My first external engagement last week was at a breakfast discussion organised by BP Biofuels around the issues of the economics, sustainability and utility of various kinds of biofuels, especially those based on the starch component of feed wheat (with the protein concentrate being used for animal feed). Chaired by Jonathan Dimbleby, It featured contributions from Dave Richards, Managing Director of Vivergo fuels, Jeremy Tomkinson of the National Non-foods Crop Centre, Peter Kendall – recently re-elected as President of the NFU, and Jonathon Porritt of Forum for the Future. There was much consensus that while electric vehicles may take over in time, liquid biofuels were going to be more important for a good while. (I do not understand why vehicles that use fuel cells to transform liquid fuels rather than dihydrogen to electricity are not discussed more, as these combine the high energy density of liquid fuels such as ethanol with the environmental benefits of electricity.) There was also considerable recognition that we need to be able to agree much more carefully how we assess the true sustainability of a bioprocess; indeed I see the research needs underpinning a transition to true sustainability being an important theme for BBSRC science and scientists as we move more fully to a BioEconomy. For these kinds of biofuels (but more generally), this would require good process data being made publicly available. The enormous Vivergo plant near Hull will certainly operate at considerable scale, with planned production of 420 million litres of bioethanol per year. Truly things have moved apace since the BBSRC Review on Bioenergy (PDF) that I chaired in 2006 and the UK is already well placed for making a major contribution to its sustainability in biofuels.

We had a useful meeting with all the Governing Body Chairs and Directors of the Institutes to whom we provide strategic support, including a catch-up on organisational details following recent governance changes. This week Council meets to decide funding allocations to them. We also had a very useful catch-up and planning meeting with Marion Guillou and colleagues from INRA, with whom we lead on the Joint Programming Initiative in Food Security, Agriculture and Climate Change.

Last week’s blog elicited some further comments on Open Access (OA), to which I have responded. I also note a new summary to the effect that OA articles are more cited than those not openly available.

I have long been interested in what happens ‘between the bud and the rose (PDF)’; now at least we have a much better idea of what happens between a bud and a leaf, thanks to some superb (and experimentally tested) new modelling work, also featured in a video. Finding a protein with desirable properties is a combinatorial optimisation problem, and I enjoyed a paper that took a mix-and-match approach to protein design. I also enjoyed a useful summary of tools for (transcriptome-based) pathway analysis, and noted the potential Babel surrounding the use of the same name for multiple genes, as well as enjoying a summary of the design of narrative visualisations.

Given the number of interesting things available online, it can be hard to find the nuggets, so lists of ‘100 best <anything>’ can be useful and thus I liked the one for infographic tools. Without OA many would not of course functionally be available.

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