Essex in UK's Best Breakthroughs List

  • Date

    Thu 6 Dec 18

Essex research featured in Made at Uni campaign

Essex research looking to improve crop productivity to help feed the world is included on a list of the UK’s 100 best breakthroughs which are having a significant impact on people’s everyday lives.

Essex has an international reputation for innovation and excellence in photosynthesis − the process that enables plants to harvest energy from the sun and convert it to products for food and fuel. This has led Essex researchers to be included in the UK’s Best Breakthroughs list compiled by Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities, as part of the new MadeAtUni campaign.

In partnership with Lancaster University and Rothamstad Research, researchers at Essex have developed wheat plants that can carry out photosynthesis more efficiently, meaning the plants grow at a faster rate and deliver higher yields of grain.

As part of the international Realizing Increased Photosynthetic Efficiency (RIPE) project, Essex scientists have also found a way to increase the production of a common, naturally occurring protein in plant leaves, which could increase the yields of major food crops by almost 50%. This could be vital to feeding the world’s growing population in the decades ahead.

Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research) at Essex Professor Christine Raines, who is also closely involved in Essex’s research on photosynthesis, said: ““We’re very proud to be featured in the UK’s Best Breakthrough list. This is just one example of how research at Essex makes a real difference locally, regionally and nationally. We’re recognised internationally for research stretching across the social sciences, the humanities, and science and health.

“Through our research we shape thinking, influence policy and impact on people’s everyday lives through our work and we’re committed to closely linking this into the educational experience of our students.

“The MadeAtUni campaign is an incredibly important initiative for Essex as it allows the wider community to understand the work that we do and the impact it has.”

The list of breakthroughs demonstrates how UK universities are at the forefront of some of the world’s most important discoveries, innovations and social initiatives, including the discovery of penicillin, work tackling plastic pollution, ultrasound scans to check the health of unborn babies and the establishment of the Living Wage.

The list also highlights the less celebrated but vital breakthroughs that transform lives, including a specially-designed bra to help women undergoing radiotherapy; a toilet that flushes human waste without the need for water; the development of a new scrum technique to make rugby safer; a sports initiative that aims to use football to resolve conflict in divided communities; - and even work to protect the quality of the chocolate we eat.

The list was compiled by Universities UK, the umbrella group for UK universities, as part of the MadeAtUni campaign to change public perceptions of universities and bring to life the difference they make to people, lives and communities across the UK.

It follows independent research undertaken by Britain Thinks which found that the public has little understanding of the benefits of universities beyond undergraduate teaching. The findings show that research is one of the key triggers to change opinion about universities but for many people, it is an abstract concept.

Professor Dame Janet Beer, President of Universities UK, said: “Universities really do transform lives. The technology we use every day, the medicines that save lives, the teachers who inspire – all come from UK universities and the important work being done by academics.

“The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list is a testament to the difference that universities make to people’s lives and we want everyone to join us in celebrating the work they do.”

The UK’s Best Breakthroughs list: 100+ Ways Universities Have Improved Everyday Life was put together in partnership with universities across the UK. As part of the MadeAtUni campaign, every university in the country was invited to nominate the one thing from their institution which they believe has had the biggest impact on people, lives and communities. Over 100 universities submitted a nomination. The entries cover health, technology, environment, family, community and culture and sport.

You can find out more about the UK’s Best Breakthroughs and the MadeAtUni campaign at