BBSRC Business Winter 2017

26 downloads 254 Views 3MB Size Report
Feb 15, 2017 - job creation, and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. .... The investments were announced du

Winter 2017

Connecting our science with industry, policymakers and society


Frontier bioscience Pages 12-20

The epigenetics of heart disease Virtual reality games and sensory neuroscience Policy Brief: New section on BBSRC activities

About BBSRC BBSRC invests in worldclass bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public.

Our aim is to further scientific knowledge to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation, and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. Funded by Government, BBSRC invested over £473M in world-class bioscience in 2015-2016. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society

to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals. Further details about BBSRC, our science and our impact can be found at

Strategically funded institutes

BBSRC is part of the Research Councils UK partnership

Babraham Institute

The Pirbright Institute

Institute for Biological, Environmental and Rural Studies (Aberystwyth University)

Institute of Food Research

John Innes Centre

Roslin Institute (University of Edinburgh)

Rothamsted Research

Earlham Institute

Contacts Plant health and agriculture [email protected] Animal health [email protected] Bioenergy [email protected] Food [email protected] Human health [email protected] Industrial biotechnology [email protected] International [email protected] Research technologies [email protected] Skills and training [email protected] Innovation and business [email protected]


BBSRC Business Winter 2017

About BBSRC Business BBSRC Business is a controlled circulation magazine which is distributed free of charge to end users of research and to individuals with an interest in BBSRC. For enquiries about Business contact the News Team: BBSRC Polaris House, North Star Avenue, Swindon, SN2 1UH. Tel: 01793 442810 Email: [email protected] For regular news about BBSRC and the outcomes and impacts of BBSRCfunded research visit

In this issue Chief Executive Professor Melanie Welham elaborates on her passion for frontier bioscience, and introduces new policy pages to the magazine.

I am really excited about this Frontiersthemed issue of BBSRC Business magazine. My Q&A interview, which featured in the last issue, revealed a few of my thoughts about how, under my leadership, I want BBSRC to restate its commitment to world-leading fundamental bioscience research. And I’ve been busy doing just that. At the fifth annual Biology Week reception in October, held at the Houses of Parliament, I gave a speech that explained my vision of frontier bioscience as pushing the boundaries of knowledge to make amazing, surprising and potentially life-changing discoveries. This annual celebration brings together key figures and organisations in the research realm, including Ministers, MPs and members, as well as other supporters who recognise the importance and value of biosciences in the UK – and my speech seemed to go down well with the attendees. And I’m not just guessing – we polled listeners about what the concept of Frontier bioscience meant to them and received many positive responses. To me it’s that “I never would have thought” feeling of excitement when discoveries are made – it’s pushing the boundaries of scientific endeavour, discovering the unimaginable, and then using this new knowledge to tackle the major issues we face in the 21st century.

Frontiers are never final Shortly before this Parliamentary reception, I attended the ‘Coming of Age: the legacy of Dolly at 20’ symposium at The Roslin Institute, which reflected on and

celebrated the impacts that have arisen as a consequence of Dolly’s creation. BBSRC investment in the scientific programme that led to the creation of Dolly was key. However, at a more personal level, Dolly has inspired many breakthroughs in stem cell biology, a frontier in my own area of science, and so attending this meeting was a real pleasure. It became abundantly clear to me that, 20 years ago, no-one could have predicted the research areas that Dolly’s creation would inspire, or indeed the wider impacts, such as the development of induced pluripotent stem cells, meaning embryos no longer have to be destroyed. It emphasises that key discoveries can have previously

“Frontier bioscience is that “I never would have thought” feeling of excitement when discoveries are made – it’s pushing the boundaries of scientific endeavour, discovering the unimaginable, and using this new knowledge to tackle the major issues we face in the 21st century.”

unimagined transformative effects – such as revolutionising approaches to cell therapy and understanding healthy vs disease states. For me, this clearly makes the case for investing in research where useful outcomes are far from certain at the outset, but the potential impacts are transformative; otherwise we will miss opportunities such as those the legacy of Dolly exemplify. So on pages 12-20 of this issue you’ll find features, pictures and short articles on the kinds of exciting frontiers bioscience we are, and have been, funding. And if you’re a researcher, you can find more details on what we consider frontier bioscience on our new funding page: frontierbioscience

Policy briefs A point sometimes put to me is why BBSRC doesn’t make more about how I and many of my BBSRC colleagues are listening to, engaging with, debating and deciding on courses of action with policymakers, politicians and interested people. You’ll find the first in a new section for this magazine on pages 21-23 where my colleagues will provide a round-up of policycentric news, views and actions. Kicking off the series we have our Executive Director of Science, Amanda Collis, recounting her recent meeting with Bill Gates. So do dig in and you can let us know what you think of these new pages via our website (where all of this magazine can also be found) or email [email protected]

BBSRC Business Winter 2017



SARISA starts to deliver Soil science programme addresses challenges of developing sustainable farming systems. The Soil and Rhizosphere Interactions for Sustainable Agri-ecosystems (SARISA) programme, a £5M investment by BBSRC and NERC, consists of four projects that incorporate 14 institutes across the UK and is now in its second year. ‘Roots of decline’ led by Professor Gary Bending at the University of Warwick has screened the rhizosphere [root and soil zone] of oilseed rape crops across the UK. “We have discovered a potential parasite of the main group of pathogens which infect oilseed rape roots,” Bending. “This could open biocontrol options in the future’. Oilseed rape is also under investigation in the ‘Phosphorus cycling’ project led by Dr John Hammond at the University of Reading. The emerging picture is complex – initial findings have demonstrated that different soil bacteria release diverse proteins into the soil to scavenge phosphorus.

‘Rhizosphere by Design’, led by Professor Paul Hallett at the University of Aberdeen, has used the Diamond Light Source synchrotron to quantify mechanical changes to soil driven by root exudates. These exudates weaken the soil, possibly to ease root penetration and disperse soil. Soil microorganisms then use these exudates as substrate, reversing the weakening to strengthen soil particles.

New member for BBSRC Council Professor Charlotte Watts is Chief Scientific Advisor to DFID. Watts is seconded from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, where she is a Professor in Social and Mathematical Epidemiology. She is a global expert on HIV and on violence against women. Her work over the past 25 years spans analyses of the social, economic and gendered determinants of HIV risk, disease trajectories, asl well as intervention design and evaluation. She has published over two hundred publications. BBSRC Council is the senior decision-making body responsible for determining the policy, priorities and strategy of BBSRC.

The final project ‘Mycorrhizasoil’, led by Professor Jonathan Leake at the University Sheffield, has observed 40% yield increases in wheat inoculated with mycorrhiza fungi. Treated plots have also shown beneficial effects on soil structure through increased aggregate formation which results in better gas and water exchange.

£19 million to deliver industry-led PhD training Investment will train 189 PhD. New Collaborative Training Partnerships (CTP) succeed BBSRC Industrial CASE Partnerships as the mechanism for the block award of CASE studentships to nonacademic research organisations to build capability in the UK workforce.

University of Reading

Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy the RT. Hon. Greg Clark says furthering collaboration between government, academia and industry is a key part of the developing industrial strategy. “Collaborative Training Partnerships will boost the UK’s world-leading reputation for research and science while increasing the talent and expertise of our workforce in the UK and providing new opportunities for the science leaders of tomorrow.” 4

BBSRC Business Winter 2017

Headlines Nixxphotography

Bioscience benefits from ministerial announcement on UK-India collaboration Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation Jo Johnson announces joint UK-India research initiatives worth up to £80M. BBSRC has a long history of partnering with India. By working together on research and innovation programmes, the UK is building strong, sustainable, systemic relationships with India. The investments were announced during the India-UK TECH Summit held in New Delhi in November and attended by UK and Indian Prime Ministers Theresa May and Narendra Modi. The joint UK-India initiatives include a £16M programme to support commercially focused research and development partnerships that bring innovative biotechnologies to market for cleaning, processing and using industrial waste streams. A £13M research programme will strengthen the global fight against anti-microbial resistance (AMR). Jo Johnson says the joint research programmes show the depth and breadth of the relationship that exists between the UK and India. “They will increase our collective knowledge, improve the lives of local people and help tackle some of the major infrastructure and environmental challenges that lie ahead.” RCUK

Evolution of Ebola virus resulted in increased human infectivity Study of the West African 2013-16 outbreak reveals how so many people became infected.

Minister Jo Johnson speaking at the India-UK TECH Summit. Far right: Claire Durkin, Head of Global Science, Innovation and Knowledge Economy at BEIS. Left side: Baroness Blackstone, Chair of the British Library. Middle: Indian science minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, Newton Fund.

Novel fungicides laboratory to play part in ensuring global food security New ‘AOX Lab’ opens, based on BBSRC-funded research at the University of Sussex. Work planned at the Hilldale Research Centre in Wickham site will help to drive vital research into the control of respiratory activity in fungi which attack the world’s major cereal crops. Fungal pathogens are adept at developing resistance to treatments by expressing an enzyme called the alternative oxidase (AOX). Using previous BBSRC funding, the novel compounds formulated by Professor Tony Moore of the University of Sussex prevent this enzyme from being functional. BBSRC contributed £602,390 and the rest of the £1M BBSRC Industrial Partnership Award was made up from the University of Sussex and Agform Ltd, whose existing nanotechnology capabilities are a successful example of the government’s investment in innovative technology and research, partly funded by two grants from the Technology Strategy Board (now Innovate UK), supported by Defra and BBSRC.

Genetic changes which took place as the virus was transmitted from human to human increased infectivity during the epidemic. One change in particular, a substitution of an amino acid that is involved in receptor binding, was particularly striking – not simply because it dramatically increased infectivity, but also because it was present in viruses that dominated the West African outbreak. The unprecedented number of human to human transmissions that occurred during the recent Ebolavirus outbreak gave the virus an opportunity to become adapted to humans and the study’s data suggests that this was an opportunity the virus didn’t miss. The BBSRC- and MRC-funded study was published in the journal Cell and was led by Professor Jonathan Ball at The University of Nottingham, who says the study has wider implications. “In order to be prepared we need to know whether similar things are occurring in other outbreaks such as the ongoing Zika and MERS-coronavirus epidemics.” BBSRC Business Winter 2017



Launch of Shanghai laboratory bolsters UK-China scientific collaboration New facility will be one of two in China, with the other in Beijing. The Centre of Excellence for Plant and Microbial Science (CEPAMS) was opened in Shanghai by Jo Johnson MP, the UK Minister of State for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation, and the President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), Bai Chunli. CEPAMS will employ 10 senior scientists leading international groups of researchers investigating plant and microbial science to address global challenges in food security and human health.

Supported by BBSRC and CAS, CEPAMS forms the basis of an international partnership between the world-renowned UK bioscience research facility, The John Innes Centre (JIC), the Institute of Genetics and Developmental Biology (Beijing) and the Institute of Plant Physiology and Ecology (Shanghai). CEPAMS collaborations have already been established. A team of scientists based in the UK and in China, including JIC’s Professor Cathie Martin, published important research

on how the Chinese plant, Scutellaria biacellensis produces a potentially valuable anti-cancer compound, paving the way to upscale production for medicinal use. Professor Melanie Welham, CE of BBSRC says the two countries can use their combined strengths and resources to address common research questions and to tackle major global challenges. “This relationship delivers value and impact for both the UK and China.”

John Innes Centre

Stakeholders' perceptions of BBSRC published in new report. ComRes commissioned to gauge stakeholder perceptions of the organisation. The new Corporate Stakeholder Research report 2016 explores how BBSRC has progressed in the past two years. The report follows and measures changes in attitudes since 2014 when an initial wave of benchmarking research was conducted.

Global Food Security (GFS) programme Policy Lab Prize of up to £5,000 to write a report for the GFS programme. Early-career researchers are invited to take part in a Policy Lab on multi-functional landscapes. Policy Labs bring together early-career researchers from different disciplines to scope a policy-relevant issue, with teams forming at the workshop and then competing to write a report for the GFS programme, which BBSRC leads. Applicants are sought who are interested in interdisciplinary and systems approaches to multi-functional landscapes, who would 6

BBSRC Business Winter 2017

relish the opportunity to produce an evidence-based report to inform policy. Researchers working in any relevant discipline from across the food system are welcome to apply including the biological, environmental and social sciences. The successful team from the workshop will be awarded a prize of up to £5,000 to write a report for the GFS programme.

The 2016 research consisted of ComRes conducting 31 qualitative interviews between 11 April and 30 June 2016, and an online survey of 507 stakeholders administered by BBSRC between 9 June and 29 June 2016, the findings from which ComRes independently analysed. The majority (74%) of BBSRC stakeholders say they would speak highly of the organisation. Advocacy is highest among Government/policy (81%), academic (76%) and industry (71%) stakeholders. See www.bbsrc. for full details.

Headlines USDA by

£5M awarded for new UKBrazil joint projects BBSRC and the São Paulo Research Foundation (FAPESP) support collaborations for advanced biofuels research. Funding has been awarded to two partnerships between the UK and Brazil that underpin integrated biorefinery approaches for the manufacture of advanced biofuels. The successful projects will aim to address challenges including enzyme design and development, optimisation of feedstock attributes, and the development of novel fermentative organisms. The first includes Professor Timothy Bugg from the University of Warwick, working with Dr Fabio Squina, CNPEM. The second features Professor David Leak from the University of Bath, working with Professor Telma Franco, Unicamp.

This investment, £3.5M from BBSRC with equivalent funding of £1.5M from FAPESP, builds on both countries high-quality science base and Brazil’s world-leading biofuels production programmes. BBSRC Deputy Chief Executive Steve Visscher says the joint call, led by FAPESP, demonstrates the strength of the BBSRCFAPESP relationship. “This investment demonstrates BBSRC’s continued commitment to bioenergy as one of our strategic priorities, and the benefits of working with global partners to address its challenges.”

CBMNet Industrial Biotechnology and Bioenergy Careers Fair Seven BBSRC Networks are organising an event for earlycareer researchers. Held at the University of Sheffield on Wednesday 12 April, the fair will provide companies and early-career researchers with an opportunity to meet face to face. As well as being good for general profile raising, employer appointments provide students with an opportunity to ask the questions relating to their areas of interest. Hosted by CBMNet (Crossing Biological Membranes Network, a BBSRC NIBB), there is space for 16 organisations to exhibit. To register as a company or to attend as an early-career researcher, see more details at:

Earlham Institute embraces green genome analysis Icelandic data centre chosen to reduce costs and promote renewable energy efficiency. The Earlham Institute (EI) has announced a new partnership with Verne Global, a developer at the forefront of data centre infrastructure design. EI selected Verne Global’s data centre campus in Iceland to investigate the efficiencies of distributing large-scale genomics and computational biology data analysis.

to one of the world’s most reliable power grids producing 100% geothermal and hydroelectric renewable energy. As EI’s HPC analysis requirements continue to grow, the agreement will enable the institute to save

up to 70% in energy costs with no additional power needed for cooling, significantly benefiting the organisation in their advanced genomics and bioinformatics research of living systems.

In this project, a first for a UK academic institution, EI will examine the benefits of migrating a strategic collaborative bioinformatics analysis platform to Iceland via existing academic network providers JANET and NORDUnet. EI, through Verne Global, will have access BBSRC Business Winter 2017



Rat heart tissue: red shapes are nuclei of cardiomyocyte cells, blue are nuclei from other heart cell types. Pink striped areas identify proteins involved in contraction.

Hanneke Okkenhaug, Babraham Institute and Llewelyn Roderick, KU Leuven.

A change of heart: epigenetic basis of disease heart growth uncovered Research collaboration reveals how heart cells are locked into key developmental states – and how they can go wrong.

They compared the differences between hypertrophic heart growth in rats as a result of beneficial exercise, and heart growth induced by pathology – in this case, increased load. Specifically, they compared epigenetic markers responsible for locking cells in their final developed state, which is important for preventing cells from switching to a less differentiated state. They found a mechanism explaining how, in the case of pathological cardiac hypertrophy, 8

BBSRC Business Winter 2017

The research also analysed human cardiomyocytes and importantly the same molecular changes were seen, demonstrating that the same epigenetic factors underlie cardiac hypertrophy and disease remodelling in humans as in the rats used in the study. These findings point the way for the design of new treatments for heart disease. Professor Llewelyn Roderick, former group leader at the Babraham Institute and now Professor in the Department of Cardiovascular Sciences at KU Leuven adds that the research highlights the value of collaborative research to allow analysis from physiology to molecule and back again. “By identifying the epigenetic determinants and the responsible epigenetic enzymes

Further reading The H3K9 dimethyltransferases Ehmt1/2 protect against pathological cardiac hypertrophy. Journal of Clinical Investigation DOI: 10.1172/JCI88353

Next steps • Further investigation of the effects of epigenetic methylation on the expression of proteins involved in healthy and disease state development.

Contact Dr Louisa Wood, Communications Manager, Babraham Institute.  [email protected]

Discovery pipeline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Market

Researchers at the Babraham Institute, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC, the University of Leuven, Belgium, University of Oslo, Norway, and Karolinska Institute, Sweden, investigated the molecular control mechanisms responsible for the biological changes seen in cardiac hypertrophy induced by pathology.

Professor Wolf Reik, Head of the Epigenetics Programme at the Babraham Institute, says they found that a very important repressive methylation mark [chemical methyl groups that can alter DNA expression] is lost by cells in cardiac hypertrophy. “The function of this mark is to lock adult cardiomyocytes in their adult state. The loss of the mark leads to inappropriate gene expression as shown by the re-expression of genes usually only seen late in embryo development.”


By the mark

Proof of concept

Some cardiac diseases, such as prolonged high blood pressure and heart attacks, also cause an increase in the heart’s muscle mass. But, dangerously, this can result in a reduction in cardiac output and can cause an irregular heart rhythm. This growth is called pathological cardiac hypertrophy and eventually leads to heart failure and death. Cardiovascular diseases account for a third of all deaths in the UK.

controlling these different forms of cardiac myocyte hypertrophy, as well as how the epigenetic modifiers are themselves regulated by microRNAs, we provide a potential strategy for epigenetic therapy for adverse cardiac remodelling.”

Strategic research

cardiomyocytes lose their adult cellular state and regress back towards their foetal form, switching on genes that were originally expressed as the heart develops in the embryo and usually permanently switched off after birth.

Blue skies

The heart is an amazingly adaptable organ. It responds to periods of increased demand by pumping harder and faster, and also grows to accommodate natural development, pregnancy or as a response to intense exercise.


“Even a few Salmonella cells in a salad bag at the time of purchase could become many thousands by the time a bag of salad leaves reaches its use-by date, even if kept refrigerated,” says Freestone. “It also serves

Despite a number of published reports on improving the microbiological safety of salad leaf production, very few studies have investigated the behaviour of Salmonella once the leaves have been bagged. “Preventing enteric pathogen contamination of fresh salad produce would not only reassure consumers but will also benefit the economy due to fewer days lost through food poisoning,” says Koukkidis. “We are now working hard to find ways of preventing salad-based infections.” BBSRC’s Chief Executive Professor Melanie Welham adds that food-borne pathogens like Salmonella are serious bacterial threats that affect our health, which is why BBSRC invests

Further reading Salad leaf juices enhance Salmonella growth, fresh produce colonization and virulence. Applied and Environmental Microbiology DOI: 10.1128/AEM.02416-16

Next steps • Further investigation of the effects of leaf damage on abundance and virulence of other food poisoning bacteria to find new ways to prevent saladbased infections.

Contact Press office, BBSRC. [email protected]

Discovery pipeline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

BBSRC Business Winter 2017


Dr Freestone says even microlitres of the juices (less than 1/200th of a teaspoon) which leach from the cut ends of the leaves enabled Salmonella to grow in water, even when it was refrigerated. “These juices also helped the Salmonella to attach itself to the salad leaves so strongly that vigorous washing could not remove the bacteria, and even enabled the pathogen to attach to the salad bag container.”

Leafy green and other salad vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, providing vitamins, minerals, and dietary fibre. Ready-toeat prepared salads are particularly popular, are widely consumed and so are of significant economic importance. Over recent years there have been a number of outbreaks associated with fresh salad produce contaminated with Salmonella and E. coli in both the US and Europe. This has triggered considerable interest in effective strategies for controls and interventions measures in UK industry, the EU and key research funding bodies, such as the Food Standards Agency (FSA).


The research highlights the need for growers to maintain high food safety standards and is led by Dr Primrose Freestone of the university’s Department of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation and PhD student Giannis Koukkidis, funded by a BBSRC i-case Studentship.

It’s in the bag

Proof of concept

The scientists have discovered that juices released from damaged leaves also had the effect of enhancing the virulence of the pathogen, potentially increasing its ability to cause infection in the consumer.

as a reminder to consume a bagged salad as soon as possible after it is opened. We found that once opened, the bacteria naturally on the leaves also grew much faster even when kept cold in the fridge.”

Research by the FSA has reported that annually there are more than 500,000 cases of food poisoning in the UK. While poultry meat was the most common source of infection, some 48,000 cases were from fresh produce: vegetables, fruit, nuts and sprouting seeds. Importantly, Salmonella was the pathogen that caused the greatest number of hospital admissions – around 2,500 per year.

Strategic research

Investigations by University of Leicester microbiologists, supported by BBSRC, have revealed that just a small amount of damage to salad leaves could massively stimulate the presence of the food poisoning bug Salmonella in ready-prepared salad leaves – growth increased 2400-fold over a control group.

in research to understand and combat food poisoning.

Blue skies

Study shows leached juices from leafy vegetables enhance growth and virulence of food-poisoning bug.


Damaged leaves can stimulate Salmonella in bagged salads


C-Ken Bohn-San Diego Zoo Global

Animal Behaviour

behavioural repertoire, rather than being a quirk that arose in captivity. “In many regards, the ‘Alalā is very similar to the New Caledonian crow, which my team has been studying for over 10 years,” says Rutz. “These birds had no specific training prior to our study, yet most of them were incredibly skilled at handling stick tools, and even swiftly extracted bait from demanding tasks.”

Tropical crow species is highly skilled tool user Nature paper reveals how the critically-endangered Hawaiian crow, or ‘Alalā, manipulates sticks like its corvid cousins. For decades the famed New Caledonian crow has baffled researchers with its remarkable tool-using skills, used to winkle insects and other prey from deadwood and vegetation, exhibiting an astonishing degree of dexterity. The big question was why only these birds, which live on the remote South Pacific island of New Caledonia, but no other members of the crow family (corvids), had evolved such technological prowess.


BBSRC Business Winter 2017

Further reading Discovery of species-wide tool use in the Hawaiian crow. Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature19103

Next steps • Observing tool-using behaviour among newly released (but captive-reared) ‘Alalā on Hawai‘i Island, released to re-establish a wild population.

Discovery pipeline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Market

The St Andrews and San Diego teams agreed to conduct a collaborative project to examine the tool-using skills of ‘Alalā under controlled conditions. They found that 104 of the 109 ‘Alalā alive at the time spontaneously used tools, and current evidence strongly suggests that tool use is part of the species’ natural

Dr Christian Rutz, University of St Andrews.  [email protected]


two breeding facilities, but hadn’t thought much of it,” says Bryce Masuda, co-leader of the study and Conservation Program Manager of San Diego Zoo Global’s Hawai‘i Endangered Bird Conservation Program.


Proof of concept

Springer Nature

Strategic research

Following a population crash in the late 20th century, the ‘Alalā is now extinct in the wild. In a last-ditch effort to preserve the species, the remaining wild birds were brought into a captive breeding programme. “ We had occasionally seen birds using stick tools at our

The discovery of a second tool-using crow species finally provides leverage for addressing long- standing questions about the evolution and fundamental bioscience of animal tool behaviour. “As crow species go, the ‘Alalā and the New Caledonian crow are only very distantly related. With their last common ancestor living around 11 million years ago, it seems safe to assume that their tool-using skills arose independently,” explains Rutz.

Blue skies

There are over 40 species of crows and ravens in the world, and many of them – especially those living in remote tropical locations – remain poorly studied. “This raises the intriguing possibility that there are some undiscovered tool users out there,” explains the study’s lead scientist, Dr Christian Rutz, from the University of St Andrews, UK. His work is funded by a BBSRC David Phillips Fellowship, which provides support for researchers who have shown high potential to establish their first independent research group.

Experts have applauded the ‘tour de force’ of controlled experiments. “Most studies in our field investigate just a handful of subjects, so it is truly mindboggling to see an entire species tested,” comments Professor Thomas Bugnyar, a corvid expert at the University of Vienna, Austria, who was not involved in the study.

Fundamental Bioscience

Lead author Dr Himadri Gupta from QMUL's Institute of Bioengineering says the sea cucumber’s MCT may serve as a template for bio-inspired materials that can mimic its remarkable properties. “These could be useful

First author and PhD student Jingyi Mo, from QMUL’s School of Engineering and Materials Science, adds that many collagenous or collagen-like biomaterials are designed to match the surface chemistry of cells and tissues in the body. “But there are very few that can change their mechanical properties rapidly.” The researchers hope to isolate the molecules that lead to these properties of the sea cucumber’s body wall, which, in turn, can help in understanding how

Interfibrillar stiffening of echinoderm mutable collagenous tissue demonstrated at the nanoscale. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1609341113

Next steps • Isolation of the molecules and molecular action of the interfibrillar scaffold of mutable collagenous tissue.

Contact Neha Okhandiar, Press Office, Queen Mary University of London.  [email protected]

Discovery pipeline >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

BBSRC Business Winter 2017


Regeneration X

“Sea cucumbers are amazingly flexible and this study shows that their ability to shape-shift is not a result of any changes within the collagen fibrils themselves, but in the interfibrillar scaffold that cross-links with them,” says paper co-author Professor Maurice Elphick from QMUL’s School of Biological and Chemical Sciences.

Further reading


All animals have collagen, but one group of marine invertebrates – the echinoderms, which includes starfish and sea cucumbers – have evolved to have collagenous tissues with a unique property: they can rapidly change their stiffness. This type of collagen is known as mutable collagenous tissue (MCT) and is controlled by the nervous system and is useful when, for example, the animals need to ‘turn to jelly’ so they can avoid predation. However, the mechanisms by which the sea cucumber can change its stiffness were not known until now.

The QMUL team analysed the body wall of sea cucumbers using X-ray techniques at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility in Grenoble, France. The sea cucumber's ability to change the shape of the body wall is due to the changes in the stiffness of a protein-rich interfibrillar matrix, which bonds with the collagen fibrils.

Proof of concept

One of the most abundant molecules in the human body is collagen, a structural protein that forms our bones, ligaments and skin. But their mechanical properties can only be changed slowly over days or weeks – for example, in pregnant women the collagenous tissue in the uterus slowly softens in preparation for childbirth.

in flexible scaffolds for tissue engineering, cosmetic treatments against skin ageing, implantable biosensors and materials for soft robotics.”

The research was supported by BBSRC, the China Scholarship Council, and the Engineering and Physical Research Sciences Council (EPRSC).

Strategic research

Scientists from Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) have discovered for the first time how marine animals called sea cucumbers can rapidly change the stiffness of their body.

to apply this research in medicine and cosmetics.

Blue skies

Finding could aid the development of novel biomaterials for applications in medicine and beyond.


Scientists discover mechanisms of shape-shifting sea cucumbers



Frontiers of imaging Sections through 3D images of the shoot apex of the model plant Arabidopsis. Professor Robert Sablowski and colleagues from the John Innes Centre (JIC) developed new live-imaging techniques to see changes in cells below the plant surface. L-R: raw image; middle shows detection of newly made cell walls; third shows directions of cell division (red = radial, green = longitudinal). JIC


Frontiers of microbiology Biofilm produced by Bacillus subtilis bacteria, where tasks are divided within its population during biofilm formation. This 'bacterial raincoat' protects bacteria from the changing environment and could be used as a biofertiliser. Other biofilms could be sources of new drugs.


Nicola Stanley-Wall/University of Dundee


BBSRC Business Winter 2017


Head of a one-day-old zebrafish embryo, with groups of cells in the forebrain, eye, ear and developing lateral line system labelled with a fluorescent marker. BBSRC and the University of Sheffield provided funding for the lightsheet microscope used to take this image. Cells are labelled with a fluorescent marker generated by Petra Haas (Gilmour lab).


This is Parhyale hawaiensis, a crustacean used as an animal model. It can regenerate tissue, and its DNA has just revealed the ability to digest lignocellulose, which could help us derive energy from woody materials. Research by Dr Aziz Aboobaker at the University of Oxford. BBSRC Business Winter 2017


Anastasios Pavlopoulos and Igor Siwanowicz from HHMI Janelia Research Campus, published under

Frontiers of regenerative medicine


Sarah Baxendale and Nick van Hateren (Whitfield lab, University of Sheffield)

Frontiers of development


Frontiers of virology

Frontiers of immunology

Computer-generated image of the core of the Bluetongue BTV-1 virus from The Pirbright Institute, which includes the new BBSRC National Virology Centre. Elucidating the structure by X-ray crystallography can help design vaccines to counter a disease that devastated livestock populations across Europe from 2006 to 2008.

Fluorescent micrograph of mouse intestine with macrophages (green), which provide defence against food-borne pathogens. Researchers at The Roslin Institute have discovered that some pathogens such as prions (BSE, scrapie, variant CJD) cross the gut epithelium via specialised M cells, then they use macrophages as ‘Trojan horses’ to enable them to be transported within the body.



Neil Mabboto/The Roslin Institute

The Pirbright Institute


BBSRC Business Winter 2017

FRONTIERS National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID)

Frontiers of antimicrobial resistance Scanning electron microscope (SEM) image of a neutrophil ingesting a number of spherical methicillinresistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria. BBSRC-funded research at Imperial College London shows how MRSA releases decoy molecules to escape being killed by the ‘last resort’ antibiotic daptomycin.


It’s your daily bread, up close. They are starch granules from wheat, taken with a super advanced atomic force microscope by scientists at the Institute of Food Research (IFR) who are studying foods at this unprecedented level of detail to understand how our bodies digest and respond to them.


BBSRC Business Winter 2017


Institute of Food Research

Frontiers of food


Frontiers of space research These images show Caenorhabditis elegans nematode worms (left column) and eggs (right column) that have been sent into space by Nathaniel J. Szewczyk at the University of Nottingham and cultured on the International Space Station (bottom two rows) below ground control comparisons (top two rows). Finding out how microgravity affects gene expression brings insights into the fundamental bioscience of growth and development. Scale bars represent 50 µm (left) and 10 µm (right). PLOS by

i 16

BBSRC Business Winter 2017

FRONTIERS: Case Study Richard Ling, Wikimedia Commons by CC 2.0

From visual ecology in fish to human eye health Spin-out company Azul Optics has taken BBSRC-funded research to make a 1-minute test for a common eye condition. Researchers from the University of Bristol have developed a unique device that can be used to test people for one of the risk factors for age-related macular degeneration (AMD) – the leading cause of blindness in the UK. Dr Shelby Temple is now commercialising the technology through spin-out company Azul Optics. The innovation arose from BBSRC-funded research on the ability of coral reef fish to see polarised light, led by Dr Nick Roberts, also of the University of Bristol. The new device can be used by optometrists to help detect the amount of pigment in a region of the eye called the macula. Low macular pigment density is one of the risk


factors for AMD, which makes everyday activities such as driving and reading difficult. Using the device, optometrists or patients themselves can test macular pigment density in less than a minute. The device is also small – the core technology can be reduced to the size of a can of soup – and is inexpensive to produce, meaning that it could be deployed in any optometry office and incorporated into standard eye tests. “Our goal is that in future every regular eye exam would include this test,” says Temple. “We’d like to have a device... sitting in a waiting room and you could test your own eyes and take away some information about

eye disease and your diet and health.” The original work was supported by a £325K BBSRC responsive mode grant to Roberts to investigate the mechanisms in certain vertebrate eyes that allowed them to see polarised light. For this, he used a species of tropical reef fish Chromis viridis that can see polarised light. As the project developed, the researchers realised the device could be used to learn more about how humans detect polarisation. Commercialisation of the technology has been supported by Innovate UK, HEFCE, the Bristol Vision Institute and a BBSRC/Royal Society of Edinburgh Enterprise Fellowship.

1 minute



Time taken to complete test on new device (compared to 5-15 minutes for other similar tests)

Number of people in the UK affected by AMD

Number of people suffering impaired central vision due to AMD

BBSRC Business Winter 2017



Virtual reality games reveal the brain’s sense of stiffness

Watch the 2-minute video to see examples of the research in action at

Every day, people use their hands effortlessly to assess an object's stiffness, like carrying a coffee without spillage, gauging the ripeness of a piece of fruit, or feeling for your hard keys at the bottom of a bag. But does this sense of stiffness reside in the brain, or the tips of our fingers? For the first time an international team of scientists led by University College London (UCL), have discovered the area in the brain where stiffness perception is formed. The findings could aid rehabilitation in patients with sensory impairments. Hands do not have sensors to directly inform the brain about an object's stiffness. To uncover the link between our brain and our hands, researchers focused their attention on how motion and sensory inputs are combined and processed. The team looked to the posterior parietal cortex (PPC) – a key part of the brain which plays an important role in planning movements, spatial reasoning and attention. Could the PPC also be involved in stiffness perception? Lead researcher Dr Marco Davare says there is already evidence that a position


BBSRC Business Winter 2017

controller exists in this brain area. “However it is still unknown whether this area also combines force and position information – a prerequisite for us to sense stiffness.” Sensory signals such as position and force travel back to the brain and are combined with a copy of motor commands to adjust movement and provide us with a sense of the environment. “For some actions, we clearly rely on one of these signals more than the other,” says Davare. “For example we rely on position feedback when reaching for a pen, but on force feedback when putting pressure on the nib to write.” To test their theory, researchers from UCL and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel) set up a virtual reality environment whereby participants were asked to probe different virtual force fields using a robotic stylus that provided sensitive force feedback. They had to grasp and lift virtual cubes and report which one was stiffer. The team attempted several experiments with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) over the PPC and another area of the


brain involved in motor control known as the dorsal premotor cortex (TMS is a safe and non-invasive way of disrupting certain brain areas widely used by neuroscientists in experiments). The results showed that subjects made errors in sensing stiffness when the PPC was stimulated, but not the dorsal premotor cortex, when participants tried to lift the cube in the virtual reality games they felt the stiffness was softer than it was.

In the experiment, subjects’ hands were connected to the virtual reality game with advanced haptic feedback, so they could ‘feel’ the stiffness of the object, the cube, as they lifted it.

The study, funded by BBSRC and the Royal Society, sheds light on brain mechanisms essential to the interaction between our movements and their effect on sensory perception. “The hand is a frontier between the brain and our surrounding environment: how I move my hand has a consequence on what my hand can feel,” says Davare. “Our findings could have considerable impact on the development of virtual reality systems and could help to inform treatments to improve quality of life for patients with sensory impairments.”

Dr Marco Davare and Dr Karen Bunday using transcranial magnetic stimulation.

Further reading Stimulation of PPC affects the mapping between motion and force signals for stiffness perception but not motion control. Journal of Neuroscience DOI: 10.1523/ JNEUROSCI.1178-16.2016

Next steps

The grey ‘key’ device over the subject’s head can be used to pinpoint exact areas of the brain to apply TMS in a process known as neuro navigation.

• Further investigations into the thresholds of interference and how the PPC connects with other brain areas to help us sense the environment.

Contact Dr Marco Davara, UCL.  [email protected]

Discovery pipeline

BBSRC Business Winter 2017



Proof of concept

Strategic research

Blue skies

All images BBSRC

The neuro navigation process can home in on specific parts of the brain to disrupt during experiments, thus finding the brain area involved in object stiffness perception.




Decades of BBSRC-funded research into the building blocks of DNA has underpinned a suite of valuable spin-outs. Research led by Professor Tom Brown, now at the University of Oxford, has developed into three spin-out companies and two innovations commercialised by other companies. “Our work was funded by the Research Councils, mostly BBSRC,” says Brown, who has received substantial BBSRC funding since the 1990s. “That provided us with the expertise and knowledge required to start to look at applications in diagnostics and DNA analysis in general.”

The company, which has recently opened a new R&D laboratory on the Oxford Science Park, works with researchers in academia and in the biotech and pharma industries to understand their needs and to design and supply modified nucleic acids. ATDBio continues to collaborate with Brown’s group, including through several BBSRC CASE studentships. The company is also a partner on Brown’s latest Longer, Larger (LoLa) grant from BBSRC.

Brown’s innovations are based on chemically modified nucleic acids, which are altered to include fluorescent molecules, other forms of chemical ‘labels’, or modifications that increase their functionality – such as minor bases that can be detected using fluorescence microscopy.

Primer Design, also founded in 2005, developed diagnostic kits using modified nucleic acids, which are used to detect bacteria and viruses such as Ebola, swine flu and the Zika virus. Primer Design’s products are sold in more than 100 countries and the company was sold to a French diagnostics company for more than £12M in 2016.

ATDBio was founded by Brown in 2005.



Price that company Primer Design sold for in 2016 20

BBSRC Business Winter 2017

Brown was also co-inventor of Scorpion primers and HyBeacons, commercialised by AstraZeneca spin-out DxS and by international life science measurement company LGC, respectively. Much of Brown’s research takes place at the interface of chemistry and biology. “We were able, through BBSRC funding, to move into these interdisciplinary areas which are so fruitful in terms of discovering new things,” Brown explains. “It’s really important to find routes to get researchers involved so they can grow into biology and populate these interdisciplinary areas.” In 2016, Brown was the overall winner of BBSRC’s Innovator of the Year competition, which aims to reward researchers who harness the potential of their research.

US$120M US$100M Price that spin-out DxS was acquired for by Qiagen in 2009

Value of annual sales of Scorpion primer diagnostics in 2013

MIKI Yoshihito on Flickr by CC 2.0

Innovative nucleic acid chemistry for industry and academia

Policy brief

A meeting with Bill Gates One of the perks of a job like mine is that every once in a while you get to meet a really, really well-known person. Bill Gates made his name in home computers, invented the PC’s Windows system and co-founded what was once the biggest company in the world. But that’s old news. He’s now (almost) as well known for the charitable foundation he set up with his wife – The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). A significant part of the foundation’s work is via their Grand Challenges initiative that, like BBSRC, seeks to foster innovation to solve key problems around the world. Even a couple of months later, I’m still excited that I got to meet him along with my colleague Steve Visscher. The BMGF Grand Challenges conference took place in London in late October 2016. The scientific track included sessions on vaccines and life sciences innovation, drug discovery and translation, as well as focusing a global lens on antimicrobial resistance, crop research, big data, and research ecosystems that could help us meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

undertake long-term research, such as adding genes for nitrogen fixation to cereal plants that don’t have this natural symbiosis. Similarly, the RIPE project aims to engineer photosynthesis to develop plants that more efficiently turn the sun’s energy into food.

BBSRC Executive Director for Science Amanda Collis reports on meeting one of the most famous philanthropists in the world.

Bill’s commitment and enthusiasm for this ground-breaking research was clear and I was delighted to receive a follow-up letter from him, stating that the BMGF is excited to partner with BBSRC to connect world-class bioscience research in the UK with the most pressing challenges faced by smallholder farmers in developing countries. In early 2017 we will conclude the peer review of the Global Challenges Research Fund foundations call in Global Agriculture and Food Systems and progress workshops on international development calls, such as on Zoonoses and Emerging Livestock Systems.

One of the key areas of overlapping interest for Gates and BBSRC is crop research for food security. The conference included interactive sessions to connect scientists supported through multiple co-funding partnerships, including by America’s USAID, and National Science Foundation, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) in Germany, and DFID and BBSRC in the UK. The meeting updated Bill on recent progress made by leading crop science researchers from the UK, US and Denmark on the ENSA and RIPE research programmes. ENSA is led by the John Innes Centre, which receives strategic funding from BBSRC so it can

A meeting of minds: BBSRC’s Amanda Collis is seated far left, and BBSRC’s Deputy CE Steve Visscher is seated to the right of Bill Gates (second from right).

BBSRC Business Winter 2017


Policy brief

Tim Willis, BBSRC Associate Director, International, reviews the organisation’s recent leading roles in international engagement.

The power of partnerships BBSRC promotes international partnerships for leveraging the world-leading strength of UK bioscience and the role of international collaboration in sustaining the vibrancy of UK research. One example is the Joint Programming Initiatives that help realise a European Research Area in specific societal challenges by mobilising national resources under a single strategy. In the food sector, we have FACCE-JPI (full title: EU Joint Programming Initiative in Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change) that is led by French agricultural science funders INRA with BBSRC. It brings 22 countries around one table to agree a common implementation plan for mobilising national programmes together, and identifies new areas of joint collaboration. The last meeting included a mix of ministries, scientists and other industry representatives and was hosted by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture in Berlin in early December. Our work towards refreshing FACCE-JPI’s implementation plan brought in members of our Scientific Advisory Board and Stakeholder Advisory Board with our Governing Board to steer our work against policy and research drivers. UK alignment through its Global Food Security programme and strategy development really helped the UK input focus on actions needed for the next years, and the importance of social science and multidisciplinary approaches was welcomed. By working together under a common implementation plan of aligning national programmes (as we do so successfully in the MACSUR network, which has already influenced global climate change negotiations), we can share risk, leverage


BBSRC Business Winter 2017

resources and seek efficiency gains by reducing duplication of public resources and create collaborative funding programmes where new research is needed. European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) BBSRC and MRC pay the UK financial contributions to allow EMBO to support talented life science researchers at all stages of their careers, stimulate the exchange of scientific information and create the optimal European environment where scientists can achieve their best work. Importantly, EMBO helps young scientists to advance their research, promote their international reputations and ensure their mobility. In November I attended with MRC the European Molecular Biology Conference (EMBC) which oversees the work of EMBO and adopts its business plans and resource needs for the years ahead. It is clear that UK work in career development, our excellence in life science research and training, and our experience of capturing the impact of activities for the public good is helping many other countries grow their bioeconomies and share best practice back to the UK. Talking Brexit I was delighted to be invited by Universities UK and HEFCE to speak at a recent meeting on ‘Putting universities at the heart of a thriving, global post-exit UK’. I was on a panel addressing ‘Building and sustaining effective global networks post-exit’, so was able to cover the long history of BBSRC and RCUK involvement in global forums. I highlighted our work with G20 partners where we are delivering joint activities to coordinate wheat genetics research across the globe to increase potential wheat yield. This mix of EU and global partners is a real benefit to our partnerships and influence.

Policy brief

The clone wars Reproducibility in research has been a basic tenet of the scientific method for centuries. Results that cannot be replicated elsewhere can hinder scientific progress, delay translation of findings into applications and waste resources. Lack of reproducibility also threatens the reputation of research – in the biomedical sciences, in particular – and erodes public trust in science. As an investor in research, BBSRC has to ensure that the researchers we fund work in accordance with best scientific practice. Researchers have to comply with the Research Councils’ policy on Good Research Conduct and should work within BBSRC’s Safeguarding Good Scientific Practice guidelines. As part of this, researchers must consider reproducibility in their BBSRCfunded work. In BBSRC, our activities around supporting research reproducibility have ramped up considerably in recent years (our Chief Executive recently blogged about this). In 2015, we worked with the Academy of Medical Sciences, the MRC and the Wellcome Trust to hold a symposium on research reproducibility, leading to a report that includes strategies to help researchers to improve reproducibility. The four funders are still in contact to share and coordinate respective ongoing and planned activities, and produced a 2016 update on this.

27 January 2017, see reproducibleworkshop). We have updated our guidelines on what information researchers should provide where grant proposals include animal use, with stronger emphasis on experimental design and statistics. Our peer-review delivery team staff also receive additional training for grant applications proposing animals use, so that this is examined thoroughly during review. This is an important aspect of our strategic aims for applying the 3Rs in research.

There is increasing concern about lack of reproducibility in the biosciences. Senior Policy Manager Sophia Abbasi reports on BBSRC’s activities and policies.

In seeking to understand the range of issues that challenge good reproducibility in the biosciences, we are also increasing our engagement with the research community. In the past few months, we have engaged in activities around issues as wide ranging as antibody validation, preprints in biology and other ‘open science’ activities. Research reproducibility requires actions not just from funders, but also from publishers, research organisations and researchers. In 2017, we will build on these activities and continue to work with our research community and others, particularly the MRC and other life sciences research funders, seeking advice as required from our Strategy Advisory Panels.

BBSRC is funding new training for earlycareer researchers in this area, through our STARS programme ( This five-day training course will be run over three successive years. Additional sponsorship for qualifying BBSRC-funded researchers is also available for the first round, taking place in April 2017 (now open for registration, until

BBSRC Business Winter 2017



Professor Tim Benton:

Me and the Global Food Security programme The Global Food Security (GFS) programme’s Champion, Tim Benton, reflects on leaving the role after the planned five years in the post.

What was the role of GFS Champion? My role as Champion was to be the academic lead and ambassador for both the GFS programme and the area. A lot of what we did was to undertake systemic analysis and horizon scanning, in order to identify research priorities to mitigate the challenges of providing sufficient, sustainable and nutritious diets for all, and then using this understanding try and influence actions (in government, industry and civil society) to help make it happen.

Why did you take on the role? Because I am most driven by trying to make the world a better place. Doing good research and publishing the results doesn’t mean the knowledge is well used for making things happen, so I was interested in going beyond academia to facilitate the pathway from question-to-evidence-to-change.

What did the work involve? ‘Evidence’ is only part of the impact pathway. To facilitate change requires that it be placed in context and trusted. I spent a lot of time on the framing issues, understanding the way the food system works, and I spent a lot of time travelling and meeting people to build trusted relationships. People and institutions then could rely on me to explain issues in terms that made sense to them – whether in meetings or in written form. 24

BBSRC Business Winter 2017

What were the best and worst things that happened over the five years you were in the role? The first year was pretty tough, as the gulf between how GFS could work and reality very quickly came home. However, this forced a reappraisal of where we could be most useful, away from building new research programmes, to building influence through understanding the issues. Then Sir John Beddington (the UK Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Government Office for Science from 2008 to 2013) asked us to contribute to work on food system resilience, and that created a considerable ‘buzz’ from government and industry that it helped define what we’d do. In the last year, when several senior people said thank you and words to the effect “it’s been a long road, but finally the messages are getting through and things are happening”.

What did you learn? It has been a fascinating and rewarding experience, even if at times exhausting and frustrating. The issue of food security is not (just) about food, it is about how we choose to live on a planet with limited resources. Food requires land and water and affects climate, biodiversity and our health. The amounts of land and water available are finite, as

Whilst we can grow ever more food, ever more cheaply, the externalised costs – on environment and health – will grow too. How do we feed the world, and manage demand to create a sustainable, nutritious and equitable food system?

What are the main challenges for people addressing the food security challenge? It is complex because the food system is complex, and also highly fragmented, so very few people (politicians, people from industry or academia) have an overview of its entirety. What looks good from one standpoint doesn’t from another. And, of course, the global food system is an economic giant so there are many vested interests and fixed rules and regulations that it is difficult to change for the better – it exhibits “the wrong sort of resilience”.

It all sounds quite daunting. What gives you hope? What gives me hope is that I have met many people who are deeply committed to making change happen. These include people from industry, government and academia, as well as civil society.

FDFphotos on Flickr with permission

is the climate impact we can tolerate, and the healthcare costs of the malnourished (underweight and overweight).

From the proponents of local food systems and smallholder farming, to VPs of international organisations wanting to understand how the market may evolve, many see the trajectory of the current system as unsustainable. The challenge is to find ways to evolve towards the better. There is a key role here for interdisciplinary research in partnership with stakeholders, to encourage collaborative working and a systems perspective, and the GFS programme is well placed to drive this forward.

What works and what doesn’t when advancing the GFS programme and how has the GFS programme evolved during your tenure as Champion? We have worked hard to drive systems thinking with our stakeholders, integrating the different parts of the food challenge into a more coherent ‘big picture’ and from this to realise the implications of our current direction of travel and use this to prompt action. For many, this approach has been a challenge – to move from more traditional siloed or disciplinary thinking. It has largely worked because GFS has invested in building a community of friends and colleagues, as well as interdisciplinary researchers.

Professor Tim Benton in action. He was Global Food Security Champion since the programme’s inception in 2011.

The UK’s Global Food Security (GFS) programme is a multi-agency partnership of the UK’s public bodies (government departments, devolved governments and Research Councils) with an interest in the challenges around food. BBSRC leads on administration and communications for the programme.

The one lesson I have truly learned is that

Tim shares the sofa with Professor Alice Roberts at Food Matters Live discussion in 2016.

Food Matters Live 2016

BBSRC Business Winter 2017



everything hinges on building relationships of trust, and that requires investment and good will – on both sides. Part of this is respecting the expertise of others: not everyone is called ‘Professor’ but this doesn’t mean they aren’t an expert in their area. I have learned an enormous amount from listening to people from other walks of life. Being unable to ‘do the right thing’ doesn’t mean – as many people might suggest – a person lacks knowledge; whether it is someone consuming a poor diet or a politician making expedient decisions; most frequently they are trapped within their systems and have little room for manoeuvre.

What are your GFS highlights from the last five years? I leave GFS in a very strong position, satisfied that we have delivered a lot of things that the programme will build on in future, much of which is captured in our impact report. I would highlight our role in bringing together academia, business, government and NGOs to understand the major issues that the food system faces, what we currently know that can feed into policy and practice, and what we don’t know that can feed into the research agenda. Our extreme weather work and 100 questions activities are good example of this, both of which directly informed our £14.5M interdisciplinary research programme on resilience of the food system. I would also highlight our role in catalysing a £13M collaborative investment in soils across the UK Research Councils and government; the launch of the International Temperate Agriculture Network (see, which aims to synthesis knowledge to inform global policy and practice; and our work on food security strategy with the EU and G20.

carry on working on the relationship between food and security. I will also return to the University of Leeds, where I will help to build strategic partnerships, building on my experience with GFS. I will also continue with research on food systems, their sustainability and resilience.

Will you still work with GFS in some capacity? Yes, I’ll be involved in systems analysis and horizon-scanning as part of a new GFS Science Advisory Group, which I will Chair, and the programme will get additional input from the GFS Resilience Programme community, coordinated by Dr John Ingram and his team at the Environmental Change Institute in the University of Oxford. I will also serve on the GFS Strategy Advisory Board.

Finally it is essential that we engage the public on food system issues, and our GFS Public Panel has produced a wealth of input that all stakeholders can use.

I leave the programme in a very good place, and I am sure it will go from strength to strength in ensuring the latest cutting-edge research underpins a sustainable and healthy food system in future.

What’s next for you after GFS?

Will there be another GFS Champion?

During my five-year term, often spending 20-30 hrs on the train each week and each night in a different hotel, I had thought my life would slow down when I stop being the Champion… but perhaps not. I have been invited to join the Royal Institute of International Affairs at Chatham House as a ‘Distinguished Visiting Fellow’, so can 26

BBSRC Business Winter 2017

No, not in the same way as a named position. My good friend and colleague Riaz Bhunnoo, Head of GFS, will continue to provide strong leadership for GFS and add significant value to the partnership of UK public sector funders. Riaz has been heading up the programme since its inception and will continue to

champion food system issues and the need for interdisciplinary research – he is already working on a new GFS strategy to be launched in the beginning of 2017.

Any final thoughts? I used to feel embarrassed by my ‘Champion’ job title (“Wonder Horse” my mum called me), but the challenge of creating a sustainable food system has been in my heart. I have been privileged to have been able to champion the issue, place it at the forefront of many people’s thinking and on institutional agendas, and maintain pressure in our fast-shifting landscape of priorities. I may cease to be the GFS Champion, but I will continue to champion this area. And finally, I’d just like to say to all people who work to make the world a more sustainable, healthy and equitable place – thank you for your help and support!

Keep up to date with GFS activities via its popular blog at

Coming soon January 24 January Responsive mode proposals under the welfare of managed animals priority

February 1 February Agri-Tech Catalyst

Application deadline: 24 January 2017

Application deadline (early and late stage awards only): 1 February 2017, 12pm

'Stand-alone' LINK Application deadline: 24 January 2017, 4pm

8 February UK Biofilms Programme Expressions of interest deadline: 8 February 2017, 4pm

Responsive mode application deadlines

9 February

Application deadline: 24 January 2017, 4pm

GCRF Call in Networks for Vaccine R&D

Full application (invite only) deadline: 9 February 2017, 4pm. Application assessment: 16 March 2017

Industrial Partnership Awards (IPA) Application deadline: 24 January 2017, 4pm

10 February

GFS Policy Lab on multifunctional landscapes

New Investigator Scheme

Application deadline: 10 February 2017, 11.59pm

Application deadline: 24 January 2017, 4pm

BBSRC-Brazil (FAPESP) joint funding of research Application deadline: 24 January 2017, 4pm

15 February Innovator of the Year

March 2 March Biotechnology for a sustainable bioeconomy Pre-proposals application deadline: 2 March 2017, 1pm CET. Invites to full stage: by 22 May 2017 biotechnologybioeconomy

15 March Follow-on Funding call Call opens: 25 January 2017. Application deadline: 15 March 2017, 4pm

22 March Call 2: GFS resilience of the UK food system in a global context Full proposal (invite only) call opens: 6 February 2017 Full proposal (invite only) application deadline: 22 March 2017, 4pm

31 March ERA-CAPS third call: transnational research in molecular plant sciences

Application deadline: 15 February 2017, 4pm

Full proposals application deadline (invite only): 31 March 2017, 12pm CET

16 February GCRF: Networks in Vector Borne Disease Research Full proposal (invite only) application deadline: 16 February 2017, 4pm

BBSRC Business Winter 2017


Connect with BBSRC on Twitter Tumblr YouTube LinkedIn Facebook Google+ Medium

Printed on paper from sustainable sources