I attended two back-to-back meetings at Portcullis House last week. The first was a discussion organised by the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology on Bioenergy. Chaired by Lord Oxburgh, this featured interesting talks from speakers representing BP Biofuels, DECC, the Nuffield Council on Bioethics and the Forestry Commission. A strong consensus emerged around the views that biofuels had a significant role to play as part of the Bioeconomy, and that key to their success was a genuine social and environmental sustainability.

The second meeting was a ‘diamond jubilee’ celebration of 60 years of British Science achievement (pdf), with talks on Life Sciences (Prof Dame Nancy Rothwell). Chemistry (Prof Lesley Yellowlees) and Physics (Prof Brian Cox). It was thoroughly pleasant to be reminded of the litany of British scientific achievements since 1952, and Dame Nancy’s excellent presentation ended with a couple of thought-provoking slides on seeking to understand why the UK was and is so astonishingly good in the (Life) Sciences. This is well worth pursuing, on the grounds that the more we understand this the more easily we can sustain it. Interestingly, mainly of the examples from Chemistry also pertained to Life Sciences. Brian Cox’s presentation was simply superb; his skills as a presenter on TV are well known, and were equally manifest in a live presentation, conveying some extremely complex material in a way that made one feel one understood it! I also enjoyed an interesting and useful discussion with Prof John Womersley, CEO of STFC, on further details of last week’s announcements from CERN about a particle consistent with the predictions of Peter Higgs, and what further data from the LHC one may expect to be forthcoming to reinforce the findings (or otherwise) and to test different aspects of the various theories surrounding such data.

I enjoyed a useful visit to the University of Glasgow, where I was shown a considerable amount of very interesting multidisciplinary work. It was clear that the University has engaged in some very strategic thinking in terms of alignment with Research Council priorities.

I also attended an interesting meeting of the Foundation for Science and Technology. Unusually for this series of meetings there was a Hashtag #fstsocialmedia, as the subject was the value (and pitfalls) of social media! The first speaker was Mike Lynch (ex-CEO of Autonomy), followed by Julian Huppert and Kathryn Cossick, with extra commentary by Candace Kuss. As ever, we had a wide-ranging debate about the various opportunity and difficulties accompanying the rapid technological and social change that social media represent. A recent report implies that the savings from making better use of public data in the UK could be enormous. (£33Bn per year!).

The new synthetic biology roadmap was launched (see too a paper on the existing synbio landscape).

I noted the reissue of Hobson-Jobson, that wonderful lexicon of words that India has given to the English language, note the launch of a new Open Access Journal (Gigascience) concerned with Big Data, and the availability of a free e-book on some digital technology projects ‘effecting culture change in the Academy’. I enjoyed the paper on a banana genome sequence, including a stunning 6-way Venn diagram illustrating various shared genes, an excellent biomedical review of reactive oxygen species (in a Physics journal!), an interesting approach to detect high-yielding strains of lysine producers,  a very nice paper explaining mechanistic links between diet, the microbiome and gut health, a review of approaches to the compression of archived nucleic acid sequences, and an extraordinary collection of Latte Art.

Finally, I also noted an interesting piece on ideas for a charter for scientific reviewers, and an approach to making objects hard (or pointless) to steal, developments that I think many would welcome.

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