Crop Science Centre - Driven by impact, fuelled by excellence

NIAB NEWS: Impact study: NIAB research delivers 18 fold return to the wider UK economy

NIB Impact Study

An independent assessment of the value of research taking place at crop science organisation NIAB has revealed an 18-fold return on investment to the wider UK economy.

The economic impact report, by Donald Webb of Brookdale Consulting, concluded that for every £1 spent on research at NIAB, at least £17.60 is returned to the UK economy through improved production efficiency, economic growth, import substitution, export earnings and inward investment.

The report indicated that this return on investment would be even greater if NIAB’s international contribution had been accounted for.    

The study focused on the following five key areas of R&D to capture the broad spread of crop-related science and innovation now covered by the NIAB Group:

  • Plant variety and seed testing
  • Potato agronomy
  • Strawberry breeding
  • Concept vineyard
  • Legume pre-breeding

In each of these five case study areas, together accounting for around 20% of NIAB’s total research income, the report identified a high-level of ongoing actual impacts as well as potential future impacts, reflecting NIAB’s unique interconnecting role between fundamental science and practical application.

These case studies also highlight the broad range of routes through which NIAB today is delivering socio-economic value and impact, including the provision of statutory services to the plant breeding and seeds sector, developing innovative agronomy solutions for potato growers, breeding market-leading soft fruit varieties, supporting growth in the UK’s emerging vineyard sector, and supplying new traits and germplasm to support genetic improvement in legumes.

Commenting on the study, report author Donald Webb said:

“NIAB occupies a unique position within the UK plant science landscape, providing a vital translation service between fundamental science and its practical, commercial application.

“The 18-fold return on investment identified compares very favourably to any other research-based organisation in the agriculture sector or beyond. In addition, our study concluded that NIAB’s critical mass of skills, facilities, networks and expertise has a strong contribution to make to future challenges including climate change adaptation and resilience, sustainable intensification, economic growth and food security.”

Welcoming the report on behalf of NIAB, which commissioned the study, chief executive Dr Tina Barsby said: “Last year, NIAB marked its centenary having originally been established as a charitable trust in 1919 with the aim of improving UK crop production through better varieties and seeds. Over that period NIAB has pioneered the internationally recognised systems for plant variety testing and seed certification which have underpinned the growth and success of modern plant breeding and crop production.

“NIAB is still widely recognised for its founding role in varieties and seeds, which continues to this day. But as this impact report demonstrates, more recently NIAB has successfully adapted and diversified from its position as quasi-Government institute to become a leading international centre for crop science with a broad and expanding portfolio of near-market agricultural research.       

“At all levels, the focus of NIAB’s applied research activity is to improve the productivity, efficiency and resilience of UK agricultural and horticultural crop production. This independent study provides a resounding thumbs-up to the value and impact of our research,” finished Dr Barsby.

Download the summary report

Socio-economic impact of NIAB research - a summary of the impact study

Download the full report

Socio-economic impact of NIAB research - final report

NIAB NEWS: New sources of wheat diversity unlocked by massive-scale genomic study

New sources of wheat diversity unlocked by massive-scale genomic study

Growers, wheat breeders and crop scientists are all set to benefit from the discovery of genetic factors associated to yield, quality and agronomic traits in wheat following one of the largest analysis ever carried out of an agricultural crop.

An international research team, including crop scientists from NIAB, genetically characterised nearly 80,000 samples of wheat from the germplasm banks of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA).

NIAB’s Deputy Director Professor Mario Caccamo explained that the results give researchers and breeders a more detailed picture of the wheat diversity available. “The analysis identified regions of the wheat genome linked to important yield or agronomic bottlenecks introduced by successive breeding programmes. It also contributes to our understanding of the impact of the synthetic wheat varieties, most latterly with NIAB’s resynthesised ‘superwheat’ programme, in adding to the diversity, in particular in the D subgenome.”

The findings of the study published today in Nature Communications are described as ‘a massive-scale genotyping and diversity analysis’ of the two types of wheat grown globally (bread and pasta wheat) and of 27 known wild species.

The main objective of the study was to characterise the genetic diversity of CIMMYT and ICARDA’s internationally available collections, which are considered the largest in the world. The researchers aimed to understand this diversity by mapping genetic variants to identify useful genes for wheat breeding. The results show distinct biological groupings within the crop and suggest that a large proportion of the genetic diversity present in landraces has not been used to develop new high-yielding, resilient and nutritious varieties.

“The analysis of the wheat accessions reveals that relatively little of the diversity available in the landraces has been used in modern breeding, and this offers an opportunity to find untapped valuable variation for the development of new varieties from these landraces,” said Carolina Sansaloni, high-throughput genotyping and sequencing specialist at CIMMYT, who led the research team.

The study also found that the genetic diversity of pasta wheat is better represented in the modern varieties, with the exception of a subgroup of samples from Ethiopia.

The researchers mapped the genomic data obtained from the genotyping of the wheat samples to pinpoint the physical and genetic positions of molecular markers associated with characteristics that are present in both types of wheat and in the crop’s wild relatives.

According to Sansaloni, on average, 72 percent of the markers obtained are uniquely placed on three molecular reference maps and around half of these are in interesting regions with genes that control specific characteristics of value to breeders, farmers and consumers such as heat and drought tolerance, yield potential and protein content.

The data, analysis and visualisation tools of the SeeD and MasAgro projects sponsored by Mexico’s Agriculture and Rural Development Department (SADER) and the UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Research Council (BBSRC) were developed in collaboration with NIAB and the James Hutton Institute, and are freely available to the scientific community for advancing wheat research and breeding worldwide.

“These resources should be useful in gene discovery, cloning, marker development, genomic prediction or selection, marker-assisted selection, genome wide association studies and other applications,” said Dr Sansaloni.

Join us at the Crop Science Centre Virtual Launch


Crop Science Centre Virtual Launch with Professor Giles Oldroyd and Dr Tina Barsby

We are hugely excited by the Centre’s potential to conduct world-leading research in global food security, and hope you can join us for this very special launch event.   

Please register your place here. If you are interested but unable to attend, a recording of the event will be made available online. If you have any questions please contact us at

16.00pm BST Welcome from Professor Stephen J Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge

16.10pm BST Introduction and discussion chaired by Dr Rob Doubleday (CSaP). How research and innovation can revolutionise agriculture, with Professor Giles Oldroyd (Director, Crop Science Centre), Dr Tina Barsby (CEO, NIAB) and Sir David Baulcombe (Royal Society Research Professor)

16.35pm BST Q&A

16.45pm BST Close

Department of Plant Sciences NEWS: A plant's diet, surviving in a variable nutrient environment

root responses

Giles Oldroyd and Ottoline Leyser’s review on nutrient sensing in the root and systemic signalling in the shoot to respond to changeable nutrient availability. Their article provides a detailed overview of the current knowledge about how plants engage with their nutrients and provides ideas about future research directions to help us use this knowledge to increase crop plant performance in low-fertility soils and wean global agriculture from its dependency on inorganic fertilisers. Read the review:


Image: N response and signaling. Root responses of Arabidopsis plants grown in uniform high N (NO3–; dark gray, left), uniform low N (light gray, middle), and differential treatments of high and low N (right). Note how the root responses are opposite to the local treatments in uniform versus differential treatments. Underpinning these responses are C-terminally encoded peptides (CEPs) produced in roots experiencing low N, cytokinins produced in roots experiencing high N, and an N-sufficiency signal in the shoot. All regulate shoot-to-root signaling, which involves CEP DOWNSTREAM 1 (CEPD) peptides. Systemic signaling is integrated with local signaling (indicated by red) that is induced by local perception of NO3–.


Crop Science Centre NEWS: Achieving global food security - a vision for the new Crop Science Centre

Crop Science Centre

The Crop Science Centre features in the impact stories of Dear World... Yours, Cambridge, the campaign for the University and Colleges of Cambridge as the response of the University of Cambridge and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB)  to the increasingly pressing challenge of feeding people across the globe. Read more about how this was possible

Dr Richard Harrison

Richard is the Director of NIAB Cambridge Crop Research (, a part of the NIAB Group, composed of research and service delivery in arable crop genetics, breeding, pathology, biotechnology and data science. 

Professor Alison Bentley

As a crop scientist working at the interface of academia and industry Alison’s research is focussed on the translation of fundamental scientific breakthroughs into tangible impacts for the agri-food sector. Alison is the Director of Genetics and Breeding at NIAB ( leading a team of scientists to deliver tools and technologies to improve plant breeding in the UK and internationally.

Professor Uta Paszkowski

Uta Paszkowski is Professor of Plant Molecular Genetics at the Department of Plant Sciences of the University of Cambridge and leads the Cereal Symbiosis Group at the Crop Science Centre. She did her undergraduate studies at the University Cologne (Germany) gaining a Master (Diplom) degree in phytopathology at the Max-Planck Institute for Plant Breeding.

Professor Giles E. D. Oldroyd

Giles Oldroyd studies interactions between plants and beneficial micro-organisms, both bacteria and fungi, that aid in the uptake of nutrients from the environment, especially nitrogen and phosphorus. These microbial associations are intracellular, allowing tight control of nutrient exchange, with sources of carbon delivered to the microorganisms from the plant in exchange for nitrogen and phosphorus.

Sustainable food production for everyone

The Crop Science Centre is an alliance between the University of Cambridge and NIAB. Our research is funded by:

Our mission

At the Crop Science Centre, we are generating crop plants that deliver sufficient food for everyone in a sustainable way

  • We deliver agricultural impact, using excellence in research
  • We strive for sustainability, reducing agricultural reliance on chemical inputs
  • We foster equality, valuing all members of our research community
  • We believe in equity, ensuring even the world’s poorest farmers can grow enough food

Years of research has provided a deep understanding of how plants function, creating opportunities to transform the way we produce our food.  I am motivated to improve the sustainability and the equity of food production worldwide

Professor Giles Oldroyd,
CSC Director

Professor Giles Oldroyd

“The delivery of both public goods and economic growth is essential 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.”

Dr Tina Barsby,
CEO and Director of NIAB

Dr Tina Barsby

“We envisage that new CSC crop technologies will enable higher crop yields and lower environmental impact for crop-based food production – as well as contributing to improved dietary health.”

Sir David Baulcombe,
Royal Society Professor

Sir David Baulcombe

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