Originally I was writing my blog two Fridays ago and was focusing very much on our international activities with a trip by relevant members of the BBSRC Executive and myself to Brussels. With the events in Paris on that evening and the alerts in Brussels over the past weekend, it has given me pause to think of our international activities in a slightly different context.

Much of what we do as a Research Council is focussed on supporting research and researchers in the UK. Yet science is a global endeavour and many of the challenges that science can contribute to solving are global, especially in areas such as infectious disease, food security and climate change. The importance of engaging with scientific communities around the globe has never been greater and initiatives like the Newton Fund enable researchers and research funders to do this more effectively. Therefore I was pleased to see that one of the recommendations of the Nurse Review of the Research Councils, published last week, was that “Research Councils should provide leadership and influence in Europe and across the world to influence European and other international research priorities, which in turn play their part in shaping the UK research endeavour”.

The very sad incidents over the past weeks have shown us that we need to tackle global challenges together in a holistic way and that we cannot be isolationist in either our thinking or our science.

Our trip to Brussels had been planned for some time and utilised the help of our colleagues in the UK Research Office (UKRO) based in Brussels – I would certainly urge colleagues and partners to make as much use as possible of their expertise! The aims of the visit were threefold:- to strengthen our connections and links with key Directorates of the Commission; to discuss forward strategies of mutual interest including the bioeconomy and lastly to get feedback on our proposed meeting next year in Brussels to encourage more dialogue about the science of new techniques for crop improvement. I am pleased to say that the meetings achieved these objectives with valuable insights and inputs from members of the Commission.

Apart from meetings with Robert-Jan Smits (Director-General, DG Research and Innovation) and Robert Madelin (Senior Innovation Advisor, European Political Strategy Centre) the BBSRC team split our efforts to maximise the number of contacts we met. I made contact with some of my old Innovative Medicines Initiative (IMI) colleagues in the DG Research including Irene Norstedt and Elmar Nimmesgern where we discussed the One Health agenda and some potential collaborative areas for funders around research reproducibility. From the meetings with DG Agri and other members of DG Research it became clear that the Commission sees the bioeconomy agenda as a critically important one for economic growth. I learnt a lot more about a very different Joint Technology Initiative (JTI) to the IMI – the Bio-based Industries JTI, which aims to put €3.7Bn worth of investment in bio-based innovation from 2014-2020. Of this €975M of EU funds (Horizon 2020) and €2.7Bn of private investments. The BBI hopes to also leveraging capital markets and additional private and public funds e.g. through synergies with EU Structural Funds.

There was also a lot of support for more dialogue on the new crop breeding technologies at a scientific level and we were urged to continue with our plans for a meeting next year. To this end the team in the office responsible will be identifying a date which is suitable and working with UKRO to identify the most appropriate people to invite – we want to invite people with a range of views to really stimulate debate.

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