We are again (and see a similar period last year) in a period of ‘Purdah’ ahead of the upcoming local elections, and so we are limiting our announcements so as not to distract from campaign media,  as well as making sure that any we do make could not be interpreted as potentially influencing voter opinion or as political comment. In any case, with the concatenation of Easter, May and other Bank Holidays, this blog would necessarily be fairly quiet anyway over the coming period, so this is the last one until 9 May.

Last week’s cluster of meetings – possibly reflecting their rise up the actual agenda, seemed to have a focus that was strongly on Biofuels and Industrial Biotechnology, and began with a meeting with David Brown (CEO) and Des King (President) of the Institution of Chemical Engineers. We all recognise the very great importance of getting right the interface between the more biological and the more process engineering aspects of industrial biotechnology, and thus that our interface with the world of experts mainly represented by the IChemE is both a highly significant one and one to be nurtured.

Biofuels, especially so-called first-generation biofuels that were seen to compete harmfully with agricultural crops, have not been without controversy. Our own strategy on advanced and sustainable biofuels does not suffer from this, but it is of great value to set down the issues clearly. To this end, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics announced its excellent, proportionate and extremely well-written report (also full of useful statistics) on Biofuels: ethical issues, containing a very valuable set of six principles, which we have welcomed. There is also a summary, and I was very pleased to be able to attend the launch of this report.

A particularly attractive substrate (i.e. feedstock) for biofuel production is waste of various kinds, including solid municipal waste, and I was pleased to have a full visit to TMO Renewables, who have just such a processes – based in part on an original set of metabolic measurements dating back more than 35 years – and a pilot plant demonstrating it.

Part of the reason for the increasing interest in Biofuels is their potential to mitigate Greenhouse Gas (GHG) generation, and part of the solution of growing suitable plants also involves, as readers of this blog will know, the ability of plants to sequester CO2 in soil via their extensive root systems. We are to keen to improve our understanding of the possibilities, and we have just announced the BBSRC workshop on Carbon storage in soils.

There has been some controversy within the research community regarding expectations of the extent and nature of funding in Neuroscience. Following a very cordial and helpful discussion, we published a joint statement on Neuroscience funding with the British Neuroscience Association.

Despite the power of the Web and the ability to share resources therewith, the persistence of such resources is rather modest. An analysis of the URLs referred to in papers published in the journal Bioinformatics implies a half life of only about 10 years for these.

As folk know, I am a major fan of computational models of biochemical networks, not for their own sake but because of what benefits they can bring to our ability to understand  what is going on. A nice example of this is a recent paper that exploited one of the first models of the human metabolic network to explain and (equally, were the historical precedents inverted) predict the oddities of aerobic glycolysis characteristic of many tumours.

Part of the systems biology agenda involves using ’omics measurements to test the quality of such models, and, wearing my academic hat, I have just published a paper describing a workflow-based approach to metabolomics that assists in the chemical identification of metabolites from mass spectrometric signals present in the complex datasets that arise from modern analytical methods that drive metabolomics measurements. The workflows, standard operating procedures and further information are freely available.

Finally, I would draw readers’ attention to our latest annual call for Committee and Panel members.

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