A report by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has outlined a series of recommendations to protect vulnerable areas of niche research expertise.
The document, which follows a consultation run by the BBSRC and the Biosciences Federation, has identified the areas of whole animal physiology, industrial biotechnologies, plant and agricultural sciences and systematics and taxonomy as being strategically important to the UK despite providing fewer employment opportunities.
Prof Ottoline Leyser, chair of the BBSRC Bioscience Skills and Careers Strategy Panel, said: ‘Our role is to ensure that the BBSRC gets the best information and advice to ensure that the high-quality and impressive profile of the UK’s biosciences community is maintained and strengthened into the future.
‘We have heard many anecdotal reports of skills shortages but in order to advise the BBSRC on priorities for action we had to have a solid evidence base from which to work. The niche research skills within the four broad areas of concern that we have identified are crucial for UK bioscience because these areas underpin so many of the important scientific, social and economic impacts we see arising from bioscience research.’
Dr Celia Caulcott, director of innovation and skills at the BBSRC, said: ‘The UK’s world-class bioscience and its uptake by research users in the wider economy require creative and high-calibre individuals in a wide range of areas. Particularly when the number of individuals needed with specific expertise may be quite small, it can be essential that we retain that expertise as current specialists retire, for example. We are already working to support skills development and capacity building in the areas the report has identified and this provides welcome evidence to show that we are targeting our activities in the right areas.’
The BBSRC is involved in a range of activities to invest in these areas including funding for the Integrative Mammalian Biology initiative. The programme is a joint venture between the BBSRC, the Medical Research Council (MRC), Wellcome Trust and several industrial partners to encourage skills development in the animal physiology area.
In addition, the BBSRC has prioritised funding for postgraduate studentships in bioprocessing, as well as providing funding for research and training through schemes such as Industrial Impact Fellowships and the Industry Interchange programme. The organisation is also involved in a review of systematics and taxonomy in research to help the security of future food supplies.
Caulcott said: ‘We will review the report before pursuing any new avenues and would welcome feedback from the community on the recommendations. It is vital that we make best use of limited public resources and so we will carefully consider how to take this forward.
‘We are very grateful to all those who have taken time and effort to respond to the consultation. This has been a very valuable exercise and will help ensure the UK remains at the forefront of global bioscience research.’