The last few weeks before Christmas have been very busy with meetings with Chief Executives of the other Research Councils, partnership meetings with industry, BIS and other public bodies, as well as presentations and talks.

I attended a council meeting of the Society of Biology and agreed with members around the table that we should explore other areas where we could work more closely together.

The highlight of the past two weeks (apart from my daughter’s graduation!) was the official launch of ELIXIR in Brussels on 18 December. This marked the transition of ELIXIR to an operational phase as Europe’s sustainable infrastructure for biological data.

There were a number of talks from people directly involved with ELIXIR – the Director of ELIXIR NIklas Blomberg, Janet Thornton, Director of the EBI, who really drove the project from inception to fruition, and Barend Mons who heads the Netherlands ELIXIR node. The slides for these will soon be posted on the BBSRC website – I would recommend that anyone interested in ELIXIR look at these as they give a very good overview of the project.

In addition, there were some more general talks on aspects of Horizon 2020 that are relevant to the ELIXIR community from Robert-Jan Smits (Director General DG Research and Innovation) and Octavi Quintana-Trias (Director DG Research and Innovation). Jose Cotta gave a presentation on open data in Horizon 2020. This included the principles for funding open access publications as well as open data under the new programme. Guidelines on open access in Horizon 2020 can be found on the participants’ portal on the EuropaEU website (PDF).

It was certainly a very stimulating set of talks and emphasised both the need for ELIXIR and the potential impact it could have for Europe and European scientists. I also learnt a number of new concepts from Barend’s talk including the ‘explicitome’, ‘ridiculogram’ and ‘knowlets’!

I must also mention that we have announced a number of significant awards this week. Amongst these were 13 new collaborative networks in biotechnology and bioenergy to catalyse (forgive the pun) collaborations between industry and academia – the BBSRC Networks in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy. In addition, we also announced £10M of grants for advanced scientific equipment to ensure our scientists have access to the best resources for their work.

In terms of interesting science there are two topical stories of interest from BBSRC-funded researchers. Turnip mosaic virus (TuMV) can infect all kinds of plants, including Brussels sprouts, oilseed rape, peas, cabbages, and cauliflower. Researchers at Warwick have identified the source of resistance to TuMV based on mutations in a gene called eIF4E and its isoform eIF(iso)4E. This is due to a natural mechanism, based on the mis-splicing of the eIF(iso)4E allele in some TuMV-resistant B. rapa var. pekinensis lines. Of the splice variants, the most common results in a stop codon in intron 1 and a much truncated, non-functional protein. The existence of multiple copies has enabled redundancy in the host plant’s translational machinery, resulting in diversification and emergence of the resistance. I shall remind myself of this as I consume my Brussels sprouts on Christmas Day.

The second interesting finding was from BBSRC-funded researchers at UCL who discovered the eyes of artic reindeer change colour throughout the seasons from gold to blue. This adaptation to extreme changes in light levels in their environment helps them detect predators like wolves. This is the first time a colour change of this kind has been shown in the eye of a mammal and provided us with the theme for our Christmas card.

For many of us with an interest in science, Christmas would not be the same without the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures. This year’s lecturer is Prof Alison Woollard whose developmental biology group at the University of Oxford is funded by BBSRC. I will be watching the lectures with interest on BBC Four but before the broadcast you can explore Alison’s science and other developmental biology topics with the BBSRC-supported Royal Institution Advent Calendar.

I will be on holiday for the first two weeks of January and so there will be a couple of guest BBSRC bloggers taking my place at the beginning of the year – please give them a read.

May I take this opportunity to wish you and your families a peaceful holiday and a happy and prosperous New Year.

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