Unlike the Spartoí, born of dragon’s teeth, Strategic Plans do not spring fully formed from the earth. Ours, which was launched this week with an accompanying video, represents the culmination of considerable work and extensive consultations with our community and with our Strategy Panels and Strategy Advisory Board. Indeed the formal consultation phase attracted more than 120 written replies from individuals and organisations. Under the strapline the Age of Bioscience, the resulting document (PDF) both celebrates the strength and importance of UK Bioscience, and sets out a most exciting vision of how BBSRC science can continue to contribute hugely to the health and wealth of the nation (and globally). As part of our continuing consultation, reactions to the strategic plans are invited via this blog or via twitter.

Earlier in the week, I had an excellent visit to the University of Newcastle, including a tour of the Newcastle Centre for Integrative Systems Biology and the Campus for Ageing and Vitality. Understanding Healthy Ageing is an important focus of our Strategic Plan, and Newcastle’s strategic focus on this topic has led to the creation of a considerable concentration of researchers taking different approaches to this basic yet vital aspect of biology.

Another area of considerable interest to us is Food Security, and I had the pleasure of joining a gathering of scientists, politicians and other stakeholders in a celebration at the House of Lords of the centenary of the John Innes Centre. The JIC and The Sainsbury Laboratory have also published a useful summary (PDF) of the role of plant science in addressing the issues of Food Security. Most of our Institutes (TGAC an exception) began life as agricultural research Institutes, and we had one of our regular meetings with Institute Directors, this one held at the Institute for Animal Health in Pirbright. These provide an opportunity for the host Institute to share its science, and for everyone to plan for the future and to share good practice.

I also enjoyed attending the annual dinner of the Bioindustry Association, where the winners of the Biotechnology YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme) competition that we co-sponsor were also highlighted. This competition is now 15 years old, and has been enormously valuable in exposing research students and postdocs to entrepreneurship. Not a Dragon’s Den but a lot of fun.

Notwithstanding the technological advances in nucleic acid sequencing, and the consequent huge increases in numbers of organisms whose genomes have been fully sequenced, some important bacteria such as Micrococcus luteus are only just being done (long after other actinobacteria, and even, as here, when their genome is just 2.5 Mbases, albeit 73% G+C). I was thus extremely pleased to see that of Micrococcus luteus, the organism in which we discovered the (highly conserved) first bacterial cytokine, a protein (motif) that may yet provide a vaccine target for the closely related mycobacteria. Interestingly, M. luteus is apparently also capable of long-chain alkene biosynthesis, which may be of relevance for advanced biofuel production; a three-gene cluster essential for this metabolic activity was identified in the genome sequence.

The problem of dealing with the ‘firehose’ of literature continues to occupy me, and the latest Nature has a nice article summarising some of the tools that are available to help, focussing especially on SWANSemantic Web Applications in Neuromedicine. While there is no substitute for good ideas, there is equally no doubt that tools such as this are going to be invaluable in helping researchers to create, develop and refine them.

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