I am taking advantage of the relative quiet of August to get out and meet some of our key stakeholders and academic partners. This is one of the best bits of the job as I get to see a range of science and technology – from 10,000 of seedlings being phenotyped to single cell genomics. These visits reinforce the breadth and depth of science we have in the UK and how important this excellence is for companies making investment decisions here. I saw the new collaborative space within the EMBL-EBI ELIXIR building at Hinxton where GlaxoSmithKline scientists are working alongside EBI scientists on target validation. I also got a sneak preview of the 100,000 genomes building the day before it was announced! ELIXIR is a good example of how upfront investment in facilities and capabilities can attract industrial partners to invest in the UK.
The need for precompetitive collaboration was also reinforced at a visit to RAGT, a major plant breeder in the UK. Here I met with breeders to understand some of the challenges they face and how the BBSRC is helping to connect them with academics in order to stimulate translation of research into practice, breeding for disease resistance in key crops for the UK. One thing I hadn’t realised is the complexity and rigour required in producing grain for bread making – the specification in terms of elasticity, starch content etc. requires all sorts of ingenious gadgets to measure these properties such as Hagberg falling number, which indicates the level of alpha-amylase in the wheat grain.
Our links with veterinary research and animal health are very important to the BBSRC which is why I was pleased to see that we have launched a new multidisciplinary network of veterinary vaccinology experts to help in the fight against animal diseases, some of which have the potential to spread to humans. The network will be funded for five years and will aim to share knowledge and application of new technologies of relevance to vaccine development. The network will also be important in shaping the future research agenda in this area. As well as BBSRC strategically funded Institutes, several universities and other institutions across the UK are involved in the network. One of these is the Animal Health and Veterinary Laboratories Agency (AHVLA) which I visited this week. Having just learnt the acronym, I was somewhat dismayed to learn that they will become the Animal and Plant Health Agency from October, reflecting the fact that four agencies of Fera will join AHVLA. For those interested they are the Bee Inspectorate, the Plants Health and Seeds Inspectorate, the Plant Variety and Seeds Group and the GM Inspectorate and I await the new acronym with interest! It was a very useful visit and we had discussions about a range of issues including the progress of the animal and plant health review and veterinary research.
The importance of keeping in touch with all our stakeholder community was reinforced by a survey of stakeholders that was carried out earlier this year. It was great to get some positive feedback about BBSRC but the survey also identified some areas where we can develop our stakeholder relationships further, for example with NGOs. The survey results are now available on our website.
Finally, a word about tendons. A few months back I said I would run a half marathon for our charities – unfortunately very shortly after that I got a tendon injury that took a while to heal. It’s now better (fingers crossed) and I have started running again but a recent study led by researchers in Liverpool, and funded in part by BBSRC, suggests some reasons why we are more prone to tendon injuries as we get older. The team studied the superficial digital flexor tendon (SDFT) from horses which are apparently a good model for man. They looked at normal tendons from young and old horses and also damaged tendons. They found a number of proteins changed with age, with some proteins involved in extracellular matrix organisation going down with age and other, cytoskeletal proteins, going up. Proteins were more resistant to degradation with age suggesting that perhaps damaged proteins might be harder to clear and there were other indications that maintenance and repair mechanisms might be impaired in ageing. All of which is a bit depressing for someone who is rather accident prone like myself.
For those of you enjoying a break in August, I hope the sun shines for you and wish you and your families a great rest of the summer!