The first engagement of last week involved chairing a session involving introducing the ELIXIR project and overseeing the election of a Chair (Søren Bruak) and vice-Chair (BBSRC’s Alf Game) for the ELIXIR Interim Board, with the voting participants involving the nine countries that have thus far signed up formally. Scientific and funding representatives of a good many other countries also attended both the election and the meeting following, and it was gratifying to note the consonance of purpose (‘a collaboration of the willing’) in the governance and rollout of everyone involved in this major piece of e-infrastructure development.

I then attended our next Institute Assessment Panel, this time at The Roslin Institute. As with the other Panels, whose form it followed, it was a very packed but worthwhile agenda, and a useful opportunity to discuss all of the projects and activities en masse. Again, with another three visits before Christmas, it will not be until the New Year that BBSRC Council determines the final founding outcomes.

We have a considerable interest in ensuring that the work that we fund is socially and ethically responsible, and I had a useful meeting with Hilary Sutcliffe, who has been promoting the ‘responsible innovation’ agenda. Innovation was the focus of the latest ‘Labs to Riches’ meeting at the Royal Society (before which I also had the opportunity to discuss the scientific agenda (pdf) of the Crick Institute with Sir Paul Nurse). The winner of the overall award was a team from Southampton who have developed a very clever means of sending both microbubbles and ultrasound down a (fairly gentle) stream of water that applies outstanding levels of microscopic cleaning to the surfaces it interrogates. There are some obvious biological uses (and science) that follow. In addition, a number of smaller ‘Feasibility Awards’ were made.

I also gave a talk at the Heads of University Biological Science Departments (HUBS) meeting, on the Challenges and Opportunities facing biology. There are plenty of both!

Finally I gave an informal academic seminar on the systems biology of drug uptake at the University of Nottingham, where I also had the opportunity to discuss a variety of areas of plant systems biology.

I often rehearse the ‘big data’ agenda, usually in somewhat abstract terms (after all it takes no longer to say ‘an exabyte’ or ‘a petabyte’ than ‘a terabyte’…), but focus perhaps less often on where the rubber hits the road. If I wish to compare the sequences (and/or activities) of a million related proteins I have just sequenced, whether algorithmically or visually, I just do not have the tools to do it (though some exist for those who can). Hopefully someone may prove me wrong.

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