This inquiry has now reported

Report published

The Committee published 'Bioengineering'(PDF 2.02 MB), HC 220, its Seventh Report of Session 2009-10, on Thursday 25 March 2010. The report includes the oral and written evidence.

The Government response (PDF 490.90 KB) was published on 14 June 2011.

Bioengineering is being lost in translation

A report by the Science and Technology Committee published 25 March 2010 finds that the UK is struggling to translate its excellent research base in bioengineering into health and wealth despite the fact that economic recovery will depend, in part, on exploitation of the UK's research base.

The UK is a world leader in bioengineering research, but rising competition from abroad means that the UK simply cannot become complacent.

The Chair of the Committee, Phil Willis MP, said:

"The UK has a poor record in exploiting world class bioengineering research to generate health, economic and societal benefits. If the Government is serious about bridging the 'valley of death' between basic research and commercial production then it must increase funding for early-stage translation and ensure that regulations do not needlessly stifle the activities of researchers. The UK must take every opportunity to make the most of its research base."

The Committee looked at three specific areas of bioengineering: stem cells, genetically modified (GM) crops and synthetic biology.

GM crops stuck out as an example of where the Government's belief in the overall safety and potential benefits of GM crops was at odds with its lack of public championing of the technology. GM crops are the poor cousin in the bioengineering family, and the Committee strongly urges the Government to signal publicly its support for GM crops as well as improving the regulatory situation at home and in Europe, which would help with translation.

There were good indications that the UK is learning from past experiences with stem cells and GM crops when handling new bioengineering technologies such as synthetic biology, where good research and public engagement activities are occurring. However, while research is well funded there is not enough forethought about synthetic biology translation. If this is not addressed, synthetic biology runs the risk of becoming yet another story of UK research getting lost in translation.

Terms of Reference

The new Science and Technology Committee today launches an inquiry into Bioengineering, examining how the UK can maintain a globally competitive position in emerging and existing bioengineering research fields. The inquiry will focus on three areas: research, translation and regulation. The inquiry will take synthetic biology, stem cells and genetic modification (GM) as areas within which to explore the issues of research, translation and regulation.

The Committee invited written submissions by 4 December on the following issues.

For the areas of synthetic biology, stem cells and GM:

  • What is the UK's research capacity?
  • How easy is it to translate and commercialise research?
  • How do UK and international regulations affect research and translation?
  • How can the UK maintain and grow its internationally competitive position?

Oral evidence


Wednesday 27 January 2010
Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, Dan Norris MP, Minister for Rural Affairs and Environment, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Dr Mark Bale, Deputy Director of Health, Science and Bioethics, Department of Health

Wednesday 20 January 2010
Professor Lisa Jardine CBE, Chair, Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Dr Paul Logan, Head of Policy, Hazardous Installations Directorate, Health and Safety Executive, Professor Chris Pollock CBE, Honorary Professor, University of Aberystwyth, and Dr Martyn Ward, Head, Clinical Trials Unit, Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency

Wednesday 6 January 2010
Professor Douglas Kell, Chief Executive, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council; Professor Richard Kitney OBE FReng, Co-Director, Centre for Synthetic Biology and Innovation, Imperial College, London; Professor Sir Martin Evans, Professor of Mammalian Genetics, Cardiff University.
Dr. Ray Elliott, Head of Strategic Projects, Syngenta; Professor Chris Mason, Chair of Regenerative Medicine Bioprocessing, University College London.

Two witnesses [Dr. Tina Barsby, Chief Executive, National Institute of Agricultural Botany and Professor Sir John Bell, Chair, Office for Strategic Coordination of Health Research] were unable to give oral evidence due to the poor weather.