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Video transcript: Strategic Plan - the age of bioscience

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January 2010

Professor Douglas Kell's introduction
“Today I am proud to launch BBSRC’s strategic plan for 2010-2015. Entitled ‘Age of Bioscience’, it outlines our vision to lead 21st century bioscience, promoting innovation and realising benefits for society in the UK and beyond. The BBSRC strategic plan details the priorities and themes that are essential to keep the UK at the cutting edge of international bioscience – and our plans for BBSRC to use its unique and central position to achieve our vision. I would like to thank all of the organisations and individuals that responded to our consultation on the draft strategic plan late last year. Your contributions proved invaluable in shaping the final plan.

The strategic plan cements BBSRC’s commitment to excellent, world-class bioscience. From the molecular to systems levels, BBSRC will fund the best research, people and institutions wherever it is found and across our remit.

Building on the UK’s world-leading bioscience research base we outline three major strategic research priorities, which address some of the most significant challenges that we face: These are:

  1. Food security – how can we feed 9 billion people sustainably by the middle of this century?  BBSRC-funded bioscience will help to provide a sustainable supply of affordable, nutritious and safe food for a growing global population.
  2. Bioenergy and industrial biotechnology – transforming the UK into a low-carbon economy requires new ways to produce energy, and transport fuels and chemicals, which are currently derived from dwindling oil reserves.  Our research offers ways to produce ‘green’ biofuels and industrial raw materials from renewable biological sources.
  3. Basic bioscience underpinning health – in many developed countries lifespan is increasing faster than healthspan.  The ageing society is a major challenge for the 21st century, where BBSRC-funded science will help provide better health and improved quality of life for more years.

Underpinning these research priorities will be three long-term, cross-cutting themes that are vital to deliver our vision. They will require commitment and, in some cases, a change of culture in research funders and the research community alike.  BBSRC believes these themes are vital to deliver our strategic priorities and to ensure a wider public benefit from the social and economic gains that will flow from the work of our research community.

The themes are:

  1. Knowledge exchange, innovation and skills – we are committed to maximising the impact of the research and skills of the people we fund, and encouraging the translation of BBSRC science into practical applications that benefit the UK economy and society.
  2. Exploiting new ways of working – advances in tools and technologies change the way in which research is undertaken, and allows us to tackle new and increasingly complex scientific questions.  Bioscience must harness the power of next generation internet technologies and other computational approaches.
  3. Partnerships – we cannot achieve our ambitious vision for UK bioscience on our own. BBSRC will work with UK and international partners to fund research and realise the benefits to the UK economy and society, and will continue to engage the public in the direction of bioscience.

The strategic plan is available to read on the BBSRC website at www.bbsrc.ac.uk/strategy. Hard copies are also available.

BBSRC welcomes your questions, views, comments and feedback on our vision and plans for the future. We are committed to responding to everyone’s comments. To facilitate this, a blog is open for your comments at blogs.bbsrc.ac.uk. You can also submit comments in via my Twitter feed –  twitter.com/dbkell to which we will respond as soon as practicable.

The BBSRC strategic plan is supported by a vision of bioscience that emphasises the unity of the research we support. There are common biological mechanisms involved in all of the major questions we wish to answer in the coming years. BBSRC has a unique and central role to fulfil for the benefit of society. To tell this story, I am also proud to launch a new film – ‘the Age of Bioscience’…”

Age of bioscience

Science makes a huge contribution to our world. It shapes how we live, how we see ourselves, and how we understand our world, environment and our place in the universe. It inspires, and makes a huge contribution to our society, our well being and the UK economy.

The contribution of science and certain technologies to our lives is often  very dramatic, whereas other science is all around us, everyday of our lives. Science that touches what we hold closest to us – affecting our home and family life.

This is science that is helping us to fight some of the most serious challenges modern society has ever faced.

2010, and beyond, is the age of bioscience – it is the role of BBSRC to fund the best UK bioscience research and train the best bioscientists to help meet the challenges of the future.

Will our children grow up in a world that runs out of food for a growing population? Or where good quality food is prohibitively expensive  wherever you live

How are future generations going to cope when the world runs out of easily accessible fossil fuels? When oil is scarce how are we going to produce fuel for our vehicles and important industrial chemicals? Where will the plastics of the future come from?

Science has already given us longer lives. The challenge now is to live a healthy life in those extra years. Will old age inevitably be hampered by disease and illness or do we want to understand the ways to extend a healthier life?

One branch of science is tackling all of these challenges. One field is working to understand and protect the world closest to us, and making a huge yet often invisible contribution to our lives – bioscience.

Bioscience is BBSRC science. Our research community undertakes world-leading research to improve the fundamental understanding of the biological systems on which all human life depends. BBSRC is the UK’s leading funder of research in non-clinical life science. Playing a unique role, we fund research in universities, institutes and centres, including national strategic facilities.

BBSRC science spans a remit that encompasses microbes, plants and animals – from molecules and cells to whole organisms and populations. And across this remit there are common biological mechanisms, meaning advances in understanding the basic science in one area can prompt advances in another.

Doug Kell: “It is easy to see the social and economic consequences of how we grow crops, rear livestock, produce bioenergy, and encourage health in older age. But beneath these lie common biological mechanisms – mechanisms that are even at the heart of challenges such as new drug design and new biomaterials. There is a unity to this science that we should recognise and work to preserve.”

It is BBSRC science that will help to prevent a food security crisis, find more sustainable ways to derive fuels and products from plants and microbes, and help us to enjoy longer healthier lives. 

To meet these challenges demands ambitious and integrated world-class bioscience – researchers from different disciplines working together on complex biological questions and mechanisms.

To provide enough sustainable, safe, nutritious and affordable food for a global population forecast to reach 9 billion by 2050 is a huge challenge. Amongst BBSRC efforts to meet this challenge, scientists are taking forward research to produce higher yielding, more nutritious wheat that can cope with a changing climate and using fewer inputs.

The BBSRC Crop Improvement Research Club is bringing a number of crop breeding companies together with the academic science community. It aims to fund research relevant to immediate problems in the market, and to quickly translate lab science into real improvements in the farmer’s field.

Research to tackle food security will include a significant effort on plant genetics. But understanding genetic function is critical for dealing with many problems – irrespective of the organism. The same plant genetic properties that we need to understand to improve the efficiency of photosynthesis to improve yields in food crops are the ones we need to understand if we want to improve non-food crops for the production of sustainable biofuels. The BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre is, at £27 million, the largest ever UK public investment in developing ways to derive liquid transport fuels from plants, in a way that isn’t detrimental to the food chain.

Understanding immunology and the pathogens that threaten humans and livestock encompasses many of the issues we will face in the coming years. We shouldn’t forget that both bird and swine flu crossed to humans from animals.

And it is the study of immunology that unites this science to efforts to understanding why some people live healthy, active old ages until they are in their 90s and others suffer long-term illness. By understanding the bioscience of immunology we could find ways to boost the immune systems of people that need extra help – to give everyone a healthier old age.

BBSRC science can help to meet the most important challenges we face. Bioscience research is unified by the fundamental biological mechanisms that span the different questions we aim to answer.

Douglas Kell: “The BBSRC research community is world-beating. Collectively we have the unified scientific approaches, the skills and infrastructure to meet the challenges of the 21st century – this is the age of bioscience.”

Caption: www.bbsrc.ac.uk

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ENDS