After returning from the AAAS meeting that I described last week, we had one of our periodic meetings with the Directors and Deputy Directors of the Institutes that we fund strategically. This one was held at the Babraham Institute, where as usual an afternoon of scientific presentations and a laboratory tour was followed by a wide ranging agenda covering a variety of funding and strategic issues. We also had an excellent presentation on public dialogue from Sir Roland Jackson, Chair of our Bioscience for Society Strategy Panel.

With colleagues I also had a very useful meeting with Sir John Beddington, focussing mainly on the developing Agri-Tech strategy and our plans for Industrial Biotechnology.

It is not news that bovine tuberculsosis (bTB) is a hugely expensive drain on agriculture resources, as well as a source of considerable misery to dairy farmers,  and that we have obviously not yet solved the problem. Given this, we noted that there might be benefit in bringing in the more numerous researchers who study human TB, plus any ‘unexpected’ expertise from elsewhere. Consequently, we organised a workshop whose aims were (i) to identify bottlenecks in bTB research that hinder the generation of effective control measures, and (ii) to prioritise the basic bioscience research that will advance the field. I was pleased to give the welcome address, which gave me the opportunity to highlight our unexpected discovery 15 years ago of an extracellular protein called Rpf that has high antigenicity and may yet contribute to a useful vaccine. As judged by the informed, excited and very interesting discussions, the intentions of the workshop were amply fulfilled, and I shall look forward to the next steps.

I enjoyed an interesting paper on the ‘missing heritability’ problem, where the heritability was much more evident when conditions (including ‘lifestyle’ conditions) were carefully controlled, one on the over-interpretation of the concept of ‘drug-likeness’ in drug discovery, and one with some stunning single molecule images of mitochondrial dynamics. I also noted the huge progress in making tonnage quantities, in engineered yeast, of artemisinic acid, a precursor of the anti-malarial drug artemisinin.

The results of the House of Lords enquiry into the RCUK implementation of Open Access (OA) were published, along with some interesting blog comment, as was an analysis (pdf) of the sustainability of the OA approach. RCUK will shortly be issuing an update of our policy, guidance and further plans. I also enjoyed a paper setting out some novel approaches to enhancing the content and readability of scientific papers.

Finally, I came upon spamcop.net as a means to help block spam at source.

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