by Michael Rochards (APB3)
One of the world’s largest agrochemical, seed, and biotechnological companies, Syngenta, is a diverse active site with cross functionality. After tea and biscuits, we were introduced to the company by the biologist Jim Morton, who after a brief presentation, acted as our affable host around the greenhouses and the laboratories. The greenhouse tour took in work with Double Haploid breeding programmes between maize and winter wheat which allow for a plant to achieve homozygosity. Taking 7-8 years to achieve, every ear of corn checked every day for signs of pollination. Other greenhouses showed spraying systems (including a rain-station to replicate constant downpour, which would assess the efficiency of products in the field). Low tech met high tech as plants men were seen with plastic buckets, plants being sprayed by test solutions and the results assessed visually; biologists and chemists meet regularly to discuss results.
Then into the smarter laboratories; ‘mother’ plates holding novel chemical compounds and plants (here Arabidopsis) were allowed to grow (or rather not grow!) and then analysed with a high throughout phenotyping platform. 3-5,000 possible configurations being assessed which may eventually lead to one product; their ‘library’ a repository of tens of thousands of chemical signatures. An £8 million pound robotic system, probably the world’s most expensive cocktail shaker, takes samples, photographs (and lots of other things besides) and allows for assessments to be made of developmental solutions.
After kindly providing lunch of sandwiches, crisps, and chocolate, an ecotoxicology presentation by Heidi Cunningham showed Syngenta’s work with environmental assessment models, which fitted well with our AE3010 module; altogether a welcoming and interesting experience, showing insight into Syngenta’s work.