BBSRC_ Polaris House North Star Avenue Swindon_ SN2 1UH 20th by tyndale


Polaris House
North Star Avenue
Swindon, SN2 1UH
                                                                         20th September 2006

To whom it may concern,

Re: Review of the BBSRC Committee structure Questionnaire

The Nutrition Society was established in 1941 ‘to advance the scientific study of nutrition
and its application to the maintenance of human and animal health'. Highly regarded by the
scientific community, the Society is the largest learned society for nutrition in Europe.
Membership is worldwide and open to those with a genuine interest in the science of human
or animal nutrition.

The Nutrition Society is please to have the opportunity to comment on the BBSRC
committee structures and future restructuring. The Society has over 2500 members
worldwide, with over 2000 residing in the UK. Many of our UK members are involved in
research, in the area of diet and health, including a strong cohort of university and institute
researchers who are conducting work which is highly relevant to the BBSRC’s remit. Our
members contribute to the work of the BBSRC through their roles as Institute scientists, as
referees and as members of committees, panels, visiting groups and Institute Governing

Critique of current structures:

We have considered the general strengths and weakness of the present structures and have
summarised these in table 1 in the appendix. We consider the main drivers for considering
revision of the present structures to be:
● The need for change to stimulate more dynamic, less inward looking committees.
Present structures have been in place for some time and may now be too conservative
leading to risk averse decision making and less innovative science being funded;
● An imbalance in the number of grants going to committees, leading to less effective use
of resource.

It is clear that these are important issues. Over the past 8 years, BBSRC has seen a 60%
increase in the number of grant applications coming to committees, demonstrating the
expansion of the biological sciences within the UK university community. The present
structures have worked well in accommodating these numbers and despite the present
imbalance in work loads, all committees have seen increases in numbers of grants, with
some shifts in the balance of science within individual committees. It is important to
emphasis that restructuring of committees will not, by itself, lead to less risk averse
decision making. The BBSRC may wish to consider the extent to which training of its
committee members may be helpful. BBSRC may also wish to consider the present office
staff structure. Continuity of staff roles is important and their knowledge and skills are
much appreciated by committee members and the user community. However lack of
movement within the organisation itself may also contribute to an excessively conservative
culture and needs consideration within the restructuring exercise.

Restructuring of BBSRC Committees and research in diet and health:

We wish to comment more fully on the implications of restructuring in relation to the need
for strong bioscience research in the area of diet and health (Table 2 in appendix). The
expansion in university investment in the biological sciences has been matched by an
increase in the number of university UG programmes in nutrition related subjects. It is
notable that in some cases this has reflected a shift away from the more technologically
based food subjects and this shift has also impacted within the Agri-Food Committee,
where there are far fewer submissions from this sector, but a marked increase in the number
of diet and health submissions. In terms of the remit of individual committees and the most
appropriate location of the diet and health research there are two main points we would like
to emphasise:

● Need for ‘state of the art’ bioscience research in diet and health in the UK is crucial not
only to to provide the evidence base for improved public health but also to ensure that the
agri-food industries remain competitive. . Systems biology, ‘ omics approaches and data
sharing are seen as key components of research in diet and health. Many centres are
developing nutritional metabolomics as a core part of their research programmes and
investing heavily in collaborations with Mathematicians and Modellers. Integrative
Physiology is also a core element of strong mechanistically based research in diet and
health. In this context we consider the present strategic priorities of the BBSRC to be very
well aligned with the needs of this community. However, the present position of diet and
health within the Agri-Food Committee may not be the most optimal location in terms of its
fit with the broad base of the present committee where there is increasing emphasis on
ecology and environmental agriculture and much less emphasis on agricultural food
production systems;

● Within the context of policy needs and public perception in the area of food and health,
we see an urgent need for greater consideration of the linkages between primary
production, food manufacturing, retailing, consumer perception and food and health. The
BBSRC Institutes are potentially strong players in this area but more could be done
enhance BBSRC’s contribution in response mode where it has a potentially unique
capability to drive innovative research on food for health.

Finally we would like to emphasise the importance of ensuring continuing investment in
nutrition research within the UK and the need for specific initiatives to support future
training and research in diet and health if we are to maintain the present lead we have
within Europe. Indication of our present strength is shown by the high percentage of FP6
projects involving UK researchers and the fact that 70% of Marie Curie Fellowship
applications in food and health are requests for location in UK institutes. However strategic
investment in the area of food and health sciences in other European countries is increasing
sharply. A recent call by the Science Foundation of Ireland has resulted in €50m investment
in fundamental and applied research in food and health as well as establishment of €16m in
a functional food centre in Cork. In Germany the German Research Foundation have
established a 10 year road map to formulate a long-term plan for research in the systems
biology of nutrition, endocrinology and metabolism as a basis for strengthening long term
developments in food. The Wageningen Centre for Food Sciences is a joint initiative of
government, industry and research institutes, to strengthen the capacity for innovation and
the competitive strength of the food industry, with a focus on the application of high
throughput ’omic technologies. This has been strengthened considerably by the investment
of about €20 million by the Dutch government into nutritional genomics research in a five
year programme which started in 2004. The Danish government is currently considering
establishing a research and innovation platform in nutrigenomics with the aim of increasing
research collaboration, education and product development. In the UK there has been
greater fragmentation of funding for food and health research which has tended to
segregate research (and researchers) into basic biology (BBSRC), disease-related (MRC),
public health (FSA) and industry (EPSRC, DEFRA) sectors. There is urgent need for more
joined up thinking and working and we urge BBSRC to take a lead in promoting the
necessary cross-funding agency cooperation.

I hope the Nutrition Society’s comments will prove useful in the restructuring of the
BBSRC’s committees, and that improved financial assistance will be provided to
researchers in the biosciences, especially those with diet and health related submissions.

Yours faithfully,

Dr Ann Prentice
The Nutrition Society
Table 1 Generic issues relating to all committees
Weaknesses                                  Strengths
The present structure has been in place for The committees have clear remits that have
12 years which brings risk of developing    evolved with time and are well recognized
‘closed’ committee communities.             by the relevant scientific communities.
Biological science and the external context Strategy Panels ensure external context
have changed dramatically.                  influence committee priorities

Increased need for inter disciplinarity        Biological Sciences is an inter-disciplinary
means increased communication between          subject. Whatever structure is agreed upon
committees is required to stimulate and        will require high degree of cross committee
sustain. This is costly of time and            working and this leads to greater sense of
resources.                                     vibrancy.

The present structures are outdated, leading    BBSRC has delivered world class science
to excessive conservatism and lack of          from the present structure, with UK
innovation. Need to look to future needs.      biological sciences now competitive with
                                               USA/ Japan.
Having more than one committee to which        Some re structuring could benefit some
some communities can go supports a             closely related areas e.g. Plant and Crop
healthier committee culture. Excessive re      Science, Diet and Health which cut across a
structuring could increase, not decrease,      number of committees.
inward looking cultures
There is an imbalance in terms of numbers       The committees which receive the lowest
of grant applications going to individual      number of applications at present (EBS and
committees.                                    AF) are the most inter-disciplinary, with
                                               diverse disciplines represented at
                                               committee and within the community. This
                                               requires additional peer review time but
                                               enables greater cross fertilization of the
                                               science. These two committees are well
                                               understood by their user communities –
                                               including industry and policy. IPA rich.

 Too many applications are over loading        The committees are being successful in
the peer review system. This now requires      attracting high quality applications, with
4 meetings of committees per year.             55-65% rated as international. Three per
                                               year may be sufficient for some
A peer review college would be seen as         Committees have developed good
fairer, more balanced and allow greater        ‘collective memories’ with expertise being
involvement of a larger number of people       passed on through successive members.
in the peer review process. Less subject to    Even with peer review colleges, a final
perception of bias and nepotism.               decision making committee is needed and
                                               this narrows input at crucial stage
Table 2 Agri-Food related issues in area of diet and health
Weaknesses                                    Strengths
Present committee remit has an excessively Diverse disciplinarity within A-F means it
broad base which does not enable sufficient is less subject to parochial committee
collective expertise to be brought to bear in culture. IM community and referees drawn
evaluating grants. This may be a problem      from very wide ranging science base.
in area of diet and health which is itself    Input from users (FSA/DEFRA/Industry) is
very broad ranging from cellular and          very valuable
molecular through human intervention
including behavioural sciences. Only one
or two IMs who can evaluate any single
grant means there is risk of bias

Reduction in the number of grants coming        Development of the Crop Science
from agriculture and food processing has        initiative, response to DEFRA priorities,
weakened the food chain strengths of this       development of CSR2007 has benefited
committee – important in relation to policy     from the broad food chain related expertise
in the area of diet and health                  on A-F

Committee remit (as currently outlined on        Current priorities ensure committee does
website) provides a narrow view of              not attempt to cover all possible areas of a
research activity in scientific areas of food   very broad ranging science – greater focus
and health. Need to lever more                  to ensure high success rates
applications which represent full breadth of
food relevant biological research within the
Increased number and success rates of diet    Diet and Health now much stronger
and health proposals has lead to perception   scientifically than hitherto– especially the
that this is the major remit of the           focus on systems biology within BBSRC;
committee and a decline in interest from      data sharing will be big issue for diet and
other parts of the food sector. Added value   health research in the future. This will
has weakened                                  enable UK diet and health researchers to
                                              lead the European developments
 Strong community in UK working on            Careful selection of committee members
cellular and molecular nutrition, nutritional ensures that relevant diverse knowledge in
systems biology, diet and development and this complex area. E.g. Modelling strengths
integrative physiology/ metabolic             in area of ecology can be brought to bear
regulation. Some grants would benefit from on evaluation of diet and health proposals
greater breadth and depth of expertise
presently located in other committees e.g.    Timely areas of science (e.g. nutrition and
biomedical, endocrinology, whole              development), have grown out of A-F to
organism physiology, human studies.           form priorities with cross cutting interest.
                                              Shows strength of having relevant science
                                              in more than one committee

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