The week began with a meeting of our Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy Strategy Panel, who I was able to join for a useful dinner discussion. Impact is an area of considerable general interest, and I participated in two events on that theme. The first was a TalkScience event (Whose Impact is it anyway?) at the British Library chaired by William Cullerne Bown (Founder and Publisher of Research Fortnight) where I gave a short talk; my co-panellists were Professor Nick Tyler (Head of Civil, Environmental and Geomatic Engineering at UCL), Professor Geraint Rees (Director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL) and Dr Chris Hale (Deputy Director of Policy at Universities UK). The presentations will be on the Web in due course, and I shall provide a link when they are. The second event was a Foundation of Science and Technology event on Making Science Work, involving a speech by Sir Paul Nurse, PRS, and with ‘responses’ from David Eyton (Group Head of Technology at BP), BBSRC Council Member Dr Andy Richards (Chair of Abcodia et mult al.), and RCUK Chair Professor Rick Rylance. These talks are already on the Web (as well as a pdf summary), and there followed, as ever, two lively discussion periods. All very timely as we begin to set down, once again, the enormous economic value that research in civil science and technology, and especially the Sustainable Bioeconomy, brings to the UK. […]
Last week began with one of the regular meetings of our Audit Board, focussing especially on this year’s accounts, and also including the Research Councils’ Pension Scheme accounts for which I am Accounting Officer.
We had a very interesting meeting with Joann Roskoski, Deputy Assistant Director of Biological Sciences at the US National Science Foundation. We already have a number of joint programmes with the NSF, and it was most interesting to see the consonance of our thinking in areas such as sustainability, ‘big data’, open access and the like. In this regard, I read an interesting blog post on the extent to which (non-open-access) scientific journals help or hinder scientific progress, and another that involved blogging a thesis. […]
Last week’s activities very much centred around the capture by biology of solar energy and its conversion into chemical bonds. On Monday I attended and spoke at the opening of the new phenotyping centre at IBERS in Aberystwyth. I had myself moved to Aberystwyth a year after Fred Sanger published the first systematic sequencing paper, involving the phage phiX174 with about 5.000 nucleotides, a number that had taken a year and a half to sequence. That number could now be done on one modern machine in about a millisecond! Given these advances, and the increasing cheapness of sequencing, it is clear that attention must now focus much more on the phenotype and the mapping between genotype and phenotype. […]
As part of a truncated post-Easter week I had a very interesting meeting with Ketan Patel, author of a very interesting book and who I had met at the STS Forum last autumn. A particular focus was on sustainability and how to estimate the full environmental and economic costs of various strategies, especially in agriculture, bioenergy and industrial biotechnology.
Continuing that theme, I attended part of the very interesting BSBEC grantholders workshop, where excellent progress is being made in this large and wide-ranging programme in sustainable bioenergy.
I had a very interesting visit to Newcastle University, where I visited a number of centres including the Centre for Bacterial Cell Biology, gave a talk about BBSRC strategy and also gave a scientific talk. I then returned south for a meeting by videoconference of the ‘Members’ (part of the new governance arrangements) of the John Innes Centre. […]
The first part of last week was spent at the superb Bioeconomy in action meeting (twitter @bioeconomy_dk) arranged under the auspices of the Danish Presidency of the EU. Recognising the integrated nature of the bioeconomy that starts with the plant-based (and possibly algal) photosynthesis of biomass and creates high value products, speaker after speaker saw this as the vision for the creation of sustainable growth and jobs. The meeting was far too broad and detailed to repeat all of the messages, but some came through both strongly and regularly, such as the need to integrate farmers into the vision for food and non-food crops, the importance (stressed especially by Ruud Lubbers, ex-Prime Minister of the Netherlands) of taxing net CO2 production, and the key role of scientific research in effecting sustainable intensification of agriculture and subsequent biotransformations. The decline in manufacturing in the UK in favour of financial ‘services’ means that we are a little behind parts of Europe, but the situation is retrievable as we are at the beginning of the transition (back) to a bioeconomy. Many processes are already operating at scale, e.g. a huge bio-succinate plant for bioplastics built by Novamont in Italy, and the very large IAR Cluster biorefinery in the Champagne-Ardenne and Picardy regions of France. Neither did the meeting forget the importance of nutrition in a healthy lifestyle, and the likely diabesity epidemic if we do not act. Overall, an inspiring meeting, and it is worth giving the link http://ec.europa.eu/research/bioeconomy/index_en.htm to the European Bioeconomy website explicitly. […]