Scientists reflect on public opinion as they define plant and microbial science strategy

9th Feb 2015

Public opinion about the role of plant science and microbiology in society is being considered by a world-leading research institute as it sets out its science strategy for the next five years.

The John Innes Centre in Norwich will be facilitating small group workshops with the public* and engaging in online conversations as part of a public dialogue project to be carried out by the social research institute Ipsos MORI.

JIC Director Prof Dale Sanders said: “As an institute which receives most of its income from the UK government, via the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, we know our science reflects the country’s strategic research aims. This dialogue project will highlight those areas on which the public place a great importance, and allow our scientists to consider those in relation to our strategic research projects.”

New scientific techniques in genetic research have opened opportunities to study how plants interact with pathogens, leading to the development of new products from plants and the application of this science to large global challenges of food security and good health.

The John Innes Centre works across a range of plant research projects, including programmes to enhance disease resistance and improve yield in agricultural crops and to enrich the nutritional quality of foods. JIC microbiologists are also seeking new sources of antibiotics and investigating therapeutic drugs.


The public dialogue project has three major components:

1. Learning from previously-held dialogues carried out by others, for example studies looking at synthetic biology, the role of industry in science, the GM debate and public attitudes to science.

2. Workshops to examine issues in greater depth with a smaller cross-section of the general public.

3. Online conversations which have the potential to reach a much larger audience to invite comment on bite-sized articles of information – this component will also consider comments on third-party platforms such as newspaper article comments and public conversations on social media.


Prof Sanders added: “It is important for us to understand how people arrive at an opinion, and for us to reflect on that and acknowledge these opinions in our thinking.”

The project is being independently evaluated. It is funded by the John Innes Centre, the BBSRC and Sciencewise, the UK’s national centre for public dialogue in policy-making involving science and technology issues. The project will run until Summer 2015.

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