An early and pleasant engagement last week was the finals of the 2010 Biotechnology YES (Young Entrepreneurs Scheme), which we have co-sponsored from its inception, and that involves teams of research students and postdocs in dreaming up a biotech business and how they would best developed (and ultimately make money from) a plausible and desirable (but usually hypothetical) product. It was of particular interest to me that this year’s winners, whose proposal related to nitrogen fixation in crop plants, were in fact led from the cardiovascular section of a medical school – a great illustration of the importance of multidisciplinarity in modern biology. We have already initiated next year’s competition.

We had a useful meeting of Council, where among other things Council signed off the almost-final version of our Delivery Plan, for which the formal announcement has just been made. We also rehearsed some of our thinking on the roll-out of our strategy for Industrial Biotechnology, for which a number of interesting examples are already beginning to emerge.

We also had a very useful meeting at their emporium in Stoneleigh with the National Farmers Union, who are fully apprised of the role of science in boosting both agricultural yields and farmers’ profitability. Another meeting, attended by Minister of Universities and Science David Willetts, introduced the work of the UK Collaborative on Development Sciences.

My first article of 2011 already came out, in the form of a commentary on a nice paper by Mike Snyder and colleagues published in Cell, describing a new method for detecting which metabolites may be bound to proteins for which they are not necessarily a substrate. The commentary’s strapline reads “to find out which metabolites bind to which proteins, one does not need to start with a hypothesis: it is now easiest just to do the experiments. As it turns out, some metabolites are quite promiscuous, at least in yeast”. Some of the examples (for instance of the role of ergosterol in activating the yeast kinase Ypk1, a homologue of the mammalian Akt protein kinase family) were quite unexpected. Fortunately, with this approach, it was not necessary to hypothesise about them first.

As this blog will be signing off until the New Year now, the compliments of the season to all!

Kell DB: Metabolites do social networking. Nat Chem Biol 2011; 7:7-8.

Kell DB, Oliver SG: Here is the evidence, now what is the hypothesis? The complementary roles of inductive and hypothesis-driven science in the post-genomic era. Bioessays 2004; 26:99-105.

Li X, Gianoulis TA, Yip KY, Gerstein M, Snyder M: Extensive in vivo metabolite-protein interactions revealed by large-scale systematic analyses. Cell 2010; 143:639-650.

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