TW3, for those old enough to remember, was a pioneering piece of TV satire that took a wry look at (mainly political) events of the previous week. While this blog has no such aspirations, it has often tended to follow a style that looks back at previous events. At this time of year, and given that this blog is a little over a year old, it is reasonable to reflect on some of the stories that we highlighted this year, whether in our news or via media releases. Some were about awards to our scientists, including the Jim Gray award to Carole Goble, Honours at the New Year and the Birthday Honours, The Times Higher Research Project of the Year to Bill Davies and his team, and 3 Queen’s Anniversary Prizes.
A number of other stories were about funding announcements, including the £100M for the Institute of Animal Health at Pirbright, the £10M towards ELIXIR, the £10M Bees and other pollinators initiative, and the funding pulse we announced for important short-term research into H1N1 swine flu. Happily, as I discussed in my blog in May, twice, and in June, swine flu thus far has proved not to be as virulent as was predicted by some. I note that we were already funding work that produced some significant advances this year, e.g. work for H1N1 vaccine discovery by expression in plants, and genomic studies of H1N1 evolution.
I have blogged regularly (and indeed written the occasional Open Access article) about the opportunities for exploiting the thinking behind Web 2.0 and the Semantic Web to enhance scientific publications, and a very exciting development, including an article that I co-authored, has just been announced by the Biochemical Journal. Using the freely available Utopia Documents software, the Semantic Biochemical Journal experiment is designed to assess the utility of some of these approaches. Bibliometrics and related activities (including the necessary data visualisation) continue to hold considerable intellectual interest for me, and while following some of this material I was pleased to note that this year my own H-index of peer-reviewed papers and reviews first exceeded my calendar age in years. If like me you have an unhealthy interest in obscure statistics, such as those available for professional cricket matches and their participants, it is likely that there will soon be a league table ranking the youngest ages for which H-indices exceed calendar age! Whether it is any kind of guide to anything useful remains to be seen.
Looking ahead, it is easy to make some predictions for next year. The first is known already, and it is that I shall, early in January, be giving evidence to the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee inquiry into Bioengineering. Another, following last week’s launch of our Food Security website, is that Food Security will continue to rise up the scientific agenda, and will be a substantial part of our Strategic Plan on which we consulted this year and will be published reasonably early in 2010. I anticipate also that we shall be working to tackle the issue of Big Data (one take is here), the subject of a BBSRC trip that I led to the USA; one question certainly relates to how best we might determine the most appropriate kind of Cloud Computing for different kinds of data, both in different kinds of biology and by comparison with other disciplines. That the amount of online digital data will increase hugely is certain, not least because of the increased rate with which nucleic acids can be sequenced. All of this relates to our 10-year vision programme for predictive and quantitative biology, involving the recognition that the main issue of systems biology (or systems anything) requires understanding and modelling the relevant networks, as a route towards digital, in silico or virtual organisms. One day soon, folk will express astonishment at the thought that most biological experiments were performed on systems that had not been modelled first. Biological routes to energy and chemicals will continue to increase in significance, and barring major natural disasters it is likely that the UK population will increase its longevity. Our job is to help make that increased longevity healthy. A happy note on which to end, and to wish readers a very relaxing holiday and a rewarding 2010.
- Attwood TK, Kell DB, McDermott P, Marsh J, Pettifer SR, Thorne D: Calling International Rescue: knowledge lost in literature and data landslide! Biochem J 2009; 424:317-333. Full free pdf
- Hull D, Pettifer SR, Kell DB: Defrosting the digital library: bibliographic tools for the next generation web. PLoS Comput Biol 2008; 4:e1000204. doi:1000210.1001371/journal.pcbi.1000204.
- Kell DB: The virtual human: towards a global systems biology of multiscale, distributed biochemical network models. IUBMB Life 2007; 59:689-695.
- Pettifer SR, Thorne D, McDermott P, Marsh J, Villéger A, Kell DB, Attwood TK: Visualising biological data: a semantic approach to tool and database integration. BMC Bioinformatics 2009; 10:S19. Full free pdf