Last week encompassed a wide spectrum of activities, starting with one of the triannual meetings of our Audit Board. This very important Board reports to Council, and is responsible for monitoring our standards of risk management, corporate governance, internal control and financial propriety.

I then managed to attend the second half of a meeting organised in collaboration with the Food Standards Agency and the Health Protection Agency, looking at the potential impact of ‘next generation sequencing’ and related methods on the ability to detect and type potentially pathogenic strains of microbe that might be isolated from food or other matrices. Not least since the recent German E. coli outbreak, it has become pretty obvious that the most sensible – and nowadays most economic – approach to typing an organism is indeed to sequence its genome, since as well as providing a definitive typing, such data provide important information of use in epidemiology (and, by the detection of antibiotic-resistance genes, potentially in treatment). Significant investment, especially in the skills and the necessary informatics, will be necessary to realise this properly, however.

As part of our series of University visits, I enjoyed a very useful visit to Imperial College, where I gave an overview of what we are seeking to fund, and saw a variety of extremely interesting presentations on all kinds of areas in instrumentation, food security, industrial biotechnology, chemical biology (e.g. Agri-net, one of our Chemical Biology networks), synthetic biology, biomaterials and so on.

I am always on the lookout for useful papers in industrial biotechnology, especially those that exploit systems biology approaches and informatics, and I (somewhat belatedly) came upon a nice one in which in silico modelling (i.e. rational metabolic design) of L-lysine production proposed just 12 defined genome changes that took yields (0.55 g product per g glucose) and titres (120 g/L) to exceptional levels in C. glutamicum.

I was pleased to see a rather long-standing paper that I co-authored finally emerge online, looking at the control of  growth rate in baker’s yeast from a systems biology point of view.

An important part of our activities involves ensuring that we get out a whole series of messages about the importance of biology and the science, technology and skills development that we fund. Our External Relations Unit have been developing a series of practical biofuel activities for school engagement and outreach, and these are now published online. I strongly encourage all our researchers to download and disseminate them to suitable recipients. Suitable, as they say, for children of all ages.

Sometimes there can be quite a gap between a basic scientific discovery and its commercial exploitation; to this end, I noted that the just-announced awarding of a patent based on work of Sir David Baulcombe and Dr Andrew Hamilton on short interfering RNAs carries an application date of March 22nd, 2004.

Finally, my attention was drawn to an unusual take on risk on David Spiegelhalter’s blog; not something I’ll be asking our Audit Board to let me do.

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