Thirty years after it was built and subsequently visited by Prince Philip, £450,000 has been spent to bring the Parkinson Plant Growth Unit – located at the King’s Buildings in Edinburgh – up to 21st-century standards.
As well as vastly more efficient heating and lighting systems, the ageing aluminium structure has been replaced with steel, making the building safer in high winds.
Home to around 1,000 plants, hundreds of experiments have taken place in the unit over the past three decades. These studies have led to numerous practical developments, including helping to eradicate virus infections in soft fruit crops, particularly strawberries, and showing that an emerging major barley pathogen, Ramularia collo-cygni, was seed borne.
Current work includes attempting to identify the cause, and then control, of grain skinning (partial loss of the husk) in malting barley, used in the whisky industry.
Members of the Crop and Soils Research Group at Scotland’s Rural College say the improved facility will allow them to carry out experiments with far better control of environmental conditions.
“The original glasshouse has served our researchers extremely well over the past 30 years, with a number of important experiments being carried out. However, this major refurbishment has introduced cutting-edge technology that will allow us to remain at the forefront of plant and soil research.”
Professor Fiona Burnett, Head of the Research Group
Among those celebrating the glasshouse’s re-opening were Senior Technical Supervisor Robert Redpath and Laboratory Co-ordinator Jeanette Taylor, both of whom remember the original glasshouse being built back in 1987.
Robert said: “The integrated level of control and monitoring we now have is far more sophisticated than the disparate systems we had previously. I’m positive it will contribute to more accurate and reliable results as well as significant cost savings by reducing energy use. Coupled with our matching sets of Controlled Environment Chambers, our facilities are now on a par, in terms of quality, with those enjoyed by much larger institutes.”