An important meeting last week was the last Council meeting of 2012, where substantive items included a detailed, high-level analysis of our research grant expenditure and portfolio, plus discussion and approval of our plans for rolling out further and exciting programmes in Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy.
Tag: Rothamsted Research
My first appointment last week was to give the welcoming address at the opening of the Systems Microscopy Centre in Manchester, led by Mike White. The Department of Bioenergy and Climate Change published its Bioenergy Strategy, noting that indeed bioenergy is expected to play a key role in our ability to meet the 2020 renewables target as well as longer term carbon reduction targets to 2030 and 2050. It is also a response to the Committee on Climate Change’s Bioenergy Review. The timing chimed with the announcement of a new grant on Miscanthus breeding, that was also mentioned in the Prime Minister’s speech on the Green Economy. We also had a very useful meeting of the members of Rothamsted Research.
I attended a very interesting meeting of the Foundation for Science and Technology, on “Reducing the risk of a systemic failure of the banking system” (or ‘yet another’ failure, one might say). The speakers included John Kay, who provided a very thoughtful insight on some aspects that insiders got wrong, and Andy Haldane, whose wonderful paper with Lord May I blogged about before. I would like to conclude that I was reassured, but there is a distance between the perceived remedies (some of which – like requiring banks only to trade at levels that are backed by real assets – seem and are rather obvious) and their application. There was however general agreement about the need to separate investment (‘casino’) banking from retail banking, and the need for simplicity, a loose coupling of subsystems, and proper incentivisation. Certainly we need to get ourselves a financial system (‘responsible capitalism’) that provides for the creation of value and not just the simple transfer of money (real and imaginary) from the majority of taxpayers to others who are seemingly out of the control of the public and the public good. [...]
Apologies to the late Sonny Bono for that title. My first main visit of the week was to Broom’s Barn, between Newmarket and Bury St Edmunds. Although it now carries out a much broader portfolio of activities, and is part of Rothamsted Research, it is embedded (like the British Sugar factory at Wissington (PDF), about which I blogged before), in the sugar beet-growing areas of East Anglia. The sugar beet portfolio focussed on molecular breeding for yield improvement and disease resistance (especially to leaf viruses and to Rhizomania), where a reference beet genome sequence will be invaluable, while other foci included agronomy, drought tolerance and non-invasive methods for plant phenotyping. Although average UK yields of sugar beet are 60-70t/ha, some growers are achieving over 100 t/ha. A two-fold variance of agricultural yields is not atypical, and suggests that there is indeed considerable room for improvement, not least in terms of sugar content (which is still under 20% w/v). [...]