Over the past few weeks I have been heartened to see how contributions to bioscience can be recognised and celebrated. John O’Keefe received the Nobel Prize for his studies on place recognition and neural mapping of the position in rodents at the beginning of October. BBSRC has funded this work over the years and I remember teaching some of the results from the early studies when I was an Open University tutor!

The new BBSRC National Virology Centre at The Pirbright Institute was opened last week by the Secretary of State, Dr Vince Cable. The building housing the BBSRC National Virology Centre was christened the Plowright Building in honour of Dr Walter Plowright who developed a tissue culture rinderpest vaccine at the Pirbright Institute in the late 1950s and early 1960s. This was a key element in the elimination of rinderpest, which became the first animal viral disease to be eliminated worldwide in 2010. Although he died in 2010, his wife Dorothy was able to be at the ceremony to see the building officially opened. Interestingly Dr Cable had worked in Kenya and was acutely aware of the human costs of rinderpest through observing the effects on the livestock of tribespeople in the bush.

Last week BBSRC announced awards to 4 researchers who have made outstanding contributions to British bioscience. Excellence in Bioscience awards went to:

  • Professor Caroline Dean who has made a huge contribution to the study of developmental timing in plants. Her work has focused on the mechanism by which prolonged cold influences flowering and her lab has played a major role in developing tools for the reference plant Arabidopsis thaliana.
  • Professor Dame Linda Partridge who is perhaps best known for her work on mechanisms of ageing, but she has also trained a large number of students and post-docs who have become the future leaders in ageing.
  • Professor Jeff Errington who pioneered the field of bacterial cell biology and his work has been recognised through numerous awards and honours. He has also contributed significantly to UK and European efforts to enhance the importance of antibiotic discovery and development.

I was also extremely pleased to see that Professor Russell Foster’s amazing contributions to public communication of science was recognised by the Excellence in Bioscience Communication award. I have known Russell for many years but never realised he had become so popular that his TED talk in 2013 attracted over 4.6 million views!

It is equally pleasing to see scientists much earlier in their careers being recognised for their achievements. BBSRC sponsored the UK teams in the international iGEM competition in Boston over last weekend. The competition, held as Giant Jamboree, brings together thousands of synthetic biology researchers and celebrates the achievements of students. From the UK, teams representing Aberdeen, Cambridge-JIC, Dundee, Edinburgh, Exeter, Glasgow, Imperial, NRP-UEA-Norwich, Oxford, Sheffield, UCL and Warwick all received gold medals, York a silver and Kent a bronze. Furthermore, undergraduate teams from Aberdeen, Dundee and Imperial won category prizes and Imperial were also first runner up for the overall grand prize. A massively well-deserved achievement by our students and an indication of the UK’s strength in synthetic biology.

I attended the Celebration of British Science held at Number 10 last week. It was good to see so many key people from universities, industry, government and research institutes there and hear the commitment to the importance of research for the UK.

Finally, the Great British Bioscience Festival arrives in Bethnal Green, London next weekend. Researchers from across the UK and representing all areas of UK bioscience research will be showcasing their science in fun and interactive exhibits for all ages – an ultimate recognition of the excitement, impact and achievement of British bioscience.

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