In my last blog, I highlighted some of the excellent examples of frontier bioscience that I heard about at the Human Frontiers Science Programme awardees meeting in Lisbon in July. I felt it appropriate that for this blog I bring this closer to home and here I reflect on some of the frontier bioscience research that BBSRC has recently supported.

Copyright: ZEISS Microscopy on Flickr by CC 2.0
Copyright: ZEISS Microscopy on Flickr by CC 2.0

Over the summer, BBSRC Swindon office has been hosting a BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership student, George Ashton, from the University of Nottingham, on a Professional Internship for PhD Students scheme. George has spent his 3-month internship with our Frontier Bioscience team and his internship project has focussed on analysing and capturing the cutting edge frontier bioscience that BBSRC funds through our flagship Responsive Mode Funding programme.

What has become clear very quickly is that each round of Responsive Mode assessment (our committees meet 3 times a year) receives and recommends for funding a very diverse array of fantastic frontier bioscience. I would like to highlight this with just a handful of examples that give a sense of the breadth of frontier research BBSRC supports.

Antimicrobial discovery

At the frontline of antimicrobial research is Professor Matthew Hutchings, from the University of East Anglia. Approximately 50% of antibiotics in current use are derived from the Streptomyces group of bacteria. Intriguingly, Streptomyces are known to produce a whole range of ‘silent’ secondary metabolites, many of which are hard to isolate and remain uncharacterised, but which could include novel antibiotics. Prof Hutchings’ research team has discovered a way to alter the control of silent secondary metabolite production in Streptomyces species, through manipulating endogenous regulatory pathways. The next steps will build on this fundamental discovery and exploit this knowledge in the search for new antibiotics.

Gene control

Professor Nicola Gray and her research team from the University of Edinburgh are studying the control of gene expression in multicellular organisms – with a particular focus on furthering our knowledge of how post-transcriptional control of gene expression is regulated by multifunctional mRNA binding proteins. Our current understanding of what endows these proteins with multiple functions and how each function is coordinated is limited. The Gray team are seeking to shed light on this by understanding how post-translational modifications impact mRNA binding protein function. This understanding will provide important fundamental insight into an important facet of gene regulation, knowledge with the potential to impact many areas of biotechnology.

Mating song

Another example is within the field of auditory neuroscience. Dr Berthold Hedwig and his team of innovative researchers at the University of Cambridge are using crickets as a model system to understand how patterns of sound are recognised and processed by the auditory nerve cells in the brain – which, surprisingly, is currently poorly understood. Understanding this fundamental biological process has the potential to find application in fields such as machine hearing and improvement in hearing aids.

These are just a few examples of the frontier bioscience that BBSRC supports – and really just the scratch the surface. Research which expands our knowledge and understanding of fundamental biological processes is the lifeblood on which our understanding of all living systems depends and it is of huge importance to me that BBSRC continues to encourage and support frontier bioscience.

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