There are many global challenges where crops have an important role to play – the prediction that the world’s population is predicted to increase from 7 billion now to 9 billion in 2050 (PDF), demand for meat will increase by 40% by 2025 and the fact that 30% of all crops in Africa (PDF) are destroyed by insects and weeds are just a few of the issues facing us globally. [...]
The first external meeting was with Prof David MacKay, Chief Scientist at the Department of Energy and Climate Change. We enjoyed a wide-ranging discussion focussed on Bioenergy, including theoretical yields of photosynesis, losses in light and dark reactions, the continuing improvement in willow and Miscanthus yields, biological carbon sequestration, anti-flooding plants, the overall contribution to energy and chemicals needs one might anticipate from UK crops, and so on.
I attended an interesting and rationally argued set of talks at the British Library on pollinators and insecticides, chaired by Bill Turnbull of BBC Breakfast News fame (and a clearly committed beekeeper), with Panel contributions by individuals from the British Beekeepers Association, from Cambridge University and from Syngenta. The multifactorial nature of stresses on bees (not least poor weather and inadequate forage) were well explained (and well accepted) by all. Interestingly, most of the issues were precisely those that I had covered in an earlier blog or two. [...]
Last week began with the chance to welcome the Minister for Universities and Science David Willetts to Rothamsted Research, with discussions focusing on the productivity of both food and non-food crops. The productivity gains in e.g. willow production are already themselves increasing markedly as a result of the ‘appliance of science’ to breeding and agronomy.
We had a lengthy meeting of Council, the first day of which involved some major decisions regarding the funding of the Institutes that receive strategic support from BBSRC. Subject to some further work, these outcomes are likely to be announced in the next week or two.
I attended a superb talk by Sir Greg Winter, run by the Foundation for Science and Technology, that covered the history of his production and commercialisation (via Cambridge Antibody Technology, now MedImmune) of humanised monoclonal antibodies. It was notable that 6 of the top ten selling drugs (generating $5-10Bn per year) are humanised antibodies – a huge success for a British technology. [...]
Last week began with a visit to discuss Life Sciences and related topics at the University of Warwick, which also included discussions of horticulture, as part of the Warwick Crop Centre. Horticulture is a somewhat unheralded UK success story, in that it has had little investment, is rather profitable, and its products are widely recognised as having considerable health benefits. The application of modern biology to understanding and improving horticultural crops can only assist this continuing process.
Horticulture is thus an important Bioindustry, and I had an interesting session at the BioIndustry Association as part of their Parliament Day, where our discussions focussed on the best ways to capture the value for the biotechnology sector from the enormous amounts of knowledge and expertise in Higher Education and Research Institutes. [...]
The understanding of biochemical and other networks is an important part of systems biology, and I enjoyed attending an interesting seminar on “network-based drug design” by Péter Csermely of Semmelweiss University, where I was alerted to a number of his papers such as this one, and even a book, that had passed me by. Not for the first time, one is led to lament the difficulty of keeping up with the voluminous literature.
We had a meeting of the Chairs of the Institute Assessment Panels. Council also met.
I attended the launch by Minister of Universities and Science David Willetts of the Innovation and Research Strategy for Growth paper (pdf), which set down a number of important initiatives for the research base. [...]