Last week began with the chance to welcome the Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts to Rothamsted Research, with discussions focusing on the productivity of both food and non-food crops. The productivity gains in e.g. willow production are already themselves increasing markedly as a result of the ‘appliance of science’ to breeding and agronomy.
We had a lengthy meeting of Council, the first day of which involved some major decisions regarding the funding of the Institutes that receive strategic support from BBSRC. Subject to some further work, these outcomes are likely to be announced in the next week or two.
I attended a superb talk by Sir Greg Winter, run by the Foundation for Science and Technology, that covered the history of his production and commercialisation (via Cambridge Antibody Technology, now MedImmune) of humanised monoclonal antibodies. It was notable that 6 of the top ten selling drugs (generating $5-10Bn per year) are humanised antibodies – a huge success for a British technology.
e-infrastructure is a regular feature of this blog (and a very important topic), and I attended the first meeting of the e-infrastructure leadership Council, co-chaired by David Willetts. There was broad consensus that software and skills were going to be very important not only for science but for their contribution to the bioeconomy, that multiple architectures were required, and that these should be both distributed and determined by the needs of users rather than the capabilities and wishes of providers. One interesting distributed computation system is represented by the kind that involves some kind of crowd-sourcing, especially for so-called NP-hard problems. An interesting addition to the menagerie is represented by a system for attacking problems of multiple sequence alignment.
The Bioeconomy was the theme for a reception in the Palace of Westminster hosted by MP for mid-Norfolk George Freeman, who gave a resounding endorsement of the ever greater contributions that are to be expected from the existing and emerging bioeconomy.
I also attended the launch (Sir Steve Redgrave gave an excellent and predictably inspirational talk) of In the zone, a package of activities that will be made available in every single school in the UK, plus a touring show, based in this Olympic year on understanding human physiology and athleticism. Tip: if you try the hand-cycling test, don’t go off too fast or you’ll hit the wall!
Readers of this blog may well have come via the BBSRC website. The site was recently refreshed to ensure we are providing the best possible ‘user experience’ while clearly presenting examples of the impact of the research we fund. We are now seeking your comments on how you use the site. Continuing last week’s Open Access (OA) theme, I noted a useful and interesting paper rehearsing some of the issues. Other benefits of OA include the ability to assess the interest in and utility of articles by a variety of novel metrics, though despite the accessibility of biomedical abstracts it remains early days.
Evolution is of course largely based on re-inventing (i.e. evolving) the wheel – but how much so is revealed in a very nice paper indicating that 71% of all known (natural) enzyme activities are based on just 276 protein superfamilies. (This of course excludes those enzymes for which data are not yet public.) Such findings probably underpin the ligand and drug promiscuity widely observed, and may be exploited for useful drug repurposing.
- Furnham N, Sillitoe I, Holliday GL, Cuff AL, Laskowski RA, Orengo CA, Thornton JM: Exploring the evolution of novel enzyme functions within structurally defined protein superfamilies. PLoS Comput Biol 2012; 8:e1002403. Full free text
- Kawrykow A, Roumanis G, Kam A, Kwak D, Leung C, Wu C, Zarour E, Phylo players, Sarmenta L, Blanchette M, Waldispühl J: Phylo: a citizen science approach for improving multiple sequence alignment. PLoSone 2012; 7:e31362. Full free text
- Van Noorden R: Trouble at the text mine. Nature 2012; 483:134-135
- Xie L, Li J, Xie L, Bourne PE: Drug discovery using chemical systems biology: identification of the protein-ligand binding network to explain the side effects of CETP inhibitors. PLoS Comput Biol 2009; 5:e1000387. Full free text
- Xie L, Xie L, Kinnings SL, Bourne PE: Novel computational approaches to polypharmacology as a means to define responses to individual drugs. Annu Rev Pharmacol Toxicol 2012; 52:361-379