Our research portfolio and priorities - BBSRC

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Responsive Mode Spotlights

Objectives

The aim of the Responsive Mode Spotlight mechanism is to provide simpler, more agile and dynamic targeting of particular areas of timely strategic interest, opportunity or need. This is in line with the broader strategic research and innovation priorities set out in the strategic delivery plan 2022 to 2025 and Forward Look for UK Bioscience.

In addition to the spotlight areas that are active at any given time, we continue to encourage proposals that align with our broader and longer-term priorities (which are largely inclusive of the previously articulated Research Priority areas). We also welcome investigator-led applications across all areas of BBSRC’s research remit.

A small number of Responsive Mode Spotlight areas will be in operation at any one time, in line with the more targeted nature of the new mechanism.

New spotlights will be added into rotation on a round-by-round basis. It will be made clear from the outset how long each spotlight will run for and which responsive mode rounds will apply. This will provide prospective applicants more time to hone their proposals than single-round research highlights have previously allowed.

Consideration will be given to portfolio evidence and advisory intelligence in selecting new spotlight areas, as will the need for overall strategic balance and balancing anticipated demands on each of the four research committees.

Current Responsive Mode Spotlight areas

The current Responsive Mode Spotlight areas include:

  • building stronger biological understanding of the role of nutrition on human health across the life course (23RM1, 23RM2, 23RM3)
  • bioelectricity as a holistic approach to understand diverse (microbial) cell behaviours (23RM1, 23RM2, 23RM3)
  • fundamental research to enhance animal welfare (23RM1, 23RM2, 23RM3)

The scope of each area is outlined below.

Building stronger biological understanding of the role of nutrition on human health across the life course (23RM1, 23RM2, 23RM3 spotlight)

Nutrition (both macro and micronutrients) plays a vital role in maintaining health at all stages of life. However, despite the clear influence of diet on health, many of the biological mechanisms through which nutrients and foods act to promote a healthy lifespan, including the effects of interactions between foods and nutrient bioavailability, require further investigation.

As our food systems and food environment changes, it is important to maintain nutrition security (the intake of a wide range of foods which provide the essential needed nutrients) for all.

However, there needs to be a better understanding of what constitutes a healthy diet in different population groups across the life course. This will help to inform nutritional advice and effective public health messaging, which depend upon robust evidence to determine diets which will benefit health for all.

The aim of this spotlight is to encourage research proposals to:

Increase biological understanding of the nutritional needs across the life course and the population

Nutritional requirements change throughout life, from maternal diets and influences on early development, childhood, adolescence, mid-life and into older age.

A deeper understanding of the nutrients required across life stages and the mechanisms by which they promote and maintain health is needed. This includes how diet and nutritional requirements may vary with:

  • gender
  • genotype
  • ethnicity
  • level of physical activity
  • changing lifestyles (for example chronobiology, loneliness, stress)

Understand the impact of changing diets and dietary patterns on nutrition intake and health

As our lifestyles and food systems continue to change, we need to advance our understanding of how changing diets, dietary trends or patterns and the quality of diets effect our nutritional status and physiological function and health, throughout our lives and across different population groups.

Develop and improve methods, tools and standards to quantify nutrient and dietary intake

A key challenge to the nutrition field is the lack of robust measures and ability to accurately measure human dietary intake and nutrient status and in response to interventions, particularly in real-world settings.

Interdisciplinary research for the development of novel or improved application of existing methods and technologies are encouraged, such as:

  • nutrigenetics
  • omics
  • digital tools
  • integrative data-driven approaches

The UK Nutrition Research Partnership (BBSRC, the Medical Research Council, and National Institute for Health and Care Research) commissioned a workshop on dietary intake assessment methodology in 2021.

Read the dietary intake assessment methodology in 2021 report.

Bioelectricity as a holistic approach to understand diverse (microbial) cell behaviours (23RM1, 23RM2, 23RM3 spotlight)

The electrochemical nature of cells and their microenvironments gives rise to a coupling between cell physiology and bioelectricity.

This bioelectrical conceptualisation of the cell provides not only plausible explanations for many cell behaviours, but also a new framework to re-formulate much of the existing knowledge in cell physiology.

Metabolism, for example, can be conceptualised as a bioelectrical process in its own right, as a coupled redox process in which electrons are transferred from an electron donor to an electron acceptor. To facilitate this process, cells use a variety of electron sources and sinks, including redox-active compounds, metals, and their oxides. This opens the possibility of using such compounds, or even electrode surfaces, to withdraw, or introduce, electrons into cellular metabolism.

The true potential is opening new routes to study metabolism and its links to cell physiology through for example bioelectrical interfacing in microbial cells.

The resulting science can have a transformative effect on our understanding of cellular behaviour and pave the way to its direct control through predictive bioelectrical engineering.

Responsive mode grant funding ultimately enables research that will utilise bioelectrical conceptualisation and manipulation of microbial cell physiology. This is for the production of biotechnologically important products such as chemicals, liquid biofuels and biohydrogen in a resource efficient manner.

Under this spotlight we are particularly interested in proposals that seek to improve our understanding of:

  • electrochemical processes within cells through metabolism and its control (including modelling to support the predictive part)
  • how controlling electrochemical processes could be used to modify dynamic cellular behaviour (for example, metabolic oscillation) and physiology
  • how the ability to control cellular behaviour via electrochemical processes could be used for biotechnological purposes, including the manufacture of key chemical feedstocks and fuels covering, for example:
    • biohydrogen
    • ammonia
    • metals
    • organic chemical precursors

Fundamental research to enhance animal welfare (23RM1, 23RM2, 23RM3 spotlight)

The aim of this spotlight is to encourage fundamental research that seeks to increase our knowledge of:

  • the basic behavioural, neurobiological, immune, metabolic, physiological and tissue responses of animals (for example, farmed, aquatic, laboratory, zoo and companion animals) to their environment
  • the consequences of human intervention, genetic selection and management on these responses.

The implications of animal welfare are far-reaching and hold significant economic importance through its impact on both animal, environment and human health.

Areas of research encouraged within this spotlight include:

  • measures of welfare, including developing and validating new measures
  • housing, husbandry and environmental impacts on welfare
  • the influence of production traits on animal welfare
  • agricultural automation and intensification impact on farmed animal welfare
  • relevant behaviour, cognition and perception research
  • nutrition and feed impact on welfare
  • pain and nociception research
  • the impact of early life challenges on development and long-term health and welfare

BBSRC recognises the importance of multidisciplinary collaborations, partnerships and end user engagement in this area.

This spotlight therefore promotes basic research but also encourages translation to practical applications.

Applicants should outline their approach in terms of collaboration and engagement with end users. Where possible, applicants should also indicate how the research will inform policy and societal implications.

This spotlight replaces the previous single-round animal welfare highlight notice that BBSRC has operated in recent years. We will review outcomes and the case for repetition in future years.

Eligibility

Standard responsive mode eligibility requirements apply.

Read BBSRC’s guidance for applicants.

To find out if your proposal is within scope for a particular spotlight, please email us. Contact details are provided below.

How to apply

Spotlights will typically run for a full year (three responsive mode rounds).

Applications can be made at any time in the same way as standard responsive mode using the Joint Electronic Submission (Je-S) system.

This means prospective applicants will now have more time to hone their proposals compared with previous single-round research highlights.

Timings may vary by exception, but when a new spotlight area is advertised it will be clear from the outset how long it will run for and which responsive mode rounds will apply.

You do not need to identify your proposal as a spotlight proposal on the Je-S form, but where relevant, you may wish to indicate in the case for support how your proposal aligns to a specific spotlight area.

Relevant proposals will be identified and monitored during the peer review process by BBSRC portfolio managers.

Read BBSRC’s guidance for applicants.

Assessment

Spotlights are assessed in the same way as other responsive mode applications using the standard responsive mode assessment criteria:

  • scientific excellence
  • industrial and stakeholder relevance
  • relevance to BBSRC strategy
  • economic and social impact
  • timeliness and promise
  • value for money
  • staff training potential of the project (where resources are requested for postdoctoral or other research staff)

Read more about what happens after you submit your proposal.

Applications falling within a Responsive Mode Spotlight area are assessed in open competition with other responsive mode proposals by the most appropriate research committee.

The composition of the research committee will be carefully considered during the design of each spotlight and supplemented if necessary.

Responsive Mode Spotlight aligned applications will not receive an uplift and there is no ring-fenced funding.

However, research committees will be asked to consider alignment to Responsive Mode Spotlight areas as part of their overall assessment of relevance to BBSRC strategy.

Proposals aligning to Responsive Mode Spotlight when the spotlight has closed will still be welcomed but may not be actively monitored in the same way during the peer review process.

Last updated: 18 October 2022

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