Institute Assessment Exercise 2016

The Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) provides strategic funding to eight institutes, which deliver innovative, world-class bioscience research and training, aligned with our strategic priorities, generating high returns for the UK economy.

Our strategically funded institutes have strong links with business, industry and the wider community, and support policy development. Their research underpins key sectors of the UK economy including agriculture, bioenergy, biotechnology and food. In addition, the institutes maintain unique research facilities of national importance.

We are committed to the rigorous assessment of our strategically funded institutes as a means of meeting our goals and, matching best practice, ensuring that institutes continue to provide value for money, as well as informing our future funding decisions and complying with government policy. To achieve this, we conduct an Institute Assessment Exercise (IAE) every five years. The next Institute Assessment Exercise will take place during 2016 and will make recommendations about institute funding starting from April 2017.

Submissions from the institutes have now been received. The Institute Assessment Panel met in September 2016.

BBSRC’s strategic research investments at the institutes

Blueprints for Healthy Animals: The Roslin Institute

This programme aims to define how the sequence, regulation and products of genes determine the development and function of body systems throughout life. Researchers at The Roslin Institute are particularly interested in understanding the development and lifelong health of farmed animals to improve animal productivity, health and welfare.

Control of Infectious Diseases: The Roslin Institute

This programme investigates infectious agents in farmed animals with the aim of developing effective strategies to control animal and zoonotic diseases (those that are passed between animals and humans). This research will have a crucial role in alleviating the impact of diseases constraining prosperity in low and middle-income countries and which pose a threat of incursion to the UK, as well as in addressing the global challenge of antimicrobial resistance.

Designing Future Wheat: John Innes Centre, Rothamsted Research, Earlham Institute, University of Bristol, EMBL-EBI, NIAB, University of Nottingham

Wheat is one of the most important global crops, being grown on more land than any other commercial crop, and currently providing 20% of total calories consumed by humans daily worldwide, being second only to rice. A 60% increase in demand is expected by 2050 as the global population increases towards 10 billion, with most increased consumption expected in developing countries. Since it takes up to 20 years for current research to improve wheat varieties grown in farmers’ fields, immediate action is imperative to address problems facing us in the future.

From Genomes to Food Security Core Strategic Programme: Earlham Institute

Taking advantage of the latest technology in genomics and computer science to understand how living systems evolve and adapt to their environment. We will work across kingdoms from plants to fish to microbes to address key areas of food production and food safety.

Enhanced host responses for disease control: The Pirbright Institute

This research programme will focus expertise in disciplines such as immunology, genetics, entomology, vaccinology and bioinformatics to study host-virus interactions from the host perspective (including arthropods that act as virus vectors), the host’s response to viral infection and the translation of this knowledge into the development of new and improved disease control methods. Research will be driven by answering the question “What properties of the host response to virus infections determine if disease occurs and if viruses are controlled, persist or are transmitted to a new host?” It will be answered by examining the responses of host species to viral infection, from the genome to the whole organism and population.

Epigenetics in development and ageing: Babraham Institute

Understanding how a genome works during development and ageing is determined by the DNA sequence mainly through transcription factors known as the epigenome (all epigenetic factors taken together). Our findings will ultimately provide a better understanding of how early life experiences and diet are connected with healthy ageing, and also how to improve the handling of stem cells so that they can be of better and safer use in regenerative medicine.

Genes in the Environment: John Innes Centre

Increasingly changing climates mean crops have to be able to grow and produce food in a wide range of quickly changing conditions. Current crop varieties have not been bred for this. Wild plants are adaptable regularly coping to all sorts of stresses and challenges; what can we re-learn from nature?

Improving Animal Production and Welfare: The Roslin Institute

This programme investigates the role of genetic, environmental and dietary factors on production-relevant traits with the aim of improving the performance, sustainability and welfare of farmed animals. The programmes include animal behaviour studies that examine the impact of stress, season, husbandry and other factors on the welfare and performance of animals and their offspring have the potential to enhance the lives of managed animals and address societal concerns related to the welfare of intensively-reared livestock.

Resilient Crops Core Strategic Programme: Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences

The project is to improve the economic, productive and environmental sustainability of crops in the face of climatic and political change. The focus will be to develop crop varieties able to maintain yield and quality improvements in the face of weather extremes such as drought and flooding, and more resistant to pests and diseases.

Keeping you healthier for longer as you age: Babraham Institute

Lifestyle choices and medical interventions including therapeutics are ways to improve human health. Signalling research takes a particular approach that broadly aims to provide a deep molecular and systems level understanding for biological processes. By understanding molecular and systems levels principles by which cells and organisms sense and adapt to challenges such as nutrient shortage or excess, infection, ageing and damage, allows for specific interventions for given situations.

Understanding the immune system to extend health span: Babraham Institute

If there is an understanding of biological mechanisms that control development and persistence of lymphocytes plus the dynamics during the generation of immunity scientists will be able to create solutions to combat infectious disease, malignancy and autoimmunity.

Molecules from Nature: John Innes Centre

Plants and microbes are a vital source of drugs and, of course, food. They also have industrial uses (for example paints and biodegradable plastics). By exploiting plant and microbial chemical diversity this will allow an avenue to search for better drugs, new antimicrobial therapies and foods with enhanced nutrition.

Plant Health: John Innes Centre, The Sainsbury Laboratory

Genetic manipulation will serve as a research tool to engineer plants and microbes. Genetic changes will advance the understanding of how plants function, especially their interaction with pests, pathogens and symbionts in relation to diseases and nutrition. This will set the groundwork for developments in agriculture which may lead to increased food security in a sustainable manner.

Soil to Nutrition (Optimising Nutrient Flow): Rothamsted Research

Sustainable agriculture is reliant on efficient flows of nutrients from soil through plants and into animals (including humans either directly or via livestock). The programme will advance farming systems through an enhanced mechanistic understanding of nutrient use efficiency, productivity and resilience from soil to product (grain and meat).

Tailoring Plant Metabolism for the Bioeconomy: Rothamsted Research

Plants not only supply us with food, fuel and fibre, but also serve as a rich source of valuable chemicals, including drugs, dyes, feedstocks for industry, and flavouring and fragrance ingredients. Plants have a remarkable capacity to make many different types of chemicals, some of which are very complex and cannot easily be synthesised artificially. The plan is to exploit this ability to produce high-value products in crops by manipulating metabolism (the chemical reactions within cells), to tailor plants to make new products and also to make higher amounts or combinations of desirable products.

Understanding and preventing viral diseases: The Pirbright Institute

This research programme will study the interaction between virus and host from the perspective of the virus and explore those properties of a virus that determine its ability to cause disease, replicate, evolve and spread. This requires a detailed understanding of how viruses behave at different levels:

  • at a molecular level, by examining interactions within cells
  • the process of evolution within the host
  • and on a global scale by seeking to reconstruct and predict how viruses are transmitted and cause disease.

This work will enable the development of new and improved methods of disease control such as vaccines and diagnostics, for both animals and people.

ASSIST (Achieving Sustainable Agricultural Systems) programme: Rothamsted Research, UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, British Geological Survey

The programme will examine the environmental effects of sustainable intensification of agriculture, and develop farming systems that contribute towards environmental sustainability. The programme was co-funded with the Natural Environment Research Council following their assessment process in 2015.


Institute Assessment Exercise Team

Last updated: 15 June 2023

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