Tag: biology

  • Research Advisory Panel, ethics, and a valediction

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    While I have some important external meetings this coming week, including one with Government Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Mark Walport, this will be my last blog (of more than 200) as BBSRC Chief Executive, so it will include some material of a valedictory nature.

    The first major external meeting of last week was of our Research Advisory Panel; this is a most important forum where we bring together the Chairs of Strategy Panels and of the Research Committees who are responsible for Delivery, plus those Council members who are members of the Strategic LoLa Committee. As well as a look at the overall portfolio, we scrutinised progress reports on each of the many Institute Strategic Programme Grants and National Capability Grants. All told, these various activities constitute a large and impressive funding portfolio, albeit (as I have remarked before in the context of a Zipf distribution) one that is comparatively thinly spread among individual investigators. [...]

  • Infrastructure for systems biology and related matters

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    As well as a swathe of ‘internal’ meetings, and one of the regular meetings of the RCUK Chief Executives with the Research Base in BIS, an important meeting, for which I provided the opening talk, concerned an assessment of how to build on the ca £165M BBSRC investment in Systems Biology that followed from the insightful 2003 assessment (“Towards predictive biology”) of my predecessor Prof Dame Julia Goodfellow, and the needs and priorities of human and physical infrastructure. The meeting was attended by many of the leading lights in the UK community. [...]

  • Institutes conference, the Unity of Biology and GM

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    Last week I attended our National Institutes of the Biosciences conference, this time held at the Roslin Institute, where (as last time in Norwich) we heard a range of absolutely stunning talks across the range of our remit, as you would expect from a country whose biological science is number one in the world. It would be quite egregious to pick out any or many “highlights”, but a major point of a conference such as this is the cross-fertilisation that comes when you bring different experts together with different knowledge, techniques and background, but which – because of the essential unity of biology, and indeed of science – can be applied elsewhere. So for my own work – which only infrequently includes mammalian cell biology, and whose conferences I almost never attend – I saw some fabulous images of intracellular organisation (as in this paper) from Peter Fraser and colleagues at Babraham, using one method which may be of considerable use for a problem in which I am interested. The fruits of modern genome sequencing methods (as in that of an ash dieback survivor) were also becoming especially manifest at this meeting (which also featured a call for more ‘mathematicians’ sensu lato in biology). I myself gave a plenary on our drug transporter systems biology work (as in this and this). I particularly enjoyed a plenary from Edinburgh’s Andrew Millar, who (after a typically erudite rehearsal of his work on the systems biology of circadian clocks, including cases that required no transcription) showed us how some fairly straightforward modelling explained why banking and other financial systems lacking the appropriate negative feedback loops (i.e. proper regulation) were doomed to explode. Some simple remedies exist (see an excellent paper (pdf) from the IMF for instance, and the New Economics Foundation). 90-97% of all present debt has been created by commercial banks lending money to people using (or against) assets they did not entirely have, a well-tested recipe for disaster, and one with an obvious and well-established set of solutions (also already explained by Haldane and May, among others). [...]

  • Unilever, IBERS and roadshows

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    Last week began with a reception and networking dinner at the Tate Modern, hosted by Unilever, whose CEO Paul Polman gave an excellent speech on their sustainability agenda. Sustainability is at the heart of biology, and will continue to be a core value for both BBSRC and the bioeconomy.

    I then travelled to IBERS at Aberystwyth University for the latest in our series of meetings with the Directors, and their Deputy Directors for Operations, of the Institutes that enjoy strategic support from BBSRC. As usual, the first day involved some excellent science talks from the host Institution, while the second day was more about catching up on progress since the last meeting. While there, I also managed to pop in to see old colleagues at Aber Instruments. [...]

  • Institute Directors, Committees and food security

    Uncategorized | Douglas Kell

    Last week saw one of our regular meetings with the Directors (and the Directors of Operations) of the Institutes enjoying strategic support from the BBSRC. This was held at The Roslin Institute, and was the first such meeting since most of the Institutes had undergone major governance changes. It therefore provided a very useful forum for comparing notes and best practices, and especially for seeing where some intellectual overlaps might be exploited to best advantage. The differences in the essential knowledgebases (and literatures) in plant and animal genetics provided one obvious example. [...]