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Cambridge Biosciences DTP PhD Programme


Advancing the frontiers of bioscience discovery

Understanding the rules of life

Understanding living systems and how they function is at the very heart of bioscience research and innovation. From the structure of DNA, to the processes by which cells divide and replicate, the UK has a rich history of contributing ground-breaking discoveries in bioscience that have begun to reveal the basic operating ‘rules of life’.

However, for all that is already known about biological systems, there is much still to learn and tremendous excitement about the opportunities that future discoveries in bioscience will unlock. For example, understanding how cells communicate with one another, or being able to predict how the interplay between an organism’s genetic make-up and its environment will affect its physical characteristics.

Transformative technologies

Advances in research often involve the development or application of new tools and technologies and, increasingly, data-intensive and predictive approaches to biological discovery. To understand biological processes and organisms better, researchers need to measure many different parameters across multiple scales (e.g. molecules, cells, organs), ideally under physiologically relevant conditions. Greater integration of bioscience with innovation in the engineering and physical sciences is a huge opportunity to improve on existing technologies and create new ones.

The increasing complexity and scale of biological data arising from technologies such as next-generation sequencing and high-resolution imaging present both a challenge and an opportunity. The use of artificial intelligence (e.g. machine learning) and other innovative data science approaches is key to unlocking new understanding, value and scientific leads from the enormous quantities and diversity of data available.

The broader availability of, or access to, advanced tools and technologies supports the embedding of advanced methodologies across the research community and the wider democratisation of science through, for example, citizen science and crowd-sourcing approaches.

The emergence and exploitation of disruptive technologies can open up transformative new opportunities for research and business innovation. For example, major developments in genome-editing tools (e.g. CRISPR/Cas9) mean that it is now possible to make precise, targeted changes to the genomes of cells and organisms. Alongside the tools of synthetic biology, this enhances our ability to design and engineer biological systems, fuelling major advances in both fundamental bioscience research and its applications in areas such as agriculture, materials, chemicals, and bio-medicine.

Tackling strategic challenges

Bioscience for sustainable agriculture and food

Predictions of population growth suggest that by 2050 the world’s population will have expanded to over 9 billion and 60% more food will be required. Reducing the amount of food waste is part of the solution, but a huge, sustainable boost in agricultural productivity will also be needed to meet this demand. It is not simply about using more land for food production, but maximising efficiency of land use and resources. We must increase the resilience of food supply chains in the face of challenges such as climate change, growing threats from pests, pathogens, extreme weather and soil degradation, whilst also protecting the environment.

Advances in 'omics technologies, crop and livestock breeding, coupled with the convergence of sensor technologies, robotics and autonomous systems, big data, machine learning and artificial intelligence, offer an unprecedented opportunity to revolutionise food supply chains. Bioscience will contribute essential knowledge and evidence for farmers, food producers, processors, retailers, consumers and governments, to enable them to farm sustainably, producing healthy, nutritious and affordable food, while reducing impacts on the environment, protecting biodiversity and enhancing our natural capital.

For the UK’s strengths in bioscience to have an impact on global food security and drive innovation and clean growth in the agri-food sector, effective user engagement and knowledge exchange will be essential, as will integration with other disciplines such as environmental and social sciences and engineering.

Bioscience for renewable resources and clean growth

Harnessing the power of biology through industrial biotechnology has the potential to transform a wide range of industries and supply chains, reducing reliance on chemical processes and fossil fuels, helping to meet international climate change targets and driving productivity and growth in the bioeconomy. The move to bio-based processes offers opportunities to generate materials, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals and energy with improved performance, lower operational costs and reduced carbon emissions, leading to more sustainable, cleaner manufacturing and greater use of residues or wastes in a more circular bioeconomy.

The industrial biotechnology sector is growing at a rate of 8-10% pa, which is predicted to continue beyond 2025. Recent investments have increased the UK’s capacity for industrial biotechnology research and innovation in academic and business communities, encompassing engineering, physical, chemical and biological sciences. However, for UK industry to realise its full potential will require sustained support and specialist infrastructures to enable the translation of world-leading UK bioscience into innovative, bio-based products and processes at industrial scales.

Bioscience for an integrated understanding of health

The UK has an ageing population, but, as our average lifespan increases, our healthspan is not extending as fast. Changing lifestyles are having significant impacts on health across the lifecourse, and declining health and wellbeing in later life are placing increasing pressure on health and social services. In addition, globalisation presents specific and urgent health challenges in zoonotic infections and antimicrobial resistance. There is a pressing need for integrated approaches across a range of disciplines, organisms and scales that generate new insights to improve animal and human health and wellbeing, inform strategies for the prevention of disease, and underpin innovation in health-related industrial sectors.

Bioscience has a crucial foundational role in healthrelated research and innovation, providing a deep, integrated understanding of the ‘healthy system’ across the lifecourse, and of the factors that maintain health and wellness under stress and biological or environmental challenge. However, its impact on health challenges depends on effective integration and translation across different areas of bioscience research, with other disciplines such as the medical, social, environmental and physical sciences, and between academia, industry and policy-makers.