Much of last week was spent in Norwich, first at a moving memorial event for Chris Lamb (obituary) and then in various discussions about scientific strategies for both the John Innes Centre (JIC) and the Norwich Research Park (NRP) more generally. Scientific research and development represent the major drivers of economic growth throughout history, and the NRP is recognized as an extremely important contributor to the economic life of the region (and the UK generally). Thus, an economic impact report commissioned in 2008 shows that the John Innes Centre contributes over £170M annually to the UK economy, demonstrating both the impact and relevance of the excellent scientific research undertaken, and validating the investment of public funding to support it.

Food, diet and health are of interest to everyone – we all get older, would like to remain healthy, we all need to eat and, by definition, will remain healthy in part via a healthy diet. Thus these topics form a core part of our existing programme and our emerging 5-year strategy, on which we continue to consult (the consultation phase closes on September 14th). The epidemiological evidence for the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables (encapsulated in the 5-a-day slogan) is very strong, and evidence for the types of molecule involved (such as polyphenols and related antioxidants) continues to increase. The purple tomatoes produced at the JIC and the high-glucosinolate broccoli from our Institute for Food Research (IFR) are two examples of this kind of research, while my recent reading has also alerted me to research elsewhere on purple potatoes and the possible role of green tea (catechins) in preventing prostate cancer. As well as the need for increased yields as part of the Food Security agenda, improvements in the nutritional quality of what we eat and drink (with some elements being dubbed Biomedical Agriculture) is going to be a major part of the contribution of our science to human and animal health and wellbeing, and to our understanding of its biochemical and cellular bases.

Finally, I blogged before about my visit to the ‘unconference’ SciFoo09, which provided an excellent opportunity to think, inter alia, about new digital opportunities. Other resources available from this meeting are a collection of blog posts, articles and photos, and now a video. Maybe, especially to help catalyse multi- and interdisciplinary projects, BBSRC should sponsor an unconference of some kind?

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