We continue to maintain a serious interest in Open Science, which includes Open Access to data, to the literature and so on, driven by the recognition that new, different and potentially better kinds of (e-)science can emerge when one has digital access to such resources. Last week I attended a double header on these themes. The first was a Royal Society Open Science meeting, part of an enquiry the Society is carrying out into this space. Two sessions explored, respectively, ‘Why do Open Science?’ and ‘How to do Open Science?’. An evening meeting the same day held by the Foundation for Science and Technology explored the theme ‘Can better use be made of public data, for example in health research?’. The speakers were Paul Boyle, CE of the ESRC, Baroness (Onora) O’Neill of Bengarve, and Stephen Penneck, Director General of the Office for National Statistics. Paul gave a number of examples by which publicly available data, suitably anonymised, could give considerable insights into public health and epidemiological issues. One example was a study illustrating the role of environmental pollution in the incidence of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis in Finland (a disease for which there is indeed significant evidence for the involvement of iron), while another showed the benefits of long-term studies (albeit assuming that statins work just via lowering LDL cholesterol, whereas much evidence suggests that they act more as anti-inflammatories). Baroness O’Neill covered the complex (and in some ways contradictory) legal issues surrounding the use of data, while Stephen Penneck took us through some of the many datasets that ONS is making freely available. I note too that my own recent presentation on Biofuels at the Foundation is now online, as is the latest analysis of the role of transporters in the cellular uptake of pharmaceutical drugs.

We had a useful meeting with Catherine Brown (new head of the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency) and Nigel Gibbens, the Chief Veterinary Officer, to discuss their needs for animal facilities.

Science, and scientific success, is something that is to be celebrated, and I enjoyed celebrations for the 75th Anniversary of the Wellcome Trust, and for activities at the ever- (and increasingly) successful Cheltenham Science Festival, which this year is being chaired by BBSRC Council Member Russell Foster. BBSRC was well represented at Cheltenham this year. BSBEC supported and organised a discussion session on biofuels, which gave public, stakeholders and bioenergy researchers the opportunity to debate a range of issues, and BBSRC supported Rothamsted Research and the Babraham Institute to display exhibits on soil science and calcium signalling respectively.

We also had our annual Heads of Departments meeting, where we were able to exchange thoughts about where BBSRC science was going, as well as learning of the thoughts and issues most affecting the HEI research community.

Until reading a new paper, I had not much been aware of soils that suppress plant disease, and clearly it was at least reasonable that their microbial content (as assessed via metagenomics) might in part be responsible via competitive exclusion, as proved to be the case. The opportunities for intervention, and for direct-sequencing-based studies, seem considerable.

In principle, one can make pretty well anything via synthetic biology, and an iterative combination of hypothesis-dependent design and data-driven effective search is likely to prove rewarding. A new paper illustrates this nicely, for a target involving the development of polypeptides that assemble on single-walled carbon nanotubes. Related to the evolutionary theme is the idea of using computers to evolve solutions to problems more generally; a recent paper by John Koza summarises nicely one of the approaches and the ‘human-competitive’ results that have been obtained.

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