Among last week’s engagements was the excellent launch of our joint programme (with DfID and the Scottish Government) entitled Combating Infectious Diseases of Livestock in Developing Countries (more manageably: CIDLID). Livestock are often the chief assets of the rural poor, and their diseases can consequently be particularly devastating. CIDLID will provide ca £13M of research investment via 16 grant proposals, each involving researchers based in the UK and in appropriate developing countries. As with the eradication of Rinderpest (considered to be worth $1Bn per annum), to which we contributed significantly (PDF), the potential gains could be huge.
I also had a useful meeting with Nigel Gaymond, CEO of the BioIndustry Association. Both biopharmaceuticals and Industrial Biotechnology are key themes for us, and the BIA is an organisation that represents both those industries very effectively.
Many of the winners of the latest (biennial) Queen’s Anniversary Prizes for Higher and Further Education – whose dinner I was delighted to attend – came from our community, including Bill Davies and colleagues from Lancaster for their work on increasing water use efficiency in crops (“Plant science applied to water shortage, crop yield and global food security”), Tom Kirkwood and colleagues from The Institute for Healthy Ageing and Health from Newcastle (“Research on ageing, with important applications for health and care”) and the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University for a series of plant breeding projects (“Combining plant breeding and genetics research to improve farming and combat climate change”). I hope that our community will continue to enter this most prestigious and worthwhile competition.
The winners of another competition were announced this week, in this case BBSRC’s own photographic competition. There were some truly stunning pictures, accompanied by scientific commentaries, that have attracted a considerable amount of press coverage. The winning picture (JPG) was of a weaver ant demonstrating how evolution (like ‘Post-it’ notes many Mega-years later) solved the problem of sticking to a smooth surface reversibly. Technology imitating Life and Art. The depth and breadth of photographic talent clearly suggests that we should run this competition again.
It is widely recognised that some ideas can take many years to come to fruition, that their effects may be in fields quite distant from their origins, and (I would add) that serendipity is the handmaiden of stochastic reading and discussions. One article in New Scientist that I read on a train updated me on the exciting developments on the Memristor. This is a fundamental electrical circuit element (like resistors, capacitors and inductors) whose existence had been predicted on (deep) theoretical grounds by Leon Chua in 1971, but which was only reduced to practice in 2008. Now it may turn out to be (or contribute to) an excellent model for how biological memory (and other biological circuitry) works; it certainly opens up huge opportunities that go well beyond artificial neural networks, a powerful tool for data mining and nonlinear mapping on which I once published a fair few papers.
- Chua, L. (1971), “Memristor—The Missing Circuit Element“, IEEE Trans Circuit Theory CT-18: 507–519
- Strukov, D. B., Snider, G. S., Stewart, D. R. & Williams, S. R. (2008) The missing memristor found. Nature 453, 80-83.