It’s good to be back to blogging after taking a break from my keyboard over the summer. I took some time away from the office as well. In August there were a couple of weeks of weeding, including Arabidopsis (model organism or not it has to go from the borders), dog walking, fruit picking and repotting followed by a much more restful week in Malta in September. However since returning life has got very busy and the next few months promise to be interesting leading up to the Spending Review announcement in November.

A focus for BBSRC currently, and for the coming years, is microbial communities – whether in the soil, in biofilms or in the gastrointestinal tract. The microbioma is becoming increasingly recognised as important for our health and wellness and is beginning to spawn a whole industry in terms of microbiome sequencing. Companies in this sphere are always a source of unusual facts such as the following from uBiome:

  • A study of belly button bacteria found 1,458 different species
  • Even when you clean your teeth thoroughly there will still be between 1,000 and 100,000 bacteria remaining on each tooth (depressing as the mouth is a significant source of systemic infection with quite severe consequences)
  • The average person swallows a litre of their own saliva every day, containing 100 billion bacteria

In this context I was pleased to see that the planning application for the
new centre for food and health at Norwich has been approved – supported by BBSRC and other partners. Recently I met with Ian Charles, Director of the Institute of Food Research, who will head up the new Centre and discussed his plans to prepare the Institute of Food Research for its transition into the new Centre. BBSRC is the primary UK funder for basic microbiology research and has funded excellent science in microbiology over many years. BBSRC has invested over £80M per year in over 90 institutions. Our remit covers all types of microbe (bacteria, virus, fungi etc.) and includes research targets from the basic understanding of microbial cellular mechanisms, to host pathogen interactions and applied use of microbes. In terms of microbial pathogens BBSRC’s research remit includes all aspects of plant and animal pathogens, zoonotic pathogens, and fundamental aspects of human pathogens although it excludes the interactions between human pathogens and their human host.

I spent a great day at the Babraham Institute recently hearing about their excellent science going on there and also giving one of their ‘My Life in Science’ presentations. The Babraham Research Campus too has changed completely from when I was a Governor there in the 1990s and the first discussions about building a bio-incubator were ongoing. BBSRC then took a brave step in underwriting the first building but it was an inspired move on both BBSRC’s part and the leadership of the then Director of the Institute, Richard Dyer, to go ahead with the construction. Babraham is now a thriving bioscience campus, with the Institute at its heart and with the latest building already full and a waiting list of tenants for the campus! In 2014 there were already over 50 companies on the campus creating over 500 jobs and this number is growing. In addition campus companies have attracted significant investment both from the UK and abroad. I am confident that BBSRC’s and Government’s investment in our other campuses will bear similar fruit!

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