For a combined celebration of Fascination of Plants Day, Plant Health Week, and the first International Day of Plant Health, the Norwich Research Park welcomed over 600 members of the public for an open day on Saturday 21st May 2022. Themed around ‘Plants of the Future’, the day involved hands-on stalls and exhibits, a plant disease trail around the Research Park, biodiversity tours, and an exhibition of scientific photographs on the theme of ‘Plant Health’.
Located on the Norwich Research Park, The Sainsbury Laboratory carries out both fundamental and applied research in plant health. In addition to The Sainsbury Laboratory, the Norwich Research Park is home to three other research institutes (the John Innes Centre, the Earlham Institute, and the Quadram Institute), as well as to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the University of East Anglia, and over 100 businesses. The Plants of the Future Open Day was a collaborative effort between our institutes to share the science carried out on the Research Park in an engaging, accessible, informative, and fun way!
Thanks to the generous support of the BSPP, there was a strong focus on plant health research with nine interactive stalls themed around plant-microbe interactions. These were designed and delivered by scientists from The Sainsbury Laboratory, who came up with some novel and creative ways to share the research we do! For example, one stall featured a DNA helix from lollipops, with different colours representing the different nucleotides! Visitors could also have a go at infiltrating Nicotiana benthamiana leaves with food colouring to learn about transient gene expression, see high-throughput pipetting robots in action, and extract DNA from strawberries – which proved to be a highlight of the day for many!
With the recent changes to UK legislation around genetic technologies in the headlines, we also wanted to take the opportunity to share how we can use GE and GM approaches to develop healthier plants for the future, and we had some positive and constructive discussions on these issues.
Support from the BSPP Plant Pathology Promotion Fund also enabled the creation of an exhibition of scientific photographs. Titled ‘Plant Health: Through Our Eyes’, the exhibition aimed to draw links between science and art and to engage members of the public with plant health research through a series of beautiful and visually striking images. The photographs were sourced from scientists at The Sainsbury Laboratory and covered the breadth of research carried out at TSL, from in vitro assays to field trials. We are fortunate to have an excellent scientific photographer, Phil Robinson, on the Research Park, who captured several of the images in the exhibition. Each photograph was accompanied by a brief description of the science behind the image. We asked visitors to give a one-word response to the exhibition, with the results shown in the word cloud on the right. It was wonderful to see the exhibition spark conversations about the science behind the images!
The public response to the event was overwhelmingly positive, with over 95% of respondents saying that they learned something new. Plant health affects all of us, and it was great to see 98% of respondents agreeing that the science done on the Norwich Research Park affects their life.
It was a fantastic day and the feedback we received suggests it was thoroughly enjoyed by volunteers and visitors alike! We were delighted to be able to share our fascination with plants and our passion for plant health research with the local community and are very grateful to the BSPP for their support.
Josie Maidment and Mia Cerfonteyn
The Sainsbury Laboratory
A selection of photographs from the event, taken by Stephen Bornemann (The Sainsbury Laboratory):
Basti Samwald representing the BSPP at the Plants of the Future Open Day. Photo credit: Stephen Bornemann.
Visitors could find out about the ground-breaking field trials of PiperPlus potatoes which have been genetically modified to increase resistance to the devastating late blight pathogen. Photo credit: Stephen Bornemann.
Extracting DNA from strawberries was a highlight for many of our visitors! Photo credit: Stephen Bornemann.
The team from Professor Wenbo Ma’s lab who, led by Amelia Lovelace (yellow lanyard), helped visitors extract DNA from strawberries and use microscopes to diagnose strawberry diseases. Photo credit: Stephen Bornemann.
Volunteers from Professor Nick Talbot’s lab discussing how the cereal killer Magnaporthe oryzae causes disease on a range of host plants. Photo credit: Stephen Bornemann
Visitors viewing the ‘Plant Health: Through Our Eyes’ exhibition of scientific photography, funded by the BSPP. Photo credit: Stephen Bornemann