One of my highlights last week was our Fostering Innovation event which was excellently organised by the BBSRC team. At the event we celebrated the finalists for the BBSRC Innovator of the Year 2014 and the Activating Impact competitions. Luke Alphey, from the Pirbright Institute, won the Social Innovator category and was named as overall winner of Innovator of the Year for his work at Oxitec on the genetic control of mosquitos to prevent disease, with Queen Mary University of London and King’s College London jointly winning the Activating Impact award. Curtis Dobson from Manchester won Commercial Innovator award and Cathie Martin and Eugenio Butelli, both from The John Innes Centre, won the Most Promising Innovator category. It was of course particularly pleasing to see two of our strategically funded institutes amongst the winners! I would like to thank our judging panel for taking the time to participate and select the winners – it was apparently a very difficult decision. I did manage to talk to nearly all the finalists who had all brought along their iconic, representative object for display and was impressed by the variety of innovations present and the culture of seeking to translate research into social and economic impact that is present in our research community.
We had a very stimulating Council meeting the previous evening, preceded by a lively debate over dinner, prompted by our guest, Patrick Holden, on sustainable agriculture. Possibly even livelier was a discussion on ways to improve diversity at an RCUK event after the council meeting with members of RCUK Councils and Chief Executives. There were some interesting presentations and certainly the debate gave me some ideas for the future. Incidentally Janet Thornton features as the third in our 20th Anniversary Great British bioscience pioneers series on the web.
Yesterday we announced the seven new research projects that have received a share of £7M as part of the multi-disciplinary Tree Health and Plant Biosecurity Initiative (THAPBI). They will generate knowledge to tackle pests and diseases and to support the future health of UK’s woodlands, commercial forests and urban trees. THAPBI was funded under the Living with Environmental Change Partnership with support from BBSRC, Defra, NERC, ESRC, Forestry Commission and Scottish Government. The projects focus on: new approaches for the early detection of problems; understanding public concerns; increasing resilience against tree disease outbreaks; finding genetic clues to better tree health; biological control of insect pests; and understanding ash dieback. This is an incredibly important area for the UK – the impact on our countryside and economy if some of these diseases take hold would be devastating. I remember the effect that Dutch Elm disease had in my home county of Gloucestershire which basically led to the removal of most of the hedgerow trees around my home and changed the landscape dramatically.
Lastly, I can highly recommend a feature summarising BBSRC funding of animal welfare research over the past 20 years. It gives me the opportunity to re-emphasise the importance of animal welfare not just in managed livestock but in all the experiments that we fund which use animals for research. It is something that we expect researchers and institutions to take very seriously and it is something that our panels and reviewers also take very seriously.