Pioneering Plant Hormone Research and Our Own Glass Blowers

Gordon Allison, Mike Morris

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


In the 1960s, much of the equipment now used for the measurement and purification of plant metabolites and hormones had not been invented or was not commercially available. Scientists designed the kit they used, which was then made specifically for their work by the scientists themselves, by skilled artisans employed by the University (including our very own glass-blowers), or by specialist suppliers. This unique and highly complex piece of machinery was built to the specification of scientists at the Welsh Plant Breeding Station by the laboratory glassware manufacturer QuickFit in that era. It was used to extract from plants hormones and substances responsible for key processes, including ripening, leaf loss and new growth. By isolating hormones to nearly pure form, our scientists were able to study their specific effects on plants. The machine is known as a Craig apparatus, and it relies on liquid: liquid extraction and concentration. Although now obsolete, this unit was a forerunner of today’s highly efficient separation systems, such as high-performance countercurrent chromatography, which has been used at IBERS to develop methods for the efficient isolation of galanthamine from daffodils. This important alkaloid drug inhibits acetylcholinesterase activity in the central nervous system and is licensed for the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. According to the current Head of IBERS, Professor Iain Donnison, this unit symbolises Aberystwyth’s important role in plant hormone research and the work of world-leading researchers such as Professor Philip Wareing FRS, Head of Botany (1958–1981). It is worthy, he says, of a place in the National Science Museum. The Craig apparatus is currently on display in the BEACON office at Gogerddan. This is fitting, as Beacon (The Welsh Centre of Excellence for Biorefining) is an IBERS project dedicated to interaction with Welsh companies. BEACON develops fractionation and large-scale purification
technologies that are used at a commercial scale within Wales, delivering intellectual property and jobs and supporting the Welsh knowledge-based economy.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Pennies of the People: Aberystwyth University in 150 Objects
Subtitle of host publicationCeiniogau'r Werin: Prifysgol Aberystwyth mewn 150 Gwrthrych
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2022


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