• Award brings focus to UK plant research
    Yiliang Ding (Credit: John Innes Centre)

Research News

Award brings focus to UK plant research

Feb 13 2024

Recognised for her Pioneering research investigating the structure and function of RNA in living cells Dr Yiliang Ding, a group leader at the John Innes Centre (JIC) in Norwich, is among nine recipients of the 2024 Blavatnik Awards for Young Scientists in the UK.

Yiliang is the first UK plant scientist to receive a Blavatnik Award: “This is a great personal accolade, an honour for my group and the John Innes Centre. It’s wonderful that the global community has recognised the importance of plant science in trying to solve the critical challenges of feeding the world, improving crop yields and combatting plant health threats,” she said.

Her group is focused on methods of profiling the structure of RNA inside living cells, providing a springboard for the global use of RNA structure-guided therapeutics for human health and crop improvement. These methods are already being applied in RNA-based therapies for both human and plant viruses.  

Professor Graham Moore, Director of the John Innes, said: “Yiliang’s research is world-leading and it is wonderful that she has been recognised by the Blavatnik Foundation with this award. Yiliang and her team push the boundaries of what we know about RNA, developing tools and techniques to unravel this fascinating and vital area of biology. Their fundamental scientific discoveries and their dedication to translating this into real world solutions epitomises the role of the John Innes Centre.” 

As well as discovering the complex, dynamic structures and shapes that RNA  can form Yiliang’s research team is also designing small anti-viral molecules to treat plant viruses and other plant pathogens, with the potential for exciting applications in agriculture. For example the team have been investigating Beet Viruses, a major threat to sugar beet production across the East of England and throughout Europe. Using novel technologies to capture the RNA structures of the sugar beet virus, they designed the anti-viral small molecules to clean out the plant virus. The technology is being carried forward in collaboration with industrial partners as part of the spinout company RNAshield.

The awards, supported by the Blavatnik Family Foundation and the New York Academy of Sciences, recognise achievements of reserachers aged 42 and under that impact on medicine, technology and our understanding of the world, across Chemical Sciences, Physical Sciences & Engineering and Life Sciences.

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