Area of investment and support

Area of investment and support: Artificial intelligence in bioscience

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) is supporting the development of new artificial intelligence (AI) approaches relevant to bioscience, and application or adaptation of existing AI approaches that can lead to high-quality and transformative research outcomes.

Partners involved:
Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)

The scope and what we're doing

Artificial intelligence (AI) is a group of computational approaches that include, but are not limited to, machine learning, deep learning, neural networks and other related technologies.

AI methods for bioscience aim to reproduce or surpass abilities of humans to undertake complex tasks like learning and problem-solving, and enable us to make more effective use of diverse biological data.

AI impacts all areas of bioscience, including:

  • what research is carried out, with AI applications ranging from fundamental to strategic and applied research and innovation
  • how research is performed, accelerating the discovery process and enabling researchers to tackle previously intractable problems
  • convergence with other technologies, for example engineering biology, omics and bio-imaging
  • responsible research and innovation in bioscience, for instance the need for AI applications that are secure, safe, and reliable, and operate in a way we can all understand and that we can investigate if they fail

Why we're doing it

AI is a key emerging technology in the biosciences that is already generating interest and unlocking new opportunities helping to capitalise on rich sets of biological data, as well as related data from neighbouring fields.

There is substantial potential for AI to shape science by:

  • allowing our researchers to tackle problems that previously have proved impossible to solve
  • accelerating the discovery process
  • transforming research practices in the bioscience community

BBSRC’s strategy is to further explore and embed the transformative potential of AI across bioscience research and innovation, and use data-driven approaches to address societal challenges and support the bio-economy.

Key challenges include:

  • transforming analytical capabilities to harness data from key technology platforms
  • novel methods to generate hypotheses and insight for end users
  • AI approaches to deliver solutions to multimodal, multiscale, sparse and heterogeneous data problems

It is crucial to have access to high-quality data to unlock the full potential of AI. Data, software, skills and infrastructure are important to consider in support of AI, and are part of BBSRC’s strategy for this area.

Working across research disciplines

We work closely with colleagues across UKRI to develop our understanding of AI in a broader context. This includes the creation of opportunities for different disciplines to work together to address key AI-related research questions (see How we work in artificial intelligence)

Team science is critical for the success of AI in bioscience, assembling the people, perspectives, skills, data, and technologies necessary to tackle complex interdisciplinary problems in innovative ways.

Strategic context

BBSRC’s Review of Data Intensive Bioscience highlighted AI as an emerging technology of importance within the broader context of data-intensive bioscience.

The BBSRC Strategic Delivery Plan states our intention to drive the emergence and adoption of transformative bioscience technologies including AI, reflecting the key role of bioscience technologies in providing strategic advantage for future national prosperity.

UKRI’s review Transforming our world with AI sets out the UKRI vision and aspirations to support a world-leading, highly interconnected and interdisciplinary UK AI research and innovation ecosystem

AI has a high strategic profile, with a UK National AI Strategy and AI identified in the UK Science & Technology Framework as one of five critical technologies for the UK.

Opportunities, support and resources available

Support for AI-related activities through our funding mechanisms

Current BBSRC and UKRI AI funding opportunities are accessible on the UKRI funding finder.

We are keen to integrate support for AI-related activities into all investment mechanisms. BBSRC also works with the other councils in UKRI to support interdisciplinary activities where projects span different disciplines.

See the UKRI guidance for preparing a funding application if your research spans disciplines.

AIBIO-UK: community-building project supporting AI in the biosciences

AIBIO-UK is a BBSRC-funded network to support and enhance engagement between the bioscience and AI communities in the UK. The network will support community events, funding of pilot projects and creation of resources for supporting use of AI in the biosciences.

You can find more information at the AIBIO-UK network website.

Contributing to our strategy

BBSRC and UKRI regularly engage with our communities to help inform our forward planning. Opportunities to engage will be published on our website, via the AIBIO-UK network and through our social media channels.

Trusted research and innovation

The National Security and Investment Act 2021 defines 17 sensitive areas of the economy demanding additional levels of scrutiny, with AI identified as one of these areas.

UKRI is committed to ensuring that effective international collaboration in research and innovation takes place with integrity and within strong ethical frameworks.

Trusted Research and Innovation (TR&I) is a UKRI work programme designed to help protect all those working in our collaborative international sector by enabling partnerships to be as open as possible, and as secure as necessary.

Our TR&I principles set out UKRI’s expectations of organisations funded by UKRI, regarding due diligence for international collaboration.

See further guidance and information about TR&I, including where applicants can find additional support.

Past projects, outcomes and impact

Key strategic investments

Partner with international researchers on AI for Bioscience

The £7.5 million investment enabled collaborations between the UK and researchers based in Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Switzerland, and the US. It also built readiness in the community to take on future joint opportunities.

Support research in cognitive computational neuroscience

The £2 million investment supports interdisciplinary collaborations that integrate an understanding of neuroscience and cognition with AI.

Innovation Scholars: data science training in health and bioscience

The £6.2 million investment has enabled health and bioscience researchers at different starting levels and career stages to develop their skills and gain the confidence to manage and analyse their data.

For more information about some of the awards check the project websites:

Data infrastructure

UKRI is investing more than £80 million in the European Bioinformatics Institute (EMBL-EBI), part of the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). The investment will help transform EMBL-EBI’s technical infrastructure to meet the rising data needs of the life sciences community.

Across UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)

Working with colleagues across UKRI, BBSRC has contributed to a number of UKRI AI investments, including:

Research impact

These are some examples of outcomes from bioscience-relevant AI funding:

More examples are included in the booklet ‘Artificial intelligence in the biosciences’.

Who to contact

Ask a question about this area of investment

Daniela Hensen, Senior Portfolio Manager

Email: aibioscience@bbsrc.ukri.org

We aim to respond within seven working days.

Last updated: 14 May 2024

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