About TSL

The Sainsbury Laboratory (TSL) is a charitable company of approximately 70 research scientists and support staff and a world leader in plant science. We are based on the Norwich Research Park and closely linked to the Gatsby Charitable Foundation, University of East Anglia and the John Innes Centre.

TSL is dedicated to making fundamental discoveries about plants and how they interact with microbes and viruses and favours daring, long-term research over work that could be equally well carried out elsewhere.

In addition to the fundamental research conducted within the laboratory, TSL has decided to develop a new programme TSL+ which will expand our mission and encompass projects with a more direct applied aspect, in many cases building on discoveries that have arisen from the fundamental work in the lab. In doing this, we will commit core resources of the lab to projects that aim to reduce crop losses to important diseases.

The Laboratory seeks to put all its scientific discoveries into the public domain and this is mainly achieved through participation in conferences, publication of peer-reviewed scientific papers, review articles and popular science features.

Although the Laboratory's primary mission is to perform world class, curiosity-driven research, its policy is also to protect and exploit any intellectual property for the public good. To facilitate this, Gatsby and the John Innes Centre have established Plant Bioscience Ltd to licence its discoveries. PBL is jointly and equally owned by The John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory and the BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biological Ciences Research Council).



An agreement was signed in 1987, setting up the Laboratory as a joint venture between the Gatsby Charitable Foundation (Gatsby), the John Innes Foundation (JIF), UEA and the Agricultural and Food Research Council (now BBSRC). The current laboratory building was constructed at the John Innes Centre and occupied in 1989. Although it is a separate legal entity, the Laboratory participates fully in the life of the John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia.

From its inception, the SL has been generously supported by the Gatsby Charitable Foundation. Gatsby, one of The Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts, currently focuses its grantmaking on a limited number of fields. In addition to plant science, these include technical education, economic and social research, disadvantaged children, mental health, cognitive neuroscience, work in sub-Saharan Africa and a few institutions in the Arts. In the mid 1980s the Gatsby trustees decided to establish the Sainsbury Laboratory to investigate plant interactions with microbes and viruses, using state-of-the-art genetics and molecular biology techniques. This topic was chosen because the UK already had considerable expertise in this area, and because it presented a large number of questions with fundamental significance in biology, with good prospects that any discoveries might be usefully applied.


Gatsby currently provides ~ 75% of the Laboratory's income, with the balance coming from competitive grants and contracts from a range of public and private bodies, including the EU, BBSRC and commercial and charitable organisations. TSL Project Leaders can and do submit proposals for BBSRC and EU grants, which are only awarded after stringent external peer review. TSL group leaders win BBSRC grants entirely as a consequence of their scientific creativity and credibility.
We are committed to ensuring that staff who pass through the laboratory receive excellent training and we are proud a large number of our group leaders and post-doctoral scientists have moved on to prestigious positions elsewhere (see Alumni page). We currently have five group leaders, with equal core budgets, and anticipate outside funding will continue to support 25-35% of our scientific activity.