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The James Hutton Institute's response to COVID-19: we will try our hardest to help

“We are helping to tackle COVID-19 where we can. It can be surprising how we might assist, so please don’t hesitate to ask. We will try our hardest.”

As a world-leading research organisation, the James Hutton Institute has areas of expertise and facilities which may be of use in understanding and responding to the immediate challenges raised by the COVID-19 pandemic. While we more normally test viruses that cause disease in crops, we have a large capacity to do biological testing and have registered our expertise, facilities and resources with the NHS to help with testing for COVID-19 if needed. We also maintain environment observation stations for monitoring our natural assets such as air, soil and water and given the extraordinary situation it is even more important these are maintained and provide evidence of the interruption to what was “business as normal”. Other contributions that the Institute has made so far include:

High-performance computing

High-performance computing (HPC) is central to many areas of science performed by the Institute. It allows us to tackle data analysis problems at scales beyond those possible with normal PCs, such as processing what is known as Big Data including terabyte-sized Next-Generation sequencing, environmental and remote sensing data sets, analysing hyperspectral images of plants, or running complex climate and weather models.

We are facilitating the use of our HPC capabilities to researchers helping Colombian authorities analyse data and understand the epidemiology of the pandemic there. The South American nation has introduced quarantine measures and as of 7th April, it has 1,579 cases of COVID-19 and 46 deaths.

Social science and community resilience

The COVID19 outbreak and lockdown has far reaching consequences for communities and individuals. The Institute has nearly 40 social scientists with a range of skills including research experience on community resilience and who are well networked with local resilience teams. In the context of COVID-19, they are well placed to facilitate joined-up working across different local teams or make suggestions about how new teams might be created where they do not yet exist.

Recent work on flooding has highlighted ongoing consequences for mental wellbeing and Hutton staff can also help facilitate means of supporting greater emotional resilience in communities arising from COVID-19. One of our experts in this has been invited to share her knowledge and experience through membership of the Scottish Government’s COVID-19 Stakeholder group on the rural economy and communities.

Donations of PPE equipment

Personal protective equipment used in our labs is the same as used in the NHS frontline. The Institute has offered surpluses of PPE to aid the NHS effort, and masks, safety glasses, 4500 gloves and >1000 overshoes have been donated so far. We are also trying to source and release more stock to help care workers.

Lab equipment loans to NHS

The Institute has substantial expertise, equipment and facilities for undertaking molecular biology, including working with RNA and PCR based diagnostic tests and we use high-throughput instruments to do this. Two Hutton, automated, high-throughput extraction systems have been loaned on to NHS Highland and NHS Lanarkshire to assist with COVID-19 testing and DNA sequencing.

Food supplies

Food supplies are at the top of most people’s concerns, and our researchers routinely advise growers around adapting to extreme events, climate and we conduct surveillance of crop pests and diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic involves an element of disruption to food systems and food culture, and there are concerns about how dietary choices can rapidly shift at the population level. The Institute has been approached by the media and industry with enquiries about how the UK might meet the challenge of keeping properly fed and ensuring the distribution of essential supplies.

Staff volunteering

Institute staff are showing exceptional cooperation and adaption and are fully aware of the need to help others. In addition to those with the specific expertise in science (molecular biology, bioinformatics; mathematic modelling) who have registered to help the NHS and think-tanks tackling the problem, Hutton staff have skills in project management, finance, and communications and they have indicated a strong willingness to help with any potential disruption to staffing arising from COVID-19 within Scottish Government and, more broadly, across the public sector. We are also actively encouraging general volunteering within our local communities and helping neighbours and those most at risk.

Professor Colin Campbell, Chief Executive, said: “We are helping to tackle COVID-19 where we can. It can be surprising how we might assist, so please don’t hesitate to ask.

“We will try our hardest.”

More information from: 

Bernardo Rodriguez-Salcedo, Media Manager, Tel: +44 (0)1224 395089 (direct line), +44 (0)344 928 5428 (switchboard) or +44 (0)7791 193918 (mobile).


Printed from /news/james-hutton-institutes-response-covid-19-we-will-try-our-hardest-help on 01/06/20 03:29:20 AM

The James Hutton Research Institute is the result of the merger in April 2011 of MLURI and SCRI. This merger formed a new powerhouse for research into food, land use, and climate change.