Last week I attended our National Institutes of the Biosciences conference, this time held at the Roslin Institute, where (as last time in Norwich) we heard a range of absolutely stunning talks across the range of our remit, as you would expect from a country whose biological science is number one in the world. It would be quite egregious to pick out any or many “highlights”, but a major point of a conference such as this is the cross-fertilisation that comes when you bring different experts together with different knowledge, techniques and background, but which – because of the essential unity of biology, and indeed of science – can be applied elsewhere. So for my own work – which only infrequently includes mammalian cell biology, and whose conferences I almost never attend – I saw some fabulous images of intracellular organisation (as in this paper) from Peter Fraser and colleagues at Babraham, using one method which may be of considerable use for a problem in which I am interested. The fruits of modern genome sequencing methods (as in that of an ash dieback survivor) were also becoming especially manifest at this meeting (which also featured a call for more ‘mathematicians’ sensu lato in biology). I myself gave a plenary on our drug transporter systems biology work (as in this and this). I particularly enjoyed a plenary from Edinburgh’s Andrew Millar, who (after a typically erudite rehearsal of his work on the systems biology of circadian clocks, including cases that required no transcription) showed us how some fairly straightforward modelling explained why banking and other financial systems lacking the appropriate negative feedback loops (i.e. proper regulation) were doomed to explode. Some simple remedies exist (see an excellent paper (pdf) from the IMF for instance, and the New Economics Foundation). 90-97% of all present debt has been created by commercial banks lending money to people using (or against) assets they did not entirely have, a well-tested recipe for disaster, and one with an obvious and well-established set of solutions (also already explained by Haldane and May, among others).

As part of the conference, we also had a ‘town meeting’, open to the public, where Maurice Moloney and David Hume (Directors of Rothamsted Research and the Roslin Institute) rehearsed some of the benefits of modern agriculture, including the use of genetically modified crops and livestock, and how by failing to adopt modern technologies Europe might become an ‘agricultural museum’. Notwithstanding that all organisms of agricultural interest have been ‘genetically modified’ by human selection, this was a message strongly reinforced the next day in a major speech at Rothamsted Research by Owen Paterson, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, on which we provided comments.

I note the welcome appearance of the latest draft legislation to modernise copyright exceptions, including for text mining for research purposes, the availability of some places on the BiotechYES scheme, our call for members of Panels and Committees, the Open Access appearance of Peter Suber’s book on Open Access, a succinct piece on Bayes’ theorem, a nice systems approach to enhancing antibiosis, and the announcement of TGAC Fellowships in Computational Biology. I do not look forward to the consequences of 10 wet summers, but much enjoyed attending a splendid stand-up show by ‘science comedian’ Robin Ince.

Finally, I was shocked by the announcement of the exceptionally early loss of Nick Dusic, onetime Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering.

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