It is customary, close to the beginning of each New Year, to consider what the year ahead might hold, so my first blog of the year sets out some of my thoughts and predictions.

For 2018, I anticipate we will see an increasing emphasis on discovery research. The importance of researcher-led discovery science is something which I have often heard members of our research community speak passionately about – and is something which I am a fervent supporter of too. Through BBSRC’s ‘Frontier Bioscience’ theme we have highlighted our commitment and support for discovery research – and I hope this will become increasingly apparent throughout the coming year.

In terms of scientific trends, we will start to see greater use of digital technologies in bioscience – machine learning and artificial intelligence – allowing researchers to probe unsolved questions of scale. As we seek to understand biological complexity and its control, the importance of quantitation in biology will increase, which in turn will underpin the development of more predictive approaches. And the central role that all forms of imaging play in bioscience research, from single molecule to field scale, will continue to expand – although I’m not going to predict what the ‘next big thing’ in imaging will be!

Looking back to early 2017, we were anticipating a Government green paper on the Industrial Strategy (PDF). This, and the Industrial Strategy White paper, were both subsequently delivered, with the latter setting out a vision for building a Britain of the future and signalling a number of priorities for the year ahead. For BBSRC this includes the ‘Transforming Food Production’ Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund programme. A cross-organisational team, from Innovate UK, BBSRC, BEIS and Defra, have been working hard on the development of this challenge, engaging with key business and academic leaders as the programme takes shape. And while the case is still subject to confirmation of funding, I anticipate that this will be a key activity for the year ahead. Watch this space for future updates on the opportunities.

Related to this, BBSRC hosted the ‘Innovation Hub’ at the Oxford Farming Conference in the first week of January. I led two interactive sessions, engaging a range of conference delegates, where six teams of researchers showcased the new technologies and approaches they are developing that will enable future farming. Areas covered were broad ranging and included work on black grass and herbicide resistance, led by Rob Edwards (Newcastle) through to the use of machine learning to predict the source of food-bourne pathogens outbreaks, research presented by Alison Tidswell from David Gally’s team at The Roslin Institute. Feedback suggests the Innovation Hub format was very effective and popular.

One of the key milestones for the year will be the launch of UK Research and Innovation on 1 April. In preparation for this BBSRC will be appointing a new Council (I have been busy with interviewing potential Council members), who will play a key role in supporting the BBSRC Executive Chair and shaping BBSRC’s future strategic direction.

2018 will also see the selection of the 10th winner of BBSRC’s Innovator of the Year competition – there is still time to submit your nomination ahead of the 7 February deadline!

It promises to be another year of change and opportunity!

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