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£17.7M for major long-term research projects to harness the power of bioscience

17.7M for major long-term research projects - 11 December 2013. Aurelio Scetta/Thinkstock
  • Research for agriculture, health, alternatives to fossil fuels, and new commercial products
  • Long term funding to provide time and resources to address research gaps

BBSRC has funded six long-term projects with the potential to make significant impacts in agriculture, health, alternatives to fossil fuels, and using biology to produce important commercial products.

The awards are funded through BBSRC's Strategic Longer and Larger grants (sLoLas), which give world leading teams the time and resources to address areas of key strategic importance. The projects were chosen based on their scientific excellence; because they required long timescales, extensive resources and/or multidisciplinary approaches; and they involve internationally leading research teams.

Professor Jackie Hunter, BBSRC's Chief Executive, said: "This public funding offers long-term support to address major research challenges, while building research capacity in important areas and maximising economic and social benefits for the UK."

"The vital knowledge generated by this research will help to address the threat of farmed-animal diseases, the health of an ageing population, and the need for more sustainable industries and energy sources."

The projects include:

University of York's Centre for Novel Agricultural Products

  • BBSRC-HGCA Black Grass Project – Research to tackle the major crop weed 'black grass'
  • BBSRC Marine Wood Borer Enzyme Programme – Producing liquid fuel from waste wood
  • BBSRC Renewable Industrial Products from Rapeseed (RIPR) Programme – Extracting useful products from rapeseed

The Pirbright Institute

  • BBSRC Swine Flu Dynamics Project – Understanding swine flu transmission

University College London

  • BBSRC Algal Biotechnology Platform for Designer Lipids – More sustainable production of useful molecules, including biofuels, bulk chemicals and high value products

The University of Manchester

  • BBSRC Drosophila Developmental Interactome Project – Using the fruit fly as a model to help us understand how we develop

All of the projects involve collaborations with partners from other UK institutions, including: BBSRC-funded institutes (Rothamsted Research, the Institute of Food Research and The Genome Analysis Centre); Home Grown Cereals Authority (part of AHDB); the Food and Environment Research Agency; the Animal Health/Veterinary Laboratory Agency Weybridge; and the Universities of Aberdeen, Bristol, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Oxford, Nottingham, Portsmouth, Reading, Sheffield and York.

ENDS

Projects

University of York

The University of York's Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) has been awarded funding for three of the long-term projects.

Professor Rob Edwards: BBSRC-HGCA Black Grass Project (£2M)
Herbicide-resistant black grass is a major farm weed, causing serious problems in fields of cereal and oilseed rape. Control is becoming difficult because black-grass can acquire an overarching mechanism that makes it resistant to all herbicide (weed killers). It is estimated that black-grass is now a problem weed affecting some 1.2M ha of UK land. This research will focus on understanding the molecular basis, evolution and farming practices that can lead to multiple herbicide resistance, and identifying ways in which it can be tackled in the wider environment.

Professor Ian Bancroft: BBSRC Renewable Industrial Products from Rapeseed (RIPR) Programme (£3.1M)
This project is studying potentially valuable co-products that might be extracted from oil seed rape, as well as the primary oil product, a protein-rich feed for animals that is already exploited as a co-product. The research will involve the study of new potential co-products including vitamin E (tocopherol) and cholesterol lowering compounds (phytosterols) from the oil, as well as waxes from pod walls with aphid-repellent or medical properties, and other valuable compounds from stems, all with consideration given to reducing fertilizer inputs.

Professor Simon McQueen Mason: BBSRC Marine Wood Borer Enzyme Programme (£2.8M)
Professors Simon McQueen-Mason and Neil Bruce will investigate how marine invertebrates, including gribble and shipworms, digest wood. Understanding their digestive systems is paving the way to develop better enzymes and processes that could break down non-food woody biomass, such a waste paper and straw, into biofuels. This new programme builds on research into wood-boring gribble as part of the BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre.

Commenting on the three awards to the University of York, Professor Ian Graham, CNAP Director, said: "These awards show just how strong our strategic research portfolio in CNAP is, the outputs of these projects can make a real difference to society and we are pleased that the BBSRC are committed to funding this important work."

The Pirbright Institute

Dr Bryan Charleston: BBSRC Swine Flu Dynamics Project (£4.4M)
Swine influenza attracts considerable attention because of the threat of viruses from pigs infecting people. This has led to the destruction of animals in some countries and trade bans.

Vaccination against influenza in pigs is not routinely performed in Europe: the cost benefit of vaccination has not been clearly demonstrated and it is not clear that the available vaccines will protect against the strains currently circulating in the pig population.

Dr Charleston said: "These studies will provide essential evidence to design control programmes for influenza in pigs. We will look at the efficiency of current methods of control, the level of immunity required in a population to prevent the spread, and whether new, broadly cross-protective vaccines are more effective at enhancing animal health and livestock production."

This type of information is not available for any natural mammal hosts of influenza viruses, including humans and horses. Therefore, the results of these studies will have a broad impact on influenza control measures.

The University of Manchester

Professor Simon Hubbard: BBSRC Drosophila Developmental Interactome Project (£2.8M)

Our development is governed by the complex interplay between the proteins encoded by our genes. Careful control of these proteins at a specific time during development dictates the fate of cells and the tissues they will form. As well as the timing, the location within the cell is also important. While some of this information is contained within the genome sequence, we currently lack the full picture of what happens during development.

Professor Hubbard said: "This research will answer some important questions: we don't know how much of each gene product is expressed at each time point, we don't know which version of each gene is expressed, and we don't know the catalogue of interacting protein partners. Much of the knowledge needed to understand developmental signalling is missing. Crucially, and perhaps mostly importantly, we lack comprehensive data specifically at the protein level, where function is really determined."

This project will close the gap in knowledge using both experimental and computational science. By comprehensively characterising how development works in the fruit fly, major advance in developmental biology and genome science can be made.

University College London

Dr Saul Purton: BBSRC Algal Biotechnology Platform for Designer Lipids (£2.4M)
Microalgae could provide more sustainable production of a wide range of useful molecules, including biofuels, bulk chemicals and high value products.

Dr Purton said: "These photosynthetic microorganisms offer many advantages in an industrial context; they do not compete with food crops for arable land, growth rates and productivity is very high, and they can be cultivated in fermenters where conditions can be controlled. So that we can exploit this and create algal platforms for a range of industrial biotechnology applications, we need to develop new technologies for the efficient and predictable engineering of their biology."

This project will use synthetic biology approaches to develop the molecular tools needed for genetic improvement, together with predictive models and high-throughput cell analysis techniques. The work will focus on two marine microalgae: Phaeodactylum tricornutum and Nannochloropsis gaditana, both of which have sequenced genomes and naturally accumulate oils.

The tools and technologies will be brought together and tested to confirm that 'bespoke' strains of microalgae can be created to produce high levels of desired oils.

About BBSRC

BBSRC invests in world-class 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, and with an annual budget of around £467M (2012-2013), 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.

For more information about BBSRC, our science and our impact see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk.
For more information about BBSRC strategically funded institutes see: www.bbsrc.ac.uk/institutes.


Tags: ageing animal health crops farming industrial biotechnology BBSRC press release