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Research highlights from BBSRC

30 January 2009

The following stories feature in the latest issue of BBSRC Business, the quarterly research highlights magazine from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

Warning for pregnant women taking cholesterol-lowering drugs

BBSRC-funded researchers at the University of Manchester have discovered that all types of statin, a popular cholesterol-lowering drug, can have a damaging effect on the growth of the placenta during pregnancy. There are two types of statin: water-soluble and fat-soluble. Current health guidelines suggest that pregnant women should stop taking fat-soluble statins because cholesterol is needed for normal development of the foetus. But this latest research from Manchester reveals that both types of statin could be harmful during pregnancy because they are detrimental to placental growth, rather than damaging the foetus directly. Increasingly, younger women of reproductive age are being prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs to reduce their risk of heart disease as levels of obesity and type II diabetes rise.
(Page 10)

External contact

Aeron Haworth, University of Manchester Press Office

tel: 0161 275 8383
mob: 07717 881563


Fundamental fertiliser research is shaping Government guidelines

Scientists at Rothamsted Research and North Wyke Research are helping to optimise the use of nitrogen fertilisers and minimise environmental pollution. Their studies to understand what influences the flow of nitrogen between plants, animals, soil and the wider environment are shaping government guidelines and management practices, which will be of direct benefit to farmers. Nitrogen is a key nutrient for plants, so better management of nitrogen fertiliser use will increase crop yield and also reduce farmers’ input costs. This in turn could lead to improved food security.
(Page 6)

External contact

Professor Keith Goulding, Rothamsted Research

tel: 01582 763133, ext 2627


New diagnostic test for bluetongue virus

The Institute for Animal Health has entered a worldwide and exclusive partnership with technology provider QIAGEN N.V. which will bring their novel diagnostic test for bluetongue virus onto the market this year. The new kit provides rapid and reliable detection of all 24 strains of the bluetongue virus, improving policymakers’ and farmers’ response to any future outbreak The IAH estimates the potential economic impact of a major bluetongue outbreak could exceed €600 million in the UK alone. Bluetongue is a devastating disease of sheep and cattle and is spread by biting midges. The virus reached the UK for the first time in 2007.
(Page 15)

External contact

Professor Peter Mertens, Institute for Animal Health


Plant biology spin-out to improve crop yield

Plant scientists at Durham University have created spin-out company Creative Gene Technology Ltd to translate their research into commercial opportunities for improving crop yield. The researchers originally investigated genes that control the organisation of cells and the production of oil in the seeds of Arabidopsis, a member of the mustard family along with cabbages and radishes. Corresponding genes in larger relatives of Arabidopsis such as oilseed rape are important in determining crop yield. So understanding how oil production is regulated could help us to breed crops with higher yields.
(Page 13)

External contact

rofessor Keith Lindsey, Durham University

tel: 0191 334 1309


Research into building blocks of life could hold key to Alzheimer’s

Scientists at Newcastle University have discovered how certain proteins and metals – two of the essential building blocks of life – bind together, paving the way for new insights into degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. Proteins are essential for almost every process in living cells and they sometimes bind to metal atoms such as copper and manganese, which act as catalysts in the proteins. The researchers have revealed the mechanism that ensures the right metal goes to the right protein in a paper published in Nature. The research could help us understand diseases such as Alzheimer’s where there are unexplained links to proteins binding metals such as copper. It could also have a vital application in synthetic biology, helping scientists to produce green power from bacteria by using energy from sunlight to produce hydrogen gas. This process relies on the metals nickel and iron.
(Pages 16)

External contact

Professor Nigel Robinson, Newcastle University

tel: 0191 222 7369 / 7365



The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is the UK funding agency for research in the life sciences. Sponsored by Government, BBSRC annually invests around £420M in a wide range of research that makes a significant contribution to the quality of life for UK citizens and supports a number of important industrial stakeholders including the agriculture, food, chemical, healthcare and pharmaceutical sectors. BBSRC carries out its mission by funding internationally competitive research, providing training in the biosciences, fostering opportunities for knowledge transfer and innovation and promoting interaction with the public and other stakeholders on issues of scientific interest in universities, centres and institutes.

The Babraham Institute, Institute for Animal Health, Institute of Food Research, John Innes Centre and Rothamsted Research are Institutes of BBSRC. The Institutes conduct long-term, mission-oriented research using specialist facilities. They have strong interactions with industry, Government departments and other end-users of their research.


Matt Goode, Head of External Relations

tel: 01793 413299

Tracey Jewitt, Media Officer

tel: 01793 414694
fax: 01793 413382