CABI and Imperial College London have agreed to collaborate further on teaching and research regarding fragile ecosystems, sustainable agriculture, and the environment including how to sensitively manage the world’s biodiversity threatened by climate change.
The agreement signifies a pivotal moment for both institutions. CABI, with its extensive network of Member Countries worldwide and its unwavering commitment to bridging the gap between science and practical application, particularly in the Global South, adds strength to Imperial’s world-class research capacity.
The collaboration will be enhanced by the proposed relocation of CABI’s UK research facilities and staff from Egham to the nearby Silwood Park Campus, near the village of Sunninghill, Ascot, UK, where they will also share many other spaces.
This was solidified in the signing of an official Memorandum of Understanding between the two parties on 6th October 2023.
Scientists from CABI will contribute to delivering lectures to postgraduate students as well as seminars and practical lessons on courses in which they have relevant expertise.
Both parties will identify collaborative research projects as well as the promotion of published science in journals and books. CABI is, for instance, an academic publisher in the life sciences with journals such as CABI Agriculture and Bioscience.
Understanding complex interactions in ecosystems
Dr Richard Shaw, CABI’s Senior Regional Director, Europe, and The Americas, said, “CABI has a long history of collaborating with Imperial College London on areas of mutual scientific interest that include our understanding of the world’s sensitive ecosystems and the environment.
“CABI sees global agriculture embedded in a healthy and climate resilient landscape with clean water and air, healthy soils, and functional ecosystem services, and where biodiversity and livelihoods are safeguarded through the control of invasive species.
“We are delighted to be working closer with Imperial College London – a world class centre of teaching and research – to understand the complex interactions between living organisms, the physical environment and human societies.”
Extending scientific collaboration
CABI has already collaborated with Imperial College London on a range of research initiatives. Recently, for example, CABI agreed to work in partnership as part of the £10m Leverhulme Centre for the Holobiont project which is being led by Imperial’s Professor Tom Bell.
As part of the project, Dr Matthew Ryan, Curator, Genetic Resource Collection at CABI, is sharing CABI’s expertise in the microbiome, biocontrol and collections to help facilitate research which will map the associations between microbes and higher organisms, creating a holobiont ‘tree of life.’ This will track which microbes live with which hosts and highlight patterns across nature.
Dr Ryan also collaborated with Professor Timothy Barraclough, from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial and the Department of Zoology at Oxford, to sequence the genome of Alexander Fleming’s original Penicillium strain using samples (including one owned by CABI) that were frozen alive more than fifty years ago.
Professor Richard Craster, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences at Imperial College London, said: “It is absolutely fantastic to be able to welcome CABI back to Imperial College London’s Silwood Park campus. We have maintained close associations with CABI ever since their inception, and their physical relocation will really turbocharge those connections for the coming decades.”
“Given the huge global challenges we face in relation to food security and developing more sustainable farming practices, both in the UK and worldwide, this partnership is particularly timely. We look forward to exciting future collaborations with CABI, drawing on the strengths of both our institutions.”
Long association with Silwood Park
CABI first came to Silwood Park Campus in 1981 where its scientists worked on the first floor of the Manor House until its own custom-built facility was opened in 1988. CABI employees continued the tradition of studying broom Cytisus scoparius at Silwood Park but this time as a weed in Australia and New Zealand for which natural enemies from the grounds were shipped abroad as part of biocontrol programmes.
Furthermore, the Leverhulme Unit for Population Biology and Biological Control supported joint research between the NERC Centre for Population Biology and CABI during CABI’s initial time at Silwood Park.
CABI moved to Egham in 2001, and their building was converted for teaching and re-named the Hamilton Building in 2009.
Centre of excellence in pure and applied ecology
Imperial’s Silwood Park campus is a leading international centre for interdisciplinary research and teaching in ecology, evolution, conservation and pressing environmental issues. Situated in about 100ha of natural parkland it has been part of Imperial since 1947.
Imperial College London’s Silwood Park Campus was first famous as a centre for applied entomology before developing a world-wide reputation as a centre for excellence in pure and applied ecology.
Silwood Park Campus hosts state-of-the-art facilities that support a variety of ecological and evolutionary research. Facilities include growth chambers for plants and animals, and environmental microbiology and genomics laboratories.
Since the 1990s, research at the Silwood Park Campus has expanded to include evolution, biodiversity, and conservation. One of its long-term experiments of shared interest with CABI is the Pound Hill disturbance timing experiment.
The Pound Hill disturbance timing experiment aims to assess the effect of the timing of cultivation and soil disturbance on grasslands biomass and species composition through changes in the seed bank.
Other work at Silwood Park Campus which has commonality of research for both parties is the Nash’s Field experiment.
For over 30 years, a section of grassland at Silwood Park Campus has been manipulated to understand the degree to which the availability of nutrients and herbivory influence plant species composition and productivity and how their effects impact other organisms and ecosystem functions.
Shared scientific endeavours
Dr Richard Gill, Senior Lecturer, Department of Life Sciences and Academic Lead of Imperial College London’s Silwood Park Campus, said, “We are very excited about this move as it will further improve our partnership with CABI in developing innovative and impactful scientific solutions to help global sustainability.
“This is particularly important in respect of our expertise in understanding how agricultural practices and climate change, independently and in combination, impact insects which have fundamental impacts on the health of ecosystems.
“Our collaborations with CABI will draw upon expertise in understanding how these factors affect our ability to understand the spread and distribution of crop pests and beneficial insects. This is key if we are to mitigate crop yield losses and achieve sustainable food systems capable of feeding our growing planet.”
Main photo: Professor Richard Craster, Dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences, and Dr Daniel Elger, CABI CEO (Credit: Fergus Burnett – fergusburnett.com/Imperial College London).
See also Imperial College London’s article in relation to this story here.