I was delighted to make my first trip to India recently, representing UKRI at the ‘Together for Impact’ celebrations marking a decade of India-UKRI partnership and to officially launch UKRI India. Some examples of UK-India collaborations can be viewed in this video, with more detail on a decade of cooperation available in this report (PDF).

BBSRC has been building relationships with our Indian counterparts, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT) in particular, for the past two decades. BBSRC first signed an MoU with DBT in 1996 and then in 2006 we launched our India Partnering Award scheme, enabling BBSRC-supported researchers to forge long-term relationships with Indian counterparts (this year’s competition is open until 15 Nov 2018). With DBT we have funded joint research in bioenergy, livestock disease and crop production and with the availability of additional resources, via GCRF and the Newton Fund, have explored novel ways of partnering through sandpits (in aquaculture), joint centres (nitrogen in agriculture) and with other UKRI partners in reducing waste and enhancing use of agricultural data.

There is clear evidence of impact emerging from these partnerships. A project funded as part of the joint BBSRC-DBT ‘Farmed Animal Disease and Health’ programme has developed a smart ‘DIVA’ vaccine effective against ‘goat plague’ (caused by the Peste des petits ruminants virus) – a disease which kills 90% of animals, with devastating consequences on farmer’s livelihoods and food supply. This vaccine is the first to allow vaccinated animals to be distinguished from infected animals, allowing livestock farmers to keep trading while protecting their animals from the disease – more detail is available from The Pirbright Institute.

I was delighted that all UKRI partners had the opportunity participate in a number of bi and multi-lateral meetings with Indian funders. In the case of BBSRC, I was very struck by our partner DBT’s enthusiasm, flexible approach and our strategic alignment around many of the global challenges that are important to both countries.

It was a real pleasure to reconnect with Prof Vijay Raghaven, now Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India, having previously met as members of the Board of Trustees of the Human Frontiers Science Programme Organisation. Vijay had previously been Secretary of DBT, so BBSRC has worked with him for a number of years. He spent a significant amount of time in a multilateral meeting with all UKRI colleagues, demonstrating the value India places on partnership with the UK, and actively discussed a range of areas of future collaboration.

Copyright: BBSRC
Professor Melanie Welham in India. Copyright: BBSRC

As part of the trip we visited the National Institute of Plant Genome Research, where we enjoyed a tour of the facilities, lunch with key researchers and I then participated in a ‘Women in Leadership’ event. It was very interesting to learn more about the experiences of women in STEM in India and the challenges they face. The discussion panel concluded that support, sponsorship, flexibility and resilience are common enabling factors. Dr Renu Swarup, Secretary of DBT (and an alumni of the John Innes Centre), outlined the measures they have taken, as funders, to help support women in research and I was very impressed by the tenacity of the female researchers I met during my visit.

The concept of ‘frugal innovation’ was mentioned several times during the visit to India, which made me wonder whether we have examples of BBSRC researchers pursuing such approaches. The ideal opportunity to showcase this would be BBSRC’s Innovator of the Year competition – which is now open for recommendations and applications. The categories are International Impact, Social Impact, Commercial Impact and Early Career Impact – more details on how to apply or recommend a colleague are available on the BBSRC website. We had a really strong and very diverse field of applications last year and I am hoping for a repeat in 2019!

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