At the time of writing I am heading back from the Science and Technology in Society (STS) forum meeting, held in Kyoto, Japan. The STS forum was established 13 years ago and attracts leaders from academia, industry, funding agencies and governments from around the world. The forum is very much focused on discussion and I was delighted to present as part of the plenary session on ‘Delivering healthcare to the world’. The focus of my talk was the potential of microbiome research and I was pleased at the level of interest and positive feedback I received – a Canadian delegate commented with surprise on the 2kg of microorganisms in his gut!
One of the most lively discussion sessions I attended focused on genome engineering – spanning the whole gamut from gene editing to gene drives and beyond. It was fascinating to hear the diversity of views from international colleagues on the scientific, ethical and regulatory challenges faced. Concerns were expressed about the potential impacts of insect vectors modified with gene drives on biodiversity, although others argued mosquitos have few redeeming features. In the end the group considered the risks and benefits would need to be carefully considered on a case by case basis.
I also attended the Funding Agency Presidents meeting, hosted by the Japanese Science and Technology Agency (JST) and DFG. The first topic we discussed was how we build capacity to address global challenges (very relevant to GCRF). The importance of researcher exchange was highlighted, along with the value that international collaboration delivers. In my group, we discussed the idea of an international mentoring scheme to continue to support researchers in lower and middle income countries following on from exchange/twinning activities – something worth further consideration. In separate meetings with the key funding agencies in Japan, it was clear they are keen to promote the opportunities that working internationally can bring to science – encouraging both inward and outward mobility. It is worth looking at these links (JST, JSPS) if you have an interest in collaborating with colleagues in Japan.
The second topic for discussion was the dynamic interplay between research and innovation. There was fairly universal appreciation that research and innovation is a continuum (something you may have heard me espouse before), yet in many countries responsibility for supporting research and innovation fall to different government departments, which makes connecting the two challenging. Listening to this it was clear to me that the approach we have in the UK, and soon to be strengthened by the formation of UKRI, is a real advantage and one on which we can build.
Upon further reflection it is clear to me that the UK really does provide international leadership in so many areas of science and technology, yet I think that all too often we don’t recognise this, perhaps it is time that we gave ourselves more credit.