For part of last week I attended (and gave the opening plenary lecture at) the 9th Annual Conference of the Metabolomics Society (#metsoc2013) in Glasgow, where I was also honoured – along with Lloyd Sumner – to be awarded this year’s Honorary Life Membership of the Society. (I am a co-author of the paper where the term ‘metabolome’ first appeared in the peer-reviewed literature.) I have not been to these meetings since I co-organised the 2007 version, and it was very nice to see how much the field has moved on, with the conference attracting over 700 delegates. It is known from metabolic control analysis (and see e.g. this paper) that while changes in transcript or protein levels or activities individually normally have only small effects on metabolic fluxes (other than those to exit), they can and do have large effects on metabolite concentrations, so the metabolome serves to amplify them. This is a principal motivation for studying the metabolome. There were a great many highlights in talks I was able to attend, far too many to mention, but to give a flavour of the breadth I might note a fascinating exposition on the use of metabolomics to understand peanut allergy by Brian McCarry, the metabolome-based discovery of a mitochondrial pyruvate carrier (James Cox), Drosophila metabolomics (Julian Dow), willow metabolomics (Jane Ward), numerous advances in mass spectrometry methods (Graham Cooks), and an excellent analysis of the bases for the highly variable response of humans to aspirin (Sandrine Ellero-Simato). Next year’s meeting, as was the first (see report) (that I also attended), will be in Tsuruoka, Japan. [...]
As with any organisation or system, its effective functioning requires much internal (as well as external) communication between and within our groups. Thus, most of my meetings last week were ‘internal’, including meetings of our Finance Group (that also includes things like Estates) and our Corporate Policy and Strategy Group. In addition, BBSRC is ‘home’ to the Research Councils Internal Audit Service (RCIAS) that – as you would suppose – provides internal audit and assurance services to the Research Councils and other bodies, and I had one of my regular meetings with its Director.
We also have interactions with many external organisations, and – related to a joint call in Synthetic Biology – we are hosting an official from the Defence Science and Technology Lab (DSTL), with whom I had a scientifically very interesting discussion. [...]
Welcome back to all from the winter break, to the first blog of 2012!
As last year, I attended part of the Oxford Farming Conference, where I enjoyed many excellent talks, such as one from USDA Chief Economist Joe Glauber highlighting the economic benefits to be had from investment in agricultural R&D and another from the newly knighted Defra Chief Scientist Sir Bob Watson. In informal conversation I also discovered the existence (from a young OFC Scholar) of the Miscanthus Growers Group. There is no doubt that improved and sustainable agricultural productivity is very much back on the scientific and agricultural agenda. [...]
As we near the Christmas holidays (and this will be the last blog of 2011), I can look back on an exceptional year of achievement for BBSRC: a ring-fenced budget, many exciting scientific breakthroughs, the maintenance of the UK as the premier nation in biology, and a slew of recent announcements of large capital sums awarded for important biological projects. A measure of this was my latest quarterly talk to staff last week, in which I listed some of these, that occupied fully 90 minutes.
Much of the rest of the week was punctuated by celebratory events, including a trip to St James’s Palace to launch and take forward thinking on the Festival of food and farming (“Farming in the Park”) taking place in Hyde Park in September 2013. Among the speeches, including one from Caroline Spelman, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, we were honoured to be addressed by His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, who spoke eloquently and without notes on the importance of British farming and food, as well as providing a witty and entertaining history of our palatial surrounding. [...]
Last week involved a couple of round tables hosted by Minister of Universities and Science David Willetts, the first on collaborations with China and the second on e-infrastructure (a topic that is a regular feature of this blog). Both are very important topics. BBSRC has long enabled collaborations with China through a number of schemes, such as the International Scientific Interchange Scheme and China Partnering Awards scheme. I myself was awarded one of the latter in 2004, and a number of papers, such as one on particle swarm optimization ensued. There is no doubt, that with a population some 23 times that of the UK, a buoyant economy and a large cadre of numerate scientists, China is likely to be a very important partner for the UK. [...]