It is very much not news that food security has come high up the scientific and social agenda (with the Russian wheat harvest, and wheat prices more generally, in the news – and one can listen also to Sir John Beddington on the Today programme last week), that we continue to pump fossil-fuel-derived CO2 into the atmosphere at our peril, that our source of bioenergy and chemicals in the not-too-distant future is going to have to be that very CO2 itself as fixed by photosynthesis, and that BBSRC is ready to lead the scientific response to these challenges.

A well established means by which the UK Government gets its collective thinking hat on is the so-called Foresight mechanism, by which groups of experts are brought together to work out the best way forward in whatever the area in question may be. One of these Foresight programmes is on Global Food and Farming Futures, with the Lead Expert Group led by Charles Godfray of the University of Oxford. I am a member of the so-called High-Level Stakeholder Group whose role is to input to and work from the conclusions of this review when they emerge, probably towards the end of this year, and we had a very interesting and useful meeting last week. (A related Foresight study is on land use futures.)

In addition, the Foresight review team has commissioned a number of articles on Global Food Security, that have just been published in a special issue of Phil Trans, freely available online. In addition to the overview, two articles of special relevance to agricultural yields are those by Jaggard et al. and by Gornall et al.

Following the food theme, I attended a meeting of the scientific advisory board of our Institute for Food Research, where I was brought up to date on a variety of interesting recent developments and future plans.

I also served as one of three judges for postdoctoral projects in the Faculty of Life Sciences Research Symposium in Manchester. Natalia Sanchez-Soriano was the unanimous winner with a virtuoso presentation of her work on spectraplakins, molecules of which I previously knew next to nothing (a typical consequence of the balkansation of science, on which I have blogged before).

A couple of papers on next-generation sequencing caught my eye, one a summary of sequence alignment algorithms, the other a survey of the murky and underappreciated artefacts that can arise from the fact that instruments drift over time, such that ‘differences’ between samples can be due to these kinds of effects alone rather than to true biological differences, and it is necessary to apply careful experimental design and corrections to deal with this. 

And if you were wondering about the mysterious number 65,535 in the title, it is of course (a bit geeky this) simply FFFF in hexadecimal notation.

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