Strategic plan: Enabling theme 2 - Exploiting new ways of working
Enabling innovative working practices in an era of rapid technological advancement, the next generation internet, and quantitative and computational approaches to bioscience
Cutting-edge bioscience is critically dependent on the availability of modern research infrastructure and the adoption of new ways of working. New tools and capabilities will continue to revolutionise bioscience, making it possible to ask and solve previously intractable questions and inspiring major breakthroughs.
BBSRC will continue to support developments in tools, technologies and approaches that enable researchers to push the boundaries of scientific discovery and increase the impact of their research.
New tools and facilities
Multidisciplinary research in areas such as bioimaging, ‘omics’ technologies and biomolecular characterisation advance knowledge in bioscience. We will promote technology development, strengthen the associated skills base and embed the latest equipment in service facilities. Our Institutes and centres play an important role in providing access to the specialist facilities our strategy demands. For example, the large-scale redevelopment of The Pirbright Institute will provide the UK with worldclass high-containment facilities for animal health research.
The Genome Analysis Centre (TGAC) will provide national capability, including expertise in bioinformatics, for the development and application of sequencing in animals, plants and non-medical microbes. Low-cost, high-speed, next generation sequencing will fundamentally change the range and depth of questions that bioscientists can address.
BBSRC will continue, with other funders, to build on commitment to the Diamond Light Source and previous investment in structural biology to support cutting-edge research on interactions between biomolecules.
In 2009 BBSRC awarded the first Diamond Fellowship for research to harness the power of synchrotron radiation to answer bioscience questions. Professor So Iwata, from Imperial College London, will study the structure of human cell membrane transporter proteins.
Image shows structure of lactose permease from E.coli which is a homologue of a human glucose transporter.
Biological discovery is increasingly being driven by groundbreaking technologies, such as high-throughput genomic and proteomic analysis, that generate massive and complex datasets. In order to investigate complex biological phenomena, researchers need access to comprehensive, integrated and interoperable data resources, built to community-accepted standards. To meet these challenges, BBSRC will strengthen investment in bioinformatics and biological resources, focusing on the needs of the research community, as well as helping to shape and support the ELIXIR project to establish a sustainable infrastructure for biological information in Europe.
Working practices in the biosciences were largely set down in the pre-internet age. In contrast, data sharing and mass collaboration are now a reality, and the quantity of information instantaneously available is almost overwhelming. Exploiting information-rich approaches is essential to maintaining the UK’s competitive position. Increasingly these will deliver new biological understanding that is not possible via other routes. BBSRC will drive the development and uptake of ‘new bioinformatics’ that includes semantic computing and novel web tools, and share best practice with industry and other partners, nationally and internationally.
In this era of data-driven bioscience, a new cadre of skilled researchers is required, from computationally proficient biologists to software engineers, to tackle the complexity and diversity of biological data. BBSRC will strengthen capacity and ensure that the necessary skills and expertise are in place.
Building on our previous commitment to the national supercomputing facility (HECToR), we will bridge the gap between hardware architectures and the researchers generating biological data. We will target potential new user communities, hardware architectures and facilities including ‘cloud’, and ‘biologist-friendly’ software solutions.
Case study: New technologies
BBSRC-funded research at Cambridge University on DNA chemistry led to a high-speed DNA sequencing company, Solexa, which sold for $600M in 2007. The impact of this funding extends beyond commercial benefit; this new technology generated a step change in the production of biological data.
Case study: Data-sharing
By analysing sequence data appearing on public databases in real time and posting resultant analyses on a wiki site, 4 research teams working across 3 time zones revealed the origins and evolution of the H1N1 virus just 8 weeks after the first reported case of swine flu in Mexico.
Integrative and systems biology
BBSRC’s goal is for researchers routinely to apply computational and mathematical modelling techniques to high-quality quantitative biological data, and to use the models generated to test new hypotheses and inform experimental strategies. This will enable a deeper and more rapid understanding of complex biological problems ranging from molecular to ecosystem scales.
BBSRC will continue to drive integrative and systems approaches to tackle complex biological questions particularly in our priority areas. We will also promote collaboration between Systems Biology centres and other BBSRC-funded researchers to ensure widespread application of systems approaches, as well as building on strong international links in this area within the EU and further afield.
The ultimate realisation of predictive biology lies in the development of ‘digital organisms’ - collections of integrated models underpinned by quantitative data, which together represent key biological systems and processes. The UK is well placed to take a leading role in this long term, international challenge.
Some key priorities 2010-2015
- Maintain the UK as an international leader in systems biology and embed integrative and systems approaches more routinely into research practice
- Develop the next generation of bioscience tools to drive new and deeper understanding in bioscience. With industry and the TSB, harness the economic potential of new tools
- Provide the bioinformatics and biological resources required by the UK research community to stay internationally competitive
- Develop skills and capacity necessary to exploit new tools and approaches - not only ‘upskilling’ researchers, but also working to establish a career track for the technical experts
- Exploit the ‘data deluge’ and thereby facilitate information-rich biological research
- Ensure computational hardware and software solutions are accessible to, and used by, a wide range of bioscience users
- Through the ELIXIR project establish a sustainable infrastructure for biological information across Europe
- Develop a BBSRC strategy in the field of digital organisms
The SysMO initiative brings together research in systems biology across Europe. SysMO is building an integrated platform to manage and share data and models between SysMO project groups, and seeks to address the data management needs of the systems biology community.
Image shows a coloured Scanning Electron Micrograph (SEM)
of Clostridium difficile bacteria.
Corporate Policy and Strategy