Cash call for key science initiatives

April 21, 2000

Extra government funds will be channelled into three major science initiatives in sustainable land use, post-genomics and information technology if advice from the research councils is followed.

The Office for Science and Technology is expected to push the Treasury for large sums - about Pounds 100 million each - to support the projects in the government's comprehensive spending review.

Bids have been submitted and a decision is likely to be made by the cabinet by July. The first money might be available within the next financial year.

The initiatives mark a new collaborative approach to advancing United Kingdom science, bringing together expertise from the research councils.

Other strands of the OST bid are thought to include a large sum to continue the improvement of research facilities and equipment after the Joint Infrastructure Fund is completed.

Michael Schultz, head of strategic planning at the Natural Environment Research Council, said: "We can take it that one way or another there will be collaborative, cross-council initiatives in these three areas emerging in the next three-year funding allocations."

The sustainable land use bid, led by the NERC, would attempt to provide a holistic understanding to underpin policies on sustainable development.

"We're focusing on the tremendous pressures on UK land surface - both to the natural environment and the economic and social structure - being produced from such things as urbanisation and changes in the agricultural industry," Dr Schultz said.

The post-genomics bid, which has had input from many research councils, involves coordinating work on the discovery of the function and control of genes.

George Sarna, of the Medical Research Council, said: "It will revolutionise research and industrial capabilities in all areas of science."

It could, for example, lead to the creation of drugs and individually tailored therapies, a new understanding of diseases and the development of industrial processes.

The third bid on information technology could create a computational grid that would increase the computer power available to researchers.

An official with the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council said this capability would be vital to handling the data that will emerge from the Large Hadron Collider experiment in 2005 and "in many other areas, such as decoding DNA".

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