I was fortunate to travel to Japan recently, first to Kyoto to attend the 14th Science and Technology in Society forum (STS forum) and then on to Tokyo for a series of visits and meetings.

A key focus on the trip were a series of bi-lateral meetings with funding agencies (from around the globe) which Sir Mark Walport and I attended together. These meetings provided the opportunity to update colleagues on progress towards UK Research and Innovation and also emphasise the importance of international collaboration in maintaining excellence in research and innovation. The release last week of the 2016 International comparison of the performance of the UK research base highlights the UK’s world-leading position in many areas and the contribution that international collaboration has. Related to this point, while in Japan it was particularly interesting to discuss how, as funders, we can reduce the barriers to international collaboration. We will be following up on some of these opportunities in the coming months.

I was very pleased to have been invited to chair the Healthy Ageing discussion session at the STS Forum, where it was a privilege to have two Nobel Prize winners – Tim Hunt and Peter Agre – among the discussion leads. Tim Hunt got proceedings underway with much good humour and drew the assembled audience’s attention to an early work by August Weismann on ‘The Duration of Life (from 1881) – with ensuing discussions bringing us to consider how emerging technologies could promote healthy ageing in the 21st century.

Travelling to Tokyo provided the opportunity to visit the RIKEN site in Yokohama, where we had a very engaging and informative afternoon at the Centre for Sustainable Resource Science (and were touched to see the Union Jack being flown outside the building). A key focus here is on plant science and metabolomics – with very clear links to the research that BBSRC supports across plant sciences and industrial biotechnology. It was a pleasure to meet a number of researchers who had spent time in the UK – at both the John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia – reminding us again of the importance of the mobility of researchers.

Staying with the theme of international collaboration, a particular highlight was a dinner, hosted by the UK Ambassador to Japan (Paul Madden) at the British Embassy in Tokyo. Sir Mark and I had the opportunity to meet a group of leading Japanese frontier bioscientists, each of whom had well-established research connections with the UK. Several of the guests were current or previous holders of BBSRC-supported UK-Japan partnering awards – with interests ranging from systems biology, through to Wnt signalling, stem cell biology, development and neuroscience. We all enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion, from genetic determination of chirality in snail shells (PDF) to the importance of promoting diversity in research. Some of our guests have been involved in some impressive diversity initiatives, including Noriko Osumi and Reiko Kuroda and it struck me that this could well be an area of UK-Japan collaboration in the future.

A busy, informative and thought-provoking trip – with just enough time at the airport to pick some green tea chocolates – a rare treat and self-declared weakness!

Related posts (based on tags and chronology):