I began the week, as part of our activities on the Sustainable Bioeconomy in Europe, by attending part of the 15th meeting of the European Federation of Biotechnology. I used to attend more regularly as an academic, but had not been for a while. Much of the focus is still on what is called ‘white’ (i.e. microbial) biotechnology for the production of enzymes, fuels and chemicals, and some substantial progress had been made. Systems biology now also had its own strand, referred to (I do not know why) as ‘purple’ biotechnology. Presumably when applied to microbes it becomes lilac.

I especially enjoyed a plenary by Ruedi Aebersold on omics and network biology, a talk from Mathias Uhlén on omics medicine (with an interesting comment that it is mainly cell surface proteins – thesurfaceome’ – that differ between tissues of the same organism), one from Luis Serrano on the Systems Biology of M. pneumonia, one from Sylvester Oikeh on a tetrapartite-funded project on improving maize for African agriculture, and one from Ceyda Kasavi on the discovery of genes for ethanol tolerance in baker’s yeast. I also enjoyed the usual tour de force from Huanming Yang, Director of the Beijing Genomics Institutes, including impressive statistics on the number of bases sequenced (644 Tbases…) together with multiple cultivars of organisms of agricultural importance…

In ‘white biotechnology’ the clear foci were process improvements, novel routes to commodity chemicals, and improving directed enzyme evolution. I note that EFB16 in 2 years’ time will be in Edinburgh; an excellent opportunity to showcase UK Biotechnology.

I also gave a talk on the role of research at a meeting on Global Food Security, and enjoyed reading a very useful 2007 paper on Economic Returns to Public Agricultural Research, which are typically well in excess of 30%. Finally I was pleased to welcome delegates to our first ‘Showcase for Industry’ event outside Cambridge (the next two will be in Manchester on October 23rd and in Edinburgh on December 3rd), where I heard excellent and fascinating talks by Liz Sockett on Bdellovibrio and by Janet Lord on keeping the ageing immune system in good shape.

As an academic researcher, I am becoming increasingly disaffected by the spamming behaviour of predatory publishers, useless and irrelevant conference organisers, and sellers of scientific services and equipment, who clearly have access to email lists in manners that contravene the data protection act and are thus illegal. I know the origin of some of these sales of my email addresses (a leading UK-based science journal and publishing group who seem to have scientists in thrall and who should have known better) because uniquely I am spammed in two variants of my academic email address simultaneously that were known only to them. Given the clear need to deal with this, as illustrated by Jeffrey Beall’s predatory publishing list, I am now going to start listing those who spam me the most. Hopefully we can than remove them all from the world of scholarly publishing and conference organisation by declining to support them until they behave properly. Probably the worst two offenders from my experience, both listed by Beall, are OMICS and Bentham Open, but a US Learned Society in the world of Materials is coming close and will soon be exposed. They always fail to provide an UNSUBSCRIBE option in these emails. I strongly advise anyone in our community and elsewhere to work together to expunge those who indulge in this predatory behaviour from our grown-up, merit-driven world.

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