While I have some important external meetings this coming week, including one with Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Mark Walport, this will be my last blog (of more than 200) as BBSRC Chief Executive, so it will include some material of a valedictory nature.
The first major external meeting of last week was of our Research Advisory Panel; this is a most important forum where we bring together the Chairs of Strategy Panels and of the Research Committees who are responsible for Delivery, plus those Council members who are members of the Strategic LoLa Committee. As well as a look at the overall portfolio, we scrutinised progress reports on each of the many Institute Strategic Programme Grants and National Capability Grants. All told, these various activities constitute a large and impressive funding portfolio, albeit (as I have remarked before in the context of a Zipf distribution) one that is comparatively thinly spread among individual investigators.
With excellent timing, given the launch of the new Agri-tech Catalyst, we had one of our regular bilateral meetings with Professor Ian Boyd and colleagues from Defra. A number of further joint initiatives are planned.
I was pleased to attend the 2013 Gareth Roberts Science Policy lecture, entitled “Why Science needs Ethics: why science cannot and should not aspire to be value free” and given with her usual clarity by Baroness (Onora) O’Neill. A particular focus was on scientific and cultural norms. I also attended another thought-provoking, ethics-based Panel Discussion on Genetic Testing in Assisted Reproduction, part of the British Library’s TalkScience series.
Of particular papers I read this week, one stand-out was an industrial biotechnology tour de force on the microbial production of short-chain alkanes (i.e. petrol). I also enjoyed one on cellular decision making, and one on Medical Narratives by AHRC Chief Executive Rick Rylance.
This coming week is biology week, while the following week is Open Access week. Regarding the latter and related developments (with infographic (JPG)), I noted the Connecting Repositories system, an interesting piece (with slides) on the use of Altmetrics in a Scientific CV, and an interesting talk on iron metabolism (regarding Altmetrics, I was also pleased to note that my major review of iron in disease – “Iron behaving badly” – has now passed 50,000 online accesses), as well as an evolutionary argument (and commentary) to account for the fact that folk with Hereditary Haemochromatosis (“the Celtic Curse”) are taller than matched controls.
And that leads me on to what I plan to do when I return on October 21st to being a full-time scientific researcher. As of now, I plan to split my time between at least the following areas: (i) systems approaches to biomedical problems, especially those involving iron dysregulation (which includes most diseases), (ii) improving the scope of metabolic reconstructions in terms of transporters and of signalling, (iii) novel strategies for synthetic biology, especially in the context of industrial biotechnology and protein function, (iv) novel analytical methods based e.g. on dielectric spectroscopy, and (v) tools for manipulating and visualising ‘big data’ of interest to biologists, including literature text, data, and metadata.
I also expect to promote the need for reform (again) of the monetary system. It would also be nice to do something about the priesthood mentality of some journal editors: serious reform is needed here and elsewhere.
Overall, looking back, it really has been an enormous (if unexpected) privilege to serve as BBSRC Chief Executive for five years. During my time, the Council has developed new thinking in areas such as Industrial Biotechnology, Synthetic Biology and e-science (including data-driven biology), we opened a new Institute in the form of TGAC, there is a new sense of purpose (and investment) in the agri-tech area and in our research and innovation campuses, and we have secured major capital investments for UK biology in developments at Pirbright, the European Bioinformatics Institute ELIXIR project, and elsewhere. Open Access (publishing) has also come of age. I have met many wonderful people who I otherwise would likely not have (e.g. Tim Berners-Lee and Bob Geldof at one memorable breakfast meeting), and we have an absolutely outstanding team helping develop and implement the BBSRC vision. Much of my time here is recorded in this blog, and to the extent that I blog on my own website in the future, it will be at http://dbkgroup.org/dbkblog/. I inherited a highly effective organisation (with the UK still number one in biology), and I leave it in very good heart.
- Attwood TK, Kell DB, McDermott P, Marsh J, Pettifer S, Thorne D: Utopia Documents: linking scholarly literature with research data. Bioinformatics 2010; 26:i568-574. Full, free text
- Bohannon J: Who’s Afraid of Peer Review? Science 2013; 342:60-65. Full, free text
- Broadhurst D, Kell DB: Statistical strategies for avoiding false discoveries in metabolomics and related experiments. Metabolomics 2006; 2:171-196. Link to publication award
- Choi YJ, Lee SY: Microbial production of short-chain alkanes. Nature 2013
- Cippà PE, Krayenbuehl PA: Increased Height in HFE Hemochromatosis. N Engl J Med 2013; 369:785-786. Full, free text
- Couzin-Frankel J: Biomedical publishing. Secretive and subjective, peer review proves resistant to study. Science 2013; 341:1331
- Galloway KE, Franco E, Smolke CD: Dynamically reshaping signaling networks to program cell fate via genetic controllers. Science 2013; 341:1235005
- ull D, Pettifer SR, Kell DB: Defrosting the digital library: bibliographic tools for the next generation web. PLoS Comput Biol 2008; 4:e1000204. Full, free text
- Kell DB: Iron behaving badly: inappropriate iron chelation as a major contributor to the aetiology of vascular and other progressive inflammatory and degenerative diseases. BMC Med Genom 2009; 2:2. Full free text
- Kell DB, Dobson PD, Bilsland E, Oliver SG: The promiscuous binding of pharmaceutical drugs and their transporter-mediated uptake into cells: what we (need to) know and how we can do so. Drug Disc Today 2013; 18:218-239
- Knight CG, Platt M, Rowe W, Wedge DC, Khan F, Day P, McShea A, Knowles J, Kell DB: Array-based evolution of DNA aptamers allows modelling of an explicit sequence-fitness landscape. Nucleic Acids Res 2009; 37:e6. Full, free text
- Miwa M, Thompson P, McNaught J, Kell DB, Ananiadou S: Extracting semantically enriched events from biomedical literature. BMC Bioinformatics 2012; 13:108. Full, free text
- Pethig R, Kell DB: The passive electrical properties of biological systems: their significance in physiology, biophysics and biotechnology. Phys Med Biol 1987; 32:933-970
- Reinhart CM, Rogoff K: This time is different: eight centuries of financial folly. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2009
- Rowbotham M: The grip of death: a study of modern money, debt slavery and destructive economics. Charlbury: Jon Carpenter, 1998
- Rylance R: The theatre and the granary: observations on nineteenth-century medical narratives. Lit Med 2006; 25:255-276. Full free text
- Small BG, McColl BW, Allmendinger R, Pahle R, Lopez-Castejon G, Rothwell NJ, Knowles J, Mendes P, Brough D, Kell DB: Efficient discovery of anti-inflammatory small molecule combinations using evolutionary computing. Nature Chem Biol 2011; 7:902-908. Full, free text