Recently we in BBSRC have been thinking more holistically about our research and translational activities with a focus on the bioeconomy as it relates to our portfolio. Over the past few years a number of countries (for example, Germany (PDF)) have published Bioeconomy Strategies to provide a focus for funding and industrial activity. One can think of the bioeconomy as encompassing all the economic activity derived from bio-based products and processes. Such products and processes can provide sustainable and resource-efficient solutions for a range of industrial sectors including food, agriculture, chemicals, energy production, health and environmental protection. The size of the bioeconomy is truly staggering – in the EU alone the bioeconomy is estimated to be worth two trillion euros accounting for 22 million jobs, which is about 9% of the EU labour market. Each euro invested in EU-funded bioeconomy research and innovation is estimated to trigger €10 of value added in bioeconomy sectors by 2025.
The UK is well placed to consider such a more holistic approach to the bioeconomy since it has a strong research and industrial base in many of the key sectors that feature in it eg. chemicals, pharmaceuticals. For example the UK has over a 1,000 biomedical technology companies in the UK employing nearly 27,000 people and contributing over £4Bn to the economy in 2011/13.
The UK also has a commitment to other important areas such as agricultural technology and synthetic biology. The total income from farming in the UK in 2013 was over £5Bn so this is a hugely important area. It is likely that in some of these areas biobased solutions will be truly transformatory and it will be important to be able to capitalise on the investments already made to ensure that the UK is ready to embrace such transformations. Of course the impact of this bioscience based solutions will not only be felt in the UK but could also be important globally – improvements in bioenergy or bioprocessing could be important for many countries. Indeed we are already funding collaborations in some of these areas between scientists in the UK and their counterparts in India and Brazil.
Consideration of the bioeconomy as a whole might enable more effective interdisciplinary working and collaborating and increase alignment between government departments. I would be interested in hearing people’s views on this important topic. Similarly, realising the opportunities of the bioeconomy to drive sustainable and equitable growth and increase wellbeing is going to require bioscience to work with a range of other disciplines and in concert with partners across society.
Finally – I want to put to bed some scurrilous rumour that BBSRC is no longer funding mouse work – we have heard this from several different sources and I have no idea where it came from. Wherever it originated I can reassure you that it is not true – we love mouse work and will continue to fund excellent science in it! So all BBSRC-funded mouse researchers can relax!