The Sainsbury Laboratory was established in 1987 when an agreement was signed, setting up the Laboratory as a joint venture between the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, the John Innes Foundation, the University of East Anglia and the Agricultural and Food Research Council (now BBSRC). The first staff were employed in late 1987 and the current laboratory building was constructed at the John Innes Centre and occupied in 1989.

The strategy of funding talented, innovative scientists rather than specific projects was crucial in the establishment of the Laboratory and the achievements of the first senior scientists, David Baulcombe, Mike Daniels and Jonathan Jones in 1987-88, followed by Paul Schulze-Lefert in 1996 were key to developing the reputation of the lab over the course of the first two five-year research cycles. Groundbreaking work that arose from the Laboratory includes the cloning of the first of the receptor-like protein class of plant resistance genes and the discovery of small interfering RNA (siRNA), the specificity determinant in RNA-mediated gene silencing.

The continued policy of recruiting outstanding individual scientists to lead research groups during subsequent research cycles broadened the scientific base of the laboratory; Anne Osbourn, Jane Parker, Martin Parniske, Ken Shirasu, Scott Peck, John Rathjen and Volker Lipka all have left their scientific mark on both the laboratory and the worldwide research community. Presently the laboratory houses six research groups, headed by Cyril Zipfel, Jonathan Jones, Sophien Kamoun, Silke Robatzek, Matthew Moscou and Ksenia Krasileva.

An original aim of establishing the Laboratory was to ensure that discoveries made within the science groups would lead to beneficial agronomic applications. In 2009 the Laboratory formed a research partnership with the Two Blades Foundation (2Blades). The new partnership enables 2Blades to operate an applied research program within the Sainsbury Laboratory, giving them access to the world-renowned expertise while enabling the laboratory to expand its fundamental scientific research to support agriculture directly. The 2Blades group at TSL is led by Peter van Esse.

In addition to scientific excellence within the research groups, one of the many strengths of the Laboratory has been the ability to invest in scientific support teams, which allow the Laboratory to quickly take advantage of new techniques and technologies. The Tissue Culture and Transformation team was established as a lab-wide support service in 2003, followed by Proteomics and Bioinformatics in 2005. More recently, in 2013, The Laboratory has established a Synthetic Biology group which will allow TSL to quickly adopt, and be at the forefront of, new advances in targeted mutagenesis and genetic engineering.


25th Anniversary of The Sainsbury Laboratory

2013 marked the 25th Anniversary of the Laboratory. To celebrate, a 25th Anniversary Symposium was to held to which we invited all alumni and friends of the lab. The event was a moment to reflect on the achievements of the Laboratory, reconnect with colleagues and, and appreciate the wide-ranging activities our alumni have pursued after they left the Laboratory. The Anniversary Symposium was also our opportunity to thank David Sainsbury and the Gatsby Foundation Trustees and Advisors for their unrelenting support of plant science and the Laboratory.


Alumni joined TSL researchers in 2013 for a day celebrating the 25th birthday of The Sainsbury Laboratory.

A commemorative book and short film were also also published, a downloadable version of the book can be accessed from here (TSL 25th Anniversary Book – downloadable pdf) and the video can be viewed below.

TSL25_Cover copy