This past week has been taken up with a visit to Washington DC, partly to attend the AAAS Annual Meeting where RCUK had a significant presence and partly to connect with, and say personal goodbyes to, a number of organisations and individuals with whom BBSRC either already collaborates or might do so in the future.
The visit only served to emphasise how important international partnerships are in biological science and with the recent announcement in the budget of an increase in both the Newton Fund and Official Development Assistance (ODA) eligible spend for the Research Councils, this importance will only grow. Our links with the National Science Foundation (NSF) are well established with a Memorandum of Understanding on Research Cooperation in place, successful joint calls and co-funding of workshops and sandpits to discuss new areas of mutual interest. As well as BBSRC individual meetings with the NSF’s BIO division, there was also a bilateral between all the Research Council representatives and all the divisional heads of NSF. The NSF divisions outlined their scientific priorities for the next round of funding and RCUK outlined the outcomes of the Comprehensive Spending and Nurse Reviews. There was also a demonstration of a particularly impressive portfolio analytics tool that NSF has developed.
NSF reports into the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) with the Executive Office of the President. We had an interesting morning at OSTP, discussing a range of topics with a number of different officials hosted by Dr Gre Shannon. Of special relevance to BBSRC was meeting Robbie Barbero who is Assistant Director for Biological Innovation with interests in the bioeconomy in general and synthetic biology in particular.
On the same day we also met with the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and heard about one of their 35 roundtables called GUIRR (Government, University, Industry Research Roundtable). They hold three meetings a year where they bring together representatives from funding agencies, academia, policy advisors and industry. They publish brief reports of these meetings which are available on their website, along with other publications such as ‘Culture Matter: International Research Collaboration in a Changing World’ and they also hold free webinars on a variety of subjects.
BBSRC has developed links with USDA-NIFA and it was good to catch up with their officials to check on the strength of the relationship and progress on current and future joint efforts, which include two workshops planned for 2016 on plant health and the microbiome. Our relationships with USAID are less well developed but we do put funding into the same projects such as the International Wheat Yield Partnership. There are clearly opportunities to work together more with the increased emphasis on ODA funding at the Research Councils.
Some general themes emerged across all the meetings – the importance of the bioeconomy and the sectors within it; the potential for a follow-on project to BREAD involving UK funders as well as USA; sharing of best practice, reproducibility and the importance of diversity. In terms of reproducibility it is important to note the creation by Amgen and the biochemist Bruce Alberts of a new channel to share replications of experiments since these seem to be hard to publish (because journals don’t consider the data ‘novel’). It will be published by the F1000Research channel and is called ‘Preclinical Reproducibility and Robustness’.
Closer to home, the importance of partnerships has been shown by the establishment of the new centre at Norwich. The name of the centre was announced this week – it is to be called The Quadram Institute, the name reflecting the four partners involved in founding it: BBSRC, IFR, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospitals Foundation Trust and the University of East Anglia. The focus of The Quadram Institute, to be headed by Professor Ian Charles (the current Director of IFR), will be across four research themes: the interactions between the gut and its microbiome, healthy ageing, food innovation and food safety. The institute will interact with world leading groups at The John Innes Centre and The Genome Analysis Centre to provide a unique environment for this area of science. In addition it will stimulate interactions between clinical and non-clinical scientists and provide space for industrial partners to work alongside basic scientists. I am very pleased that The Quadram Institute is now scheduled for delivery in 2018 and to watching it develop between now and then. You can see a video about the institute at youtu.be/MtgsqxB0dU8.