I had expected to start last week by going to the Royal Society to attend the speech of, and discussion with, EU Commissioner for Research Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, who we had met previously in the context of the KBBE, but a ‘perfect storm’ of train problems (multiple floods, vandals and signalling) conspired against me. However, BBSRC was well represented, and there was due recognition of the Joint Programming Initiative on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change that we are leading with INRA.
I was also pleased to attend the launch of Alzheimer’s Research UK at the Palace of Westminster.
The multiple announcements of the week included: an earmarking of funds, on which we are the lead Agency and that we were in consequence especially pleased to welcome, for the UK hub of the major European Life Sciences Infrastructure for Biological Information (ELIXIR) activity, to be centred at the EBI; the announcement, on the Food Security website, of the Strategy and Programme of the Global Food Security agenda; and finally an explanation (including a slot on Radio 4’s Today programme) of how, in a very welcome but numerically flat cash CSR resource settlement, our new priorities including Global Food Security and Bioenergy and Industrial Biotehcnology mean that a little less money will be available for work outwith these new priorities (and see also the MRC website). Given that funding is a zero-sum game (we can only spend our money once) this is not overly profound, and it is reasonable that we would take a small percentage from a very well-funded area (in which we are actually a comparatively minor player) rather than obliterate an important but less-well-funded topic within (and in particular more or less unique to) our remit. Consequently, we had noted that neuroscience (sensu lato) had attracted a rather large amount of our funding historically, most of which was not aligned with our strategic vision, and that we might expect to effect what is in the round of all funders a small decrease. I set down some of these issues in last week’s blog, and we rehearsed some of them again. Hopefully the neuroscience community will align itself accordingly.
I had a very useful and informative day as an observer at the most recent meeting of the Trustee Board of our Institute for Animal Health, including a tour of the very substantial new facilities we are building at Pirbright. There are some major wins to be had in cohering our research agenda in this space, not least between IAH and the Roslin Institute, and these discussions were developed in an extremely encouraging manner.
I have long thought that economists had much to learn from ecologists, and a super paper by Haldane and May sets out some examples in the context of the systemic financial failings of 2008, stressing the point that what might be good for a number of individuals in an ecosystem can be terrible for the system as a whole, and why, and so shows us how one might change regulations appropriately.
The development of novel enzymes will be an important part of the industrial biotechnology agenda, and what evolution has selected can provide good startng points. A nice approach by Rubin and colleagues shows how rumen metagenomics can provide a variety of novel enzymes capable of degrading grasses and other biomass crops, an approach similar to that from our BSBEC consortium applied to marine borers.
- Akil H, Martone ME, Van Essen DC: Challenges and opportunities in mining neuroscience data. Science 2011; 331:708-712
- Fox P, Hendler J: Changing the equation on scientific data visualization. Science 2011; 331:705-708
- Haldane AG, May RM: Systemic risk in banking ecosystems. Nature 2011; 469:351-355
- Hess M et mult al.: Metagenomic discovery of biomass-degrading genes and genomes from cow rumen. Science 2011; 331:463-467
- King AJ, Cragg SM, Li Y, Dymond J, Guille MJ, Bowles DJ, Bruce NC, Graham IA, McQueen-Mason SJ: Molecular insight into lignocellulose digestion by a marine isopod in the absence of gut microbes. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 2010
- Lang T: Advancing global health research through digital technology and sharing data. Science 2011; 331:714-717