Last week began with a visit to discuss Life Sciences and related topics at the University of Warwick, which also included discussions of horticulture, as part of the Warwick Crop Centre. Horticulture is a somewhat unheralded UK success story, in that it has had little investment, is rather profitable, and its products are widely recognised as having considerable health benefits. The application of modern biology to understanding and improving horticultural crops can only assist this continuing process.

Horticulture is thus an important Bioindustry, and I had an interesting session at the BioIndustry Association as part of their Parliament Day, where our discussions focussed on the best ways to capture the value for the biotechnology sector from the enormous amounts of knowledge and expertise in Higher Education and Research Institutes.

Informatics and IT is an important part of our space (and of course of modern society as a whole) and a significant role in education and research has long been played by JISC. Although JISC is transitioning to a new governance and structure, I am a (co-opted) member of the present JISC Board, and we had a useful meeting. There was a particular focus on e-infrastructure, and the future provision of network infrastructure as represented by JANET. It remains the case that the growth in genomics and other biological data is quicker than exponential, and we need to be prepared for the Malthusian-type consequences of this this. While it is true that moving disks in a van can provide an effectively enormous amount of bandwidth, this is traded off against a substantial latency. Working out where we wish to make these trade-offs will be an important area of discussion for placing investments sensibly.

I occasionally have cause to give a talk at a secondary school, and last week I did one at Moreton Hall. As at a previous occasion elsewhere, I was extremely impressed by the type and quality of questions I received from my (mainly) young and (for the pupils) exclusively female audience. Regarding gender and related issues, Athene Donald’s latest blog includes some thoughtful views on the need for folk to be looking to upgrade their Athena SWAN status, a topic on which I have blogged before and to which we shall return. After the talk I took part in a quiz, and thus I now know that Macclesfield was once the hub of the UK silk industry and hence that its soccer team is known as the Silkmen.

My attention was earlier drawn to a fascinating small book with a big subtitle that sets out to explain some simple facts of economics. I have now read it and it is to be recommended.

I enjoyed a paper summarising different approaches to determining genetic networks from time series data. I also enjoyed an interesting article setting out in a new and quantitative way the question of whether a particular small molecule is or is not ‘drug-like’, although I’d comment that natural products (that for discernible reasons often make good drugs) do tend to score poorly by these criteria.

There has been some very interesting debate about the desirability or otherwise of making public the sequences of strains of H5N1 ‘avian’ influenza A viruses that are both highly pathogenic and highly transmissible. Whatever one’s intellectual position, what is clear is that the debate is being held in as sensible and transparent a fashion as possible, and this is greatly to be commended.

Finally, I have long held the view that much of Scientific Discovery involves finding a good idea for the next experiment to do in a series, whether the reasoning is inductive or deductive or otherwise. As such this then involves a search through a potentially enormous search space of possible experiments for that small subset that are good or useful experiments, and this can then be cast as a combinatorial search or optimisation problem. A paper I wrote setting this out in more detail has just been published online.

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