This year’s European Science Open Forum (ESOF) was recently held in Toulouse and attended by scientists, researchers, policy makers and interested members of the general public from across the world. It was heartening to see members of the UK community making a significant contribution to what was a very varied programme*. UK leadership in bioscience was well represented with varied talks and policy discussions including Tim Benton on food security and Richard Thompson (University of Plymouth) on the hot topic of plastic pollution in the ocean, with others discussing the future for plastics.

ExoMars Rover
Visitors were able to take to the controls of working scale models of the ExoMars Rover and meet the next generation agricultural robot that shares much of its technology. Copyright: BBSRC

On this note, UK Research and Innovation funded experts recently provided a briefing on bioplastics to the nation’s major media outlets, which led to a number of thought-provoking articles**. Our thanks go to Professor Simon McQueen Mason from University of York, Paul Mines CEO of Biome Bioplastics, Professor Tim Bugg of The University of Warwick and Professor Janet Scott of University of Bath, who had a lively conversation with journalists. Watch out in the news for more on how bioscience is providing answers to some of the big questions we have.

At ESOF the Interactive UK Research and Innovation stand played host to speakers and visitors alike with some fantastic, hands-on demonstrations of UK science and innovation that crosses both borders and even beyond. Visitors were able to interact with a working model of the ExoMars Rover and learn about its progression to an agricultural robot ‘sister’ that is currently being tested in northern England – checking nitrogen levels in soil. Its latest iteration is currently being tested in Cambodia where it is assisting in clearing minefields. Proof, if ever needed, that excellent frontier research can have many and varied applications. A public competition to name the rover has just been launched with the plea “Don’t call me Spacey McSpace Face”.

BBSRC’s Jools Granville demonstrates epigenetics sequencing with Jean Eric Paquet, Director-General for Research & Innovationat the European Commission
BBSRC’s Jools Granville demonstrates epigenetics sequencing with Jean Eric Paquet, Director-General for Research & Innovationat the European Commission. Copyright: BBSRC

Friends from STFC’s Hartree facility demonstrated parallel computing using a super computer built from the low cost, easily accessible, UK-designed Raspberry Pi. A team of early career UK researchers, funded by EPSRC, brought along a version of a Sonopill which will revolutionise how we do endoscopy.  We also provided visitors from all backgrounds, scientific and policy alike, with an introduction to Epigenetics designed by Babraham Institute.  Here visitors used ribbons and bobbins to replicate DNA and histones – learning a little about bioinformatics and the chIP- seq process along the way. Many were astounded that the 2m ribbons are the actual length of the DNA that sits inside of each of our almost 50,000 trillion cells.

Interestingly one of the cross cutting themes of the week in Toulouse was equality, diversity and inclusiveness, a topic that we are greatly interested in at BBSRC and across the wider UK Research and Innovation family. Professor Michael Wakelam joined European peers within the LIBRA group to deliver a fascinating talk on how a group of European institutes, including his own, Babraham Institute, are working together to make the case for cultural change in Life Sciences, with some fantastic results.

* Full list of UK speakers at ESOF can be found here: UK Research and Innovation: UK speakers at ESOF (PDF)

** Bioplastics in the news:

The Telegraph: Biodegradable plastic made from ‘tree glue’ could be on shelves within five years

The Guardian: Researchers race to make bioplastics from straw and food waste

Mail Online: Environmentally friendly plastic made from straw could soon be used in disposable bottles and packaging

GM camelina:

BBC News: Omega-3 oils in farmed salmon ‘halve in five years’

Follow on Twitter: 

Melanie Welham (@MelanieWelham)

Tim Benton (@timgbenton)

Paul Mines (@PaulMines1)

Hartree (@HartreeCentre)


Sonopill (@SonopillUK)

Michael Wakelam (@Wakelamm)

Anne Glover (@AnneGlover_EU)

Johnathan Napier (@johnathannapie1)

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