As we near the Christmas holidays (and this will be the last blog of 2011), I can look back on an exceptional year of achievement for BBSRC: a ring-fenced budget, many exciting scientific breakthroughs, the maintenance of the UK as the premier nation in biology, and a slew of recent announcements of large capital sums awarded for important biological projects. A measure of this was my latest quarterly talk to staff last week, in which I listed some of these, that occupied fully 90 minutes.

Much of the rest of the week was punctuated by celebratory events, including a trip to St James’s Palace to launch and take forward thinking on the Festival of food and farming (“Farming in the Park”) taking place in Hyde Park in September 2013. Among the speeches, including one from Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we were honoured to be addressed by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who spoke eloquently and without notes on the importance of British farming and food, as well as providing a witty and entertaining history of our palatial surrounding.

I was also pleased to attend a poster session and dinner at a meeting to mark the culmination of the celebrations of the Biochemical Society’s centenary. Professor Sir Tom Blundell, Chair of BBSRC Council, is also this year’s President of the Biochemical Society, whose website has links to a very nice interview with him, that led me to a very interesting paper of his on protein evolution. While much can be learned from protein (primary) sequences alone, features such as those described therein require structural knowledge.

A flurry of recent publications have pointed up the increasingly clear significance of the contribution that Biology can make to sustainable energy and chemicals, a topic that is already a significant element of our strategic plan. These publications include The Government’s Carbon Plan; Delivering our low carbon future, the UKERC’s report Energy from biomass: the size of the global resource, and the Committee on Climate Change’s Bioenergy Review.

Some drugs are designed to interact with specific molecular targets. However, an arguably better strategy is to use a function-first approach i.e. to perform chemical genomics assays at the level of the cell or organism phenotype – phenotypic screening. A recent example has led to the discovery of a very promising molecule that may be of benefit in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases.

I also enjoyed an interesting blog on science funding in hard times, and one on Open Access, as well as papers on improving algal photosynthesis and on making models reproducible. The above are all areas that I suspect we shall return to next year. Meanwhile, I wish all those who come upon this, a relaxing holiday and a stimulating and rewarding 2012.

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