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Some recent science highlights

May 2005

Scientific achievements arising from BBSRC-funded research are reported regularly in BBSRC’s quarterly magazine: BBSRC Business, in media releases, and in the BBSRC Annual Report and Accounts.

Recent examples include:

Stem cells

Identification of a key protein that is central to the unique property of embryonic stem cells to be able to replicate limitlessly, whilst retaining the potential to specialise into many different cell types. This, together with the identification of key elements in signalling pathways of stem cells, means that it is becoming more and more feasible to control stem cells in predictable ways, thus making it more realistic to be able to use them in cell replacement therapies for conditions such as Parkinson’s Disease.
Jointly funded with MRC, University of Edinburgh
(Business July 2003 page 3)


Exercise benefits ageing muscles

Research on age-related changes in the structure of muscles and tendons has shown that physical exercise in later life can partly reverse the changes and boost muscle performance, helping elderly people to keep their mobility and independence.
Manchester Metropolitan University.
(Business July 2004 page 6)


Photosynthesis and renewable energy

The process by which green plants and some bacteria convert energy from sunlight into chemical energy is one of the most basic biological processes on earth, and one on which we ultimately depend. Understanding how energy from sunlight is captured could help us develop a new type of solar panel. In addition, looking at the way in which energy is converted from sunlight into chemical energy could identify other sources of renewable energy. Scientists have a high resolution model of Photosystem II, which is responsible for splitting water in photosynthesis. It suggest a mechanisms by which hydrogen and oxygen are separated ( a reaction that cannot be mimicked chemically in the laboratory). Its architecture could provide a blueprint for industrial scale hydrogen fuel cells as renewable sources of energy.
Imperial College.
(BBSRC Business April 2004 page 16)


Natural insect repellents

Studies into the natural message-bearing chemicals that influence how insects are attracted or repelled by their host (plant or animal) has led to the identification of several compounds within human odour that arouse responses in mosquitoes. Significantly, proportions of these compounds vary between individuals that are bitten more or less by the flies. The information could from the basis for developing novel and benign control systems for a range of insect pests.
Rothamsted Research and the University of Aberdeen.
(Business January 2005 page 14)


Award-winning ryegrass

A programme that brings together basic strategic and applied research in plant genetics and breeding technologies (funded by BBSRC, Defra and industry) has led to a new perennial ryegrass with high digestibility and water-soluble carbohydrate content, high dry matter yield and good persistency. It won the NIAB Variety Cup at Cereals 2003.
Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research
(BBSRC Business October 2003 page 5)


Ribozymes

Increasing understanding of the structure and mechanisms of ribozymes (RNA molecules with catalytic properties) holds the potential of developing them as novel catalysts fro industry and as “molecular scalpels” for use in reagents and perhaps even therapeutics.
Cancer Research UK Nucleic Acid Structure Research Group, University of Dundee.
(Business January 2004, page 21)


Distinguishing between maternal and paternal genes

Scientists have discovered a mechanism which they believe helps explain how, for some genes, cells can selectively silence the copy of a gene from one parent, while leaving the copy from the other parent active. Defects in this ‘imprinting’ are associated with hereditary disorders, including some that increase predisposition to childhood cancers.
Babraham Institute.


Understanding how flowers grow

Genetically marked cells in the petals of real plants have been used to develop computer simulations of plant growth and development. These models (“virtual plants”)indicate that a long-range signal provides a frame of reference during petal development, enabling cells to orientate their growth in relation to the rest of the developing flower.
John Innes Centre and the University of East Anglia.
(BBSRC Annual Report 2002-03 page 9)


Light, alertness and the body clock

Research into light-detecting systems in the eye, has revealed that a recently identified protein, melanopsin, plays a critical role in regulating pupil size, and is probably responsible for indicating daylight to the brain to regulate a range of physiological responses to light including helping us to stay alert and fine tune our body clocks.
Imperial College in collaboration with scientists in the USA.
(BBSRC Annual Report 2002-03 page 15)

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