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Rothamsted Research, previously known as the Rothamsted Experimental Station and then the Institute of Arable Crops Research, is one of the oldest agricultural research institutions in the world, having been founded in 1843. It is located at Harpenden in the English county ofHertfordshire.
One of the station's best known and longest running experiments is the Park Grass Experiment, a biological study that started in 1856 and has been continuously monitored ever since.
The Rothamsted Experimental Station was founded in 1843 by John Bennet Lawes on his inherited 16th century estate, Rothamsted Manor, to investigate the impact of inorganic and organic fertilizers on crop yield. Lawes, a noted Victorian era entrepreneur and scientist, had founded one of the first artificial fertilizer manufacturing factories one year earlier in 1842.
Appointing a young chemist, Joseph Henry Gilbert, as his scientific collaborator, Lawes launched the first of a series of long-term field experiments, some of which continue to this day. Over the next 57 years, Lawes and Gilbert established the foundations of modern scientific agriculture and the principles of crop nutrition.
In 1902 Daniel Hall moved from Wye College to become director. Hall took a lower salary to join an establishment lacking money, staff, and direction. Hall decided that Rothamsted needed to specialise and that it needed new sources of finance. He was eventually successful in obtaining state support for agricultural research. In 1912 John Russell who had come from Wye in 1907 took over as director and continued in the post until 1943. Russell saw through a major expansion in the 1920s. In 1943 Russell retired and was replaced by Sir William Gammie Ogg. During Ogg's directorship which ended in 1958 the number of staff increased from 140 to 471 and new departments of biochemistry,nematology, and pedology were formed.
Many distinguished scientists have been associated with Rothamsted. In 1919 Russell hired Ronald Fisher to investigate the possibility of analysing the vast amount of data accumulated from the "Classical Field Experiments." Fisher analysed the data and stayed to create the theory of experimental design, making Rothamsted a major centre for research in statistics and genetics. Among his appointments and successors in the Statistics department were Oscar Irwin, John Wishart, Frank Yates, William Cochran and John Nelder. Indeed, many[who?] consider Rothamsted to be the most important birthplace of modern statistical theory and practice.
Partly through these methods, researchers at Rothamsted have made significant contributions to agricultural science, including the discovery and development of systemic herbicides and pyrethroid insecticides, as well as pioneering contributions to the fields of virology, nematology, soil science and pesticide resistance. During World War II, aiming to increase crop yields for a nation at war, a team under the leadership of Judah Hirsch Quastel developed 2,4-D, still the most widely used weed-killer in the world.
In 1987, Rothamsted, the Long Ashton Research Station, and Broom's Barn Experimental Stationmerged to form the Institute of Arable Crops Research (IACR). The Long Ashton Research Station was closed in 2002, with some of its staff moved to Rothamsted, whilst Broom's Barn is operated as an experimental farm for Rothamsted.
Rothamsted is now operated by a grouping of private organizations under the name of Rothamsted Research and is mainly funded by various branches of the UK government through the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council and Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs(Defra). Rothamsted Research supports around 350 scientists (including 50 visiting scientists), 150 administrative staff and 60 PhD students.
As well as the Rothamsted site Rothamsted Research also operates:
- Broom's Barn, a 120-hectare (300-acre) experimental farm near Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, which is the UK's national centre for sugar beetresearch.
- North Wyke, 250 hectares (620 acres) of grassland near Okehampton, Devon. It provides a "Farm Platform" allowing research teams to conduct experiments on three 25-hectare (62-acre) mini farms. It was formerly part of the Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research.
Its research program has four main areas:
- 20:20 Wheat: increasing wheat productivity to yield 20 (metric) tonnes per hectare in 20 years from the current nine tonnes per hectare in 2012.
- Cropping carbon: optimising carbon capture by grasslands and perennial energy crops, such as willow.
- Designing seeds: improved health and nutrition through seeds.
- Delivering sustainable systems: investigating sustainable agricultural systems to increase productivity while minimising environmental impact.
It also operates:
- The Insect Survey: two national networks for monitoring insect populations in the UK.
- PHI-base: a database of multiple pathogen-host interactions.
In 2012 Rothamsted started testing genetically modified wheat which has been modified to produce an aphid alarm pheromone produced by aphids when under attack, this helps deter the pests. This trial has attracted criticism from anti-GM groups and "about 200" people attempted to occupy the site on 27 May 2012. They were prevented by a large police presence and the protest ended peacefully, however one protestor did trespass and damage the crop. The protestor was later arrested, tried and fined 4000 pounds.
A video appeal by scientists at Rothamsted led to over 6000 people signing a 'Don't destroy research' petition organised by Sense About Science. Sense About Science also organised a question and answer session with scientists. The author Mark Lynas commented that Rothamsted's successful campaign may be a turning point for GMOs.
People associated with Rothamsted
- John Bennet Lawes (1843-1900)
- Alfred Daniel Hall (1902-1912)
- E. John Russell (1912-1943)
- William Gammie Ogg (1943-1958)
- Frederick Charles Bawden (1958-1972)
- Leslie Fowden (1973-1988)
- Kenneth Treharne (1988-1989)
- Trevor Lewis (1989-1993)
- Benjamin J. Miflin (1994-1998)
- Ian R. Crute (1999-2009)
- Maurice Moloney (2010-2013)
- Achim Dobermann (2014-)
Chemists and biochemists
Edward Mortimer Crowther
Some of the chemists associated with Rothamsted can be found by searching on Rothamsted on the Biographical Database of the British Chemical Community, 1880-1970.
- Ronald Fisher, statistician, evolutionary biologist, eugenicist and geneticist.
- Oscar Irwin
- John Wishart
- Frank Yates
- William Cochran
- John Nelder
- Robert Wedderburn
- John Anscombe