SWINDON scientist Phillipa Borrill is seeking to boost global food production in research she is presenting to Parliament.

Phillipa, 24, is near the end of her PhD at the John Innes Centre in Norwich, and was shortlisted from hundreds of applicants to present her findings to a panel of experts and politicians as part of the SET for Britain competition on March 17.

“This is a great opportunity to present my work to policy makers and make a difference to science strategy,” she said.

“I am working on plant science, in particular on wheat. It is a really important staple crop, and it provides 20 per cent of all calories world wide.

“I have been working on nutrient content in the genes of the crop, and trying to develop a gene to improve it.

“Currently it does not have a very high iron content.

“My research is still under way, and I am approaching the end of my PhD, but we have made some useful discoveries. We found some wheat genes that could directly affect the content.

“The idea is that you could introduce these genes into wheat to improve cultivation.

“The companies that provide wheat seeds to farmers, called breeding companies, release different varieties of wheat, so we would need to target them to introduce this gene.”

Phillipa said she was slightly daunted by the prospect of delivering her work to the top decision-makers, but hoped she could set out her case properly.

“I am just going to try to explain my work in a clear way and hopefully they will appreciate it,” she said. “Some of the judges will be from scientific backgrounds, but the House of Lords and House of Commons have also been invited to the event.

“I have already invited my local MPs, James Gray for Wootton Bassett, and Simon Wright in Norwich. I hope they come.

“It is really hard to anticipate the other entrants, but there will be people there who have been working on their research longer than me. It is hard to predict what the judges are looking for, but I am working on an area of research which is important to the UK economy.”

Andrew Miller MP, chairman of the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee, said: “This annual competition is an important date in the parliamentary calendar because it gives MPs an opportunity to speak to a wide range of the country’s best young researchers.

“These early career engineers, mathematicians and scientists are the architects of our future and SET for Britain is politicians’ best opportunity to meet them and understand their work.”

Dr Mark Downs, chief executive of the Society of Biology, said: “Scientists and politicians both have major roles in addressing some of society’s biggest challenges, from climate change to food security. SET for Britain is a rare opportunity for politicians to meet some of our most promising young scientists and understand their work.”

The aims of SET

The aim of SET for Britain is to support and promote Britain’s early-career research scientists, engineers, technologists and mathematicians who are the basis of continued progress in and development of UK research.

The SET for Britain campaign brings together a series of poster competitions and exhibitions in the House of Commons. It came to a halt in 2007 after the death of its organiser, Dr Eric Wharton.

In 2008, the Parliamentary and Scientific Committee joined together with the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the Institute of Physics and the Society of Biology to revive SET.

First prize is £3,000, with £2,000 awarded to the runner up and a £1,000 payment for third place.The exhibition and reception will be the House of Commons Terrace Marquee on Monday, March 17, during National Science and Engineering Week.

Entrants will be judged on five categories; biology, chemistry, engineering, maths and physics.