers is seen as a model of how scientists and plant breeders are able to work together to understand complex crop diseases and produce effective solutions to them.  His group is now applying a similar approach to the growing problem of Ramularia leaf spot in barley.  This disease has emerged as a problem for barley producers in the last decade, and is now at a severe level in Scotland and Ireland and threatening to spread into England. 

James is leading a project funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the Scottish Government’s Directorate for Rural and Environment Research and Analysis, and the HGCA, that is looking to control the spread of the disease and will use the model of his Septoria work to allow breeders to increase Ramularia resistance in the UK’s barley varieties.  The aim of the project is to understand the disease more closely to provide ways of controlling its spread, and then long-term the research will help breeders develop barley varieties with increased ramularia resistance.

Professor Brown's work on Septoria and Ramularia has been funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), BBSRC, HGCA, and the European Union and has been undertaken in collaboration with many wheat and barley breeding companies.

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