Public Sector Research Institutions (PSREs) play an important role in ukthe science, research, development and innovation landscape. Primarily, they support government by providing scientific advice to policy makers, acting as a strategic capability in policy delivery and providing critical scientific services to business and government society. The 2019 Science Skills Review acknowledged this PSREs represent an important public asset that is currently underutilized and poorly understood by government.
Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government (GCSA) Sir Patrick Vallance visited the 2 keys PSREs in July – Fera Science (Fera) and Center for Environmental Science, Fisheries and Aquaculture (Cephas).
Center for Environmental Science, Fisheries and Aquaculture
of GCSA recently visited Cephas in Weymouth, along with Chief Scientific Adviser at the Food Standards Agency, Robin May. Cephas provides world-class science for the marine and freshwater environment. During their visit, GCSA AND CSA delivered a speech and engaged in a question and answer with Cephas scientists on the importance of PSREsscientific ability in government and policy making is evidenced by science.
The visit focused mainly on the work of the Animal and Human Health Sciences Theme in Cephasand how Cephas is aligning its deep specializations in risk identification and control around a broader concept of One Health Surveillance. For example, Cephas is taking the lead in a new one Defra international program that aims to bring together methods for assessing specific risks throughout the aquatic food supply chain and to target controls at the points within that chain where they may have the most impact. This approach increases the supply of safe and sustainable food, and can also positively impact biodiversity and the climate efficiency of entire food systems.
During the visit to the laboratory, GCSA AND CSA heard of Cephas‘ National and international program work, including aquatic animal pathology, accredited diagnostics, whole gene profiling, bioinformatics, natural biotoxins, chemicals, foodborne pathogens and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). CephasWork in her Weymouth lab involves looking at the dangers of AMR and assessing the potential impacts of chemicals on the aquatic environment, the responsibility for conducting official controls that help ensure that shellfish throughout uk is safe to eat for consumers and the control of fish and shellfish disease outbreaks in England and Wales. This helps maintain high standards of biosecurity and animal welfare. All of these capabilities help to inform policy and operational responses both nationally and internationally.
Recent domestic investments in cutting-edge technologies for chemical, microbial and genomic profiling were also discussed during the visit, in relation to emerging opportunities for their application – including the development of wastewater-based surveillance. This oversight allowed them Defra group to help support the government’s response to COVID-19 by testing wastewater samples. This supported effective decision making for NHS Test and track to identify how the virus was moving through communities, including new and emerging variants, before it was captured in clinical trial data.
of GCSA AND CSA also had a series of conversations with bacteriologists, toxicologists, shellfish hygiene experts, among others, to understand how pathogens and toxins are identified and reduce risk to humans, shellfish and molluscs. They also talked about his work Cephas elsewhere to support capacity to identify bacteria and perform toxicology in shellfish and molluscs. These activities help support a more sustainable and reliable food source and Ghana and Bangladesh are just 2 of the countries where this work is taking place.
of GCSA said:
It was really great to discuss the importance of scientific capability in government and ensuring that policy is informed by science, with the students and early career scientists I met at Cephas.
Fera are experts in safety, biosecurity and sustainability throughout the agri-food-environment chain. of GCSA visited the York site recently and was informed of Fera’s continuation R&D activities in support of its Science Strategy and its future growth plans.
Fera is a unique member of uk The PSRE network, in that it operates as a public-private partnership under a joint business model created by Defra in 2015. This hybrid status has enabled Fera to continue to serve the needs of the public sector at a much lower cost, being better able (and incentivized) to provide expert scientific services to clients and industry partners on a fully commercial basis. This has enabled Fera to fully fund some of the new infrastructure assets and expansion of expert services that were introduced in GCSAFera’s tour.
Just one such example is Fera’s work on the assessment of land use and natural capital that GCSA was introduced to the tournament. Fera’s work in this area supports new environmental land management schemes which aim to achieve national net zero carbon targets and improve biodiversity and its measurement.
The Fera team also gave a presentation on Fera’s work to assess, improve and certify the capabilities of government and commercial laboratories internationally. This work, for example, enables uk have confidence that the data produced by trading partner countries in support of their food and commodity exports is of a uk– equivalent standard.
This was followed by a short talk on Fera’s food safety work at the country’s flagship Thomson Laboratory location, which houses over £30m of advanced analytical instruments that operate 24/7 to deliver analytical results supporting a range of wide of Fera’s work; Examples include legal testing of maximum pesticide residue levels in foods, assessing the food contact safety of packaging materials, to determining the origin and authenticity of food products that are at high risk of fraud and substitution.
of GCSA also saw research and testing being carried out for public sector bodies and commercial agro-chemical and veterinary-medical companies to assess the safety of such chemicals in the natural environment and their environmental fate. This featured a tour of Fera’s new state-of-the-art aquatic toxicology laboratories and the unique e-Flows Mesocosm, which was built with the support of the Agrotechnical Center for Crop Health and Protection (CHAP) and Innovate uk. This is a ‘world-first’ large-scale field test laboratory with 66 measured flowing water channels that can accurately simulate the impact of chemical and biological environmental interventions (such as pesticide application) on aquatic health and invertebrates. species.
Other experts on Fera’s team continued to chat GCSA through their work in R&D for assays, molecular detection and genomic sequencing to assess whether plants have been genetically modified, as well as the measurement and regulatory challenges that lie ahead in detecting the quality and safety of gene modification processes.
In another example of some of Fera’s ‘breakthroughs’ or pioneering work, the GCSA look at her insect research facilities. Insect research at Fera has recently expanded under a £1 million investment made by Fera in a new pilot-scale production facility to support research programs to evaluate and optimize the application of insect bioconversion at scale. Insect bioconversion is the process of feeding insects with organic biomass waste to create additional materials, such as protein (for livestock feed) or bio-fertilizer. The technology can reduce waste, provide alternative (sustainable) protein sources for animal feed and reduce the environmental impact of sourcing protein from already depleted areas (such as fishmeal and soy).
Reflecting on the visit, GCSA said:
PSREs such as Fera are really important to help uk increase its scientific and technological capabilities. It was fantastic to visit Fera and learn more about their pioneering work in agri-food-environmental science.