UK bioscience industry gets £250m cash boost from government

image captionExperiments on GM crops are "essential" for research, Mr Willetts said

Researchers will get £250m in funding as part of the government's high-tech growth strategy, Science Minister David Willetts has said.

He said promoting "the technologies of the future" was a "crucial theme" of the government's industrial policy.

Research into feeding a growing world population will benefit from the grant.

Mr Willetts said ministers had a key role to play in working with business, researchers to support innovation and ensure its commercial success.

He announced the additional financial support during a visit to the Babraham Research Campus near Cambridge.

Securing the UK's research base, creating stronger links between academics and business and systematically identifying new technologies were key elements in the government's strategy for high-tech growth, the minister said.

'Risk takers'

He said: "It is what they do not just in Germany or South Korea but in the USA too. We should not let myths about free market America inhibit us from doing the same here."

"We are backing the risk takers, and are willing to take a risk ourselves."

Decisions on which research institutes receive funding were taken by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), a government-funded body with an annual budget of £445m.

The money, Mr Willetts said, will be used to "meet challenges such as sustainably feeding the growing world population, finding alternatives to dwindling fossil fuels and supporting an ageing society to remain healthy for longer".

Mr Willetts also backed developments in bioscience and said experiments with GM crops, such as those being undertaken at the Rothamsted Research Centre in Hertfordshire, were "essential" for gathering scientific evidence.

'Historic shift'

Earlier this month, a man was charged with criminal damage following a break-in at the centre where a trial of GM wheat is being held. The project aims to see whether the modified crops can deter aphids - a major wheat pest.

Mr Willetts said: "Whatever our personal views on GM, everyone must surely want to protect the integrity and freedom of British science - and allow these experiments to proceed."

Conservative MP George Freeman, the government's life science adviser who spent 15 years working in bioscience, welcomed the funding. He said it marked "a historic shift in the development of a new industrial policy for science and innovation and paves the way for the UK to lead a new green revolution in crop science".

Dr Mark Downs, Chief Executive of the Society of Biology, said: "The greatest challenges the world faces, including food security, climate change, loss of biodiversity, the ageing population and disease, can all ultimately be addressed through biology-based research. Funding that research is critical to meeting these challenges."

Mr Willetts also announced two separate investments in synthetic biology - £6.5m to encourage business to explore the industrial applications for synthetic biology and a £5m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to a number of universities to "establish a platform for synthetic biology".

The EPSRC will, for the first time ever, fund four manufacturing fellowships, worth around £1m each and there will be a refreshed report from the Government Office for Science on future technologies to inform the evolving industrial strategy.

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