The report of the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures (GFFF) Group was released in January 2011, and I attended a One Year On meeting of its ‘High Level Stakeholder Group’ that looked  at the already considerable impacts it has had on both thinking and action (not least that of BBSRC). One of these is the appointment of a Food Security Champion, Professor Tim Benton, with whom I also had a useful catch-up on the very many activities that are going on in the Food Security space.

Food and agriculture, as well as Industrial Biotechnology, also figured largely in a meeting I had with Mary Creagh, Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Food and Rural Affairs. Brazil is, of course, an agricultural superpower, and we had a very useful meeting with Professors Glaucius Oliva (Head of the CNPq funding agency) and João Carlos Teatini (Head of the CAPES agency, that mainly looks after graduate education). We already have many excellent links with Brazil, including a LabEx (laboratory exchange) scheme with the Agricultural Research agency Embrapa (and whose Head I also saw at the GFFF meeting); we now anticipate strengthening these further.

Readers will be aware that I am very keen on the opportunities offered by text mining, especially when we solve the problems of Open Access to the literature, and I attended and spoke at the launch of a JISC study on the Value and benefits of data and text mining to UK further and higher education (pdf). The report had used one of my own papers as a case study, not least because of its slightly voluminous reference list – 2469 papers, of which comparatively few had cited each other, such is the balkanisation of the literature. Speakers were unanimous (and see blog) in the view that Governments need to implement the recommendation of Hargreaves that there should be an exception in copyright law for access to the outputs of scholarly activity, especially for the adding of value.

Finally I had a couple of very interesting visits in Cambridge, the first to Cambridge Temperature Concepts, a company that has developed a device for high-precision, ambulatory monitoring of temperature, for use in the prediction of human fertility – an approach that is substantially cheaper than say in vitro fertilisation. As the world becomes ever more wired, I foresee a lot more science being done by collecting lifestyle data ‘on the fly’ (whether via smartphone apps or more specialised hardware) and relating them to medical and other outcomes. It is already easy to make estimates of things like calories burned, steps walked and height ascended using simple motion and altitude sensors; physiological self-monitoring may well become the norm, and with tens or hundreds of thousands of participants the statistics can become very reliable.

My other visit in Cambridge was to the Institute for Manufacturing, a well known and high powered set of Centres at the western site of the University of Cambridge, led by Professor Sir Mike Gregory. The IfM have had comparatively little activity in biomanufacturing to date, and are keen to turn their sophisticated methods towards helping the bioeconomy. We of course are always keen to encourage more engineering types to join the bioeconomy, and I foresee some exciting opportunities here.

I have blogged before about the potential of 3D printing in manufacturing, and my attention was drawn to a truly astonishing video on Youtube that shows how far things have already progressed. Regarding the integration of design and manufacturing, I also read an interesting review (Form and Fortune) at The New Republic of a biography of Steve Jobs, while another paper with my coauthorship, analysing the dynamics and control of an NFkappaB signalling pathway, was published.

I have also blogged before about the importance of ecological models in terms of understanding stability, dynamics and risk in complex systems more generally, including financial ones. A new paper describes analytical solutions for these kinds of system, that should be of important utiity in determining how best to regulate them if stability is the main desired criterion.

As the costs of genomics move mainly from the sequencing to the analysis, the focus moves inevitably towards useful and usable tools for doing such analyses; one I noticed is designed for secure personal genomics, and many others can be accessed via crowdsourcing. The availability of such genomic data then allows personal omics analyses over time.

Related posts (based on tags and chronology):