My first engagement last week involved a meeting with our Integrative and Systems Biology Strategy Panel, with some pleasantly wide ranging discussions. This week the major International Conference on Systems Biology, and the 10th in the series, ICSB 2010, is being held in the UK (in Edinburgh), where I anticipate a strong showing from BBSRC-funded researchers. (Sadly I can attend for only one day, where I am co-chairing a pair of linked sessions with Uwe Sauer on Systems Biology and Metabolism.)

Another meeting involved discussions of sustainable digital infrastructure (and an eponymous paper has just appeared), a topic that will likely be part of next week’s blog. 

I also gave the opening lecture at an ‘omics’ mini-symposium held to celebrate the opening of new mass spectrometric and other instrumentation at the Babraham Institute. I spoke about omics approaches to understanding pharmaceutical drug carriers, and was able to listen to talks by Banafshé Larijani (CRUK) on non-signalling roles of phosphoinositides and by Carol Robinson (Oxford University) on the mass spectrometric analysis of multiprotein complexes.

There was a nice trailer in last week’s THE for our upcoming workshop on The challenges of visualizing biological data. This will bring together a variety of researchers, including those from the AHRC community; this allows me to highlight an interesting reminder of a classic on the fact that one’s native language colours one mode of thinking.

The welcome news last week from Sweden of no fewer than three Nobel Prizes for UK-based researchers illustrated at once both the lengthy period over which science operates (the award to Robert Edwards was some 32 years after the birth of the first ‘test-tube baby’ that the development of his research allowed) and the swift changes in thinking and technology that can sometimes occur in response to a new discovery (here the development of graphene by Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from Manchester).

While this blog does not usually do culture (cultures, yes), I did thoroughly enjoy a quite brilliant TV dramatisation of Christopher Reid’s poem A song of lunch, screened to mark National Poetry Month, and stunningly acted by Alan Rickman and Emma Thompson.

Economics is a tricky subject, and if it were easy one might suppose that there would be fewer economic crises. An interesting paper from the Debtonation crowd suggests the possibly counter-intuitive fact that changes in Government debts are – apart from in wartime – negatively correlated with changes in expenditure. Another interesting paper contrasted the skills and understanding necessary to run a successful large company versus (and it was versus) those required to run the economy of a country, and why the problems are in fact so different. Thought-provoking stuff.

Understanding the mechanistic details of biological evolution is also tricky, and one approach is to study it – and in particular evolutionary/ fitness landscapesin vitro. Another paper in a series on this has just been published, allowing model-based prediction of optimal mutation and recombination rates in directed evolution experiments.

Finally, as part of the ongoing development with EPSRC of our Synthetic Biology Dialogue,  including the writing of a response to the independent report, I attended a meeting to discuss the next steps, which will include a public discussion to be led by Lord Winston in December.

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