The main theme running through last week’s activities was probably the interface between e-infrastructure and Higher Education. E-infrastructure is a term that can encompass anything involving digital technology, digital resources (including data), and the folk who produce and consume them, and as such is a critical part of the research landscape. I am closely involved in this area both for BBSRC and – as so-called Champion for the Research and Development Group (RDG) – for the Research Councils more generally. Together with AHRC’s Shearer West, Chair of RDG, I therefore participated in an interesting meeting to discuss how we could better align our interests, knowledge and ambitions with those of research-intensive HEIs, and this will help feed into an ongoing review of e-infrastructure for research, in which I am also involved.

One leitmotif of our times, as we move towards knowledge of our funding settlement following the CSR, is that we all (including both ‘sides’ of the dual-support system) will have to become much more closely organised, with joint strategies for sharing limited resources, and of which e-infrastructure is certainly one part. To this end we also had a meeting with Vice Chancellors of the Russell and 1994 mission groups.

With the background of the impending Parliamentary debate on the funding of Higher Education and especially its teaching element, I also listened to Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts speaking at a discussion of The Future of Higher Education.

As part of my engagement with Institutions of Higher Education, I visited the University of Leicester, where as usual with these visits I had a very interesting series of meetings and was able to give a talk on our Strategic Plan and related funding aims, and to engage in several Question-and-Answer sessions. Leicester houses a new, ‘green’ high performance computer called ALICE, with considerably less comparative energy usage than its predecessor. Working out how best to share the many such resources will become increasingly important.

Sharing is at the heart of social networking, and following (see a previous blog) the discovery that the spread of human influenza could be detected much more easily via search engine queries than by more traditional returns, a new paper shows a similar result for data (‘tweets’) about H1N1 swine flu from Twitter. An excellent little review of Metabolic Engineering from Jay Keasling shows how great is the scope of industrial biotechnology starting with cellulosic or other carbohydrate biomass.

This week has also seen the publication of a number of more local papers. The first was a follow-up to a review of the perils of dysregulated iron metabolism (that has already had >21,000 online accesses), and was accompanied by an editorial and tagging in the Faculty of 1000 system. Another article involving the integration of experimental data and computational models in systems biology programs was also accompanied by an editorial, while a further article was on developing computational methods for text mining the literature for metabolites occurring in a particular organism (baker’s yeast). Coupling of this to the Chemspider database allowed the system to return chemical structures as well. None of these outputs would have been possible without the considerable investment that has been made in e-infrastructure to date, and that must continue.

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