Researchers’ Weekly Bulletin: the Blog

News for researchers at the Manchester Metropolitan University

New insights into genetic cause of autoimmune diseases

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

“A collaboration between researchers at the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) strategically funded Babraham Institute and The University of Manchester has mapped physical connections occurring in DNA to shed light on the parts involved in autoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes.”

“Using a new technique called Capture Hi-C the team revealed novel insights into how changes in the genetic sequence can increase the risk of disease.”

“The human genome project provided the entire DNA code and large population studies have since identified which DNA sequence changes are associated with a range of diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and immune system disease. But because many of these changes fall outside the parts of the genome containing protein-coding genes, understanding the biological relevance of a genetic change was akin to the party game ‘pin the tail on the donkey’ when it came to identifying the genes that these regions associated with. Understanding these associations represents the key to uncovering the causal genetic factors of disease.”

“The new technique developed by researchers at the Babraham Institute identified a way to ‘freeze-frame’ the genome and capture its three dimensional shape where the DNA folds to bring regions into close contact. This snapshot pinpoints where non-coding regulatory regions contact the genes that they control. This technique gives the highest resolution view of the genome’s interconnections available to date and allowed researchers to zoom in on and identify the genes affected by sequences changes in other parts of the genome.”

“Using this approach allowed disease geneticists from The University of Manchester to identify candidate genes relating to the risk of developing autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and type 1 diabetes.”

The article: Martin, McGovern, Orozco et al. (2015) Capture Hi-C reveals novel candidate genes and complex long-range interactions with related autoimmune risk loci Nature Communications can be accessed here:

[Source BBSRC news: ]

Biodiversity bounces back

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

“Air pollution is a human health issue that also impacts negatively on natural ecosystems. In excessive quantities, forms of nitrogen (N) released into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels and from agriculture are a pollutant. Rothamsted Research scientists, who receive strategic funding from the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Lawes Agricultural Trust, in collaboration with other researchers in the UK and Germany, examined whether decreased N emissions to the atmosphere in recent years have affected plant biodiversity on the Park Grass Experiment at Rothamsted (UK). The researchers analysed a large number of samples and datasets collected from Park Grass, which started in 1856, and is the longest running ecological experiment in the world. They found that plant biodiversity in grassland communities recovered following a decrease in N emissions to the atmosphere and when fertilizer N was withheld. The findings of the study are published in the journal Nature.”

The article: Grassland biodiversity bounces back from long-term nitrogen addition is available from Nature DOI: 10.1038/nature16444

[Source BBSRC news: ]

Study shows majority of researchers are participating in public engagement

Tuesday, December 8th, 2015

“Eight in 10 (82%) researchers carried out at least one form of public engagement in the past year, according to a new study launched at the Engage conference in Bristol. The study Factors affecting public engagement by researchers was commissioned by a consortium of 15 UK research funders including the British Academy and Universities UK, led by the Wellcome Trust.”

“The study found that participation in public engagement was higher among researchers in the arts, humanities and social sciences (AHSS) at 88%, than in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) at 78%. AHSS researchers were also more likely to value it as a core component of their role (52% compared to 37% of STEM).”

“However since the last study in this area in 2006**, the number of STEM researchers who value public engagement as a core component of their role has risen from 28 to 37%. The proportion of STEM researchers who would like to engage more with the public has also increased from 45 per cent to 53 per cent and they also feel better equipped to engage with the public than they did in 2006 (up from 51% to 63%).”

“64% of researchers from all disciplines who have been in their careers for 10 years felt that encouragement from their institution had increased in the last decade.”

To read more about the survey and access the report go to:

[Source British Academy news: ]

The Nurse Review – Ensuring a Successful Research Endeavour – Research Councils statement

Monday, November 30th, 2015

“An independent review of the UK Research Councils, led by Sir Paul Nurse, [has been] published. The report, ‘Ensuring a Successful Research Endeavour’, reviews why and how the UK should undertake research.”

“The report recognises the UK’s Research Councils as key to delivering one of the most effective research communities in the world. The evidence given as part of the review highlights the Research Councils’ reputation for effectively supporting and promoting research excellence for the benefit of society and the economy.”

“The report makes recommendations for the future of the Research Councils and their communities. The Research Councils have already recognised a need to strengthen collective operational working and have started initiating plans in this area. The report aligns with these aims and improvements in this area are expected in the future.”

“The Research Councils will be working with government, our staff and communities to explore and shape any changes that government may wish to make to the UK Research landscape following this review, the upcoming spending review and the recent higher education green paper. Our overriding priority is to ensure that the UK’s world-class research is supported through the most effective means possible.”

The report is available here:

[Source Research Councils UK news: ]

Investing in excellence, delivering impacts for the UK

Monday, November 30th, 2015

“The 2014 Research Excellence Framework (REF) has revealed comprehensive evidence of the sustained economic and social impact of EPSRC [Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council]’s investments in engineering and physical sciences (EPS) research.”

“This report and companion leaflet presents the findings of an analysis of the REF EPS impact case studies, carried out by EPSRC” and can be accessed via the following links:

[Source EPSRC news: ]

Understanding high-performing university research units

Monday, November 30th, 2015

“HEFCE (Higher Education Funding Council for England) has published a report on the characteristics of high-performing research units, which provides key insights and a better understanding of strategic approaches to excellent research in UK university research units.”

“HEFCE commissioned the Policy Institute at King’s College London and RAND Europe to examine characteristics shared between high-performing research units, using results from the Research Excellence Framework (REF) 2014 to identify high performance. A combination of data analysis, a review of the literature, interviews and a workshop with individuals from high-performing research units identified five key themes associated with high performance:

  • people
  • culture, values and leadership
  • strategy and funding
  • collaboration and networks
  • institutional and departmental practice.”

“The great value of investment in research is emphasised in the report, with a direct correlation between high research income per head and excellent research performance. The highest-performing research units reported strategies that emphasised the importance of maintaining financial stability and seeking diverse funding streams.”

To read the report go to:,2014/Content/Pubs/Independentresearch/2015/Characteristics,of,high-performing,research,units/2015_highperform.pdf

[Source HEFCE news:,107163,en.html ]

Improving the reproducibility of biomedical research

Monday, November 16th, 2015

“The Academy of Medical Sciences has published a new joint report on how the reproducibility and reliability of research can be improved.”

“Recent reports in the general and scientific media show there is increasing concern within the biomedical research community about the lack of reproducibility of key research findings.”

“To explore how to improve and optimise the reproducibility of biomedical research, the Academy co-organised a symposium in April 2015 with BBSRC, MRC and the Wellcome Trust.”

“This exercise resulted in a report, [] Reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research: improving research practice, which proposes potential solutions to keep science in top shape.”

“The report indicates that there is no single cause of irreproducibility, and a number of measures such as greater openness, reporting guidelines and quality control measures may improve reproducibility. In addition, the report found that a ‘one size fits all approach’ is unlikely to be effective, but measures to improve reproducibility should be developed in consultation with the biomedical research community and evaluated to ensure that they achieve the desired effects. The report also highlights that journalists, science writers and press officers share responsibility with researchers to report science accurately – and not overstate the certainty of studies.”

There is a link to the report here:

[Source Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) news: ]

Guide to OA monograph publishing

Monday, October 26th, 2015

“[The OAPEN (Open Access Publishing in European Networks)] Guide to open access monograph publishing for arts, humanities and social science researchers… has been produced to assist arts, humanities and social sciences researchers in understanding the state of play with regards to open access in the UK and what it means to them as current and future authors of scholarly monographs.”

The guide can be accessed at:

[Source OAPEN-UK website: ]

2014-2015 PLOS Progress Update Available

Monday, October 26th, 2015

“Each year PLOS (Public Library of Science) releases a Progress Update, an annual overview of innovations, activities and journal highlights that provide insight into how the organization is moving scientific communication and discovery forward.”

“This year topics include:

  • Transparent and Continual Assessment Advances Science
  • One PLOS Many Communities
  • Metrics Enhancements Improve Assessment
  • Standards Enable Reproducibility
  • Resources Foster Early Career Researchers
  • Open Access Advances Science
  • Curated Content Accelerates Discovery
  • Journal Highlights”

“Today’s scientific communication landscape is rapidly evolving. Advances in technologies offer opportunities to alter the way people work, communicate and share knowledge, with the global community accessing scientific content and exchanging information and ideas faster and in more diverse places than ever before. In addition, governments and funders are releasing policies that mandate the research they fund be published Open Access, setting the stage for the acceleration of scientific discovery and innovation.”

“But challenges remain. Scientific communication is far from its ideal and PLOS is striving to establish new standards and expectations for scholarly communication. These include a faster and more efficient publication experience, more transparent peer review, assessment though the lifetime of a work, better recognition of the range of contributions made by collaborators and placing researchers and their communities back at the center of scientific communication.”

To learn more about the organization’s efforts on continual assessment, communities and journal highlights, access the 2014-2015 PLOS Progress Update:

[Source PLOS blog: ]

Monitoring the transition to OA: new report

Monday, October 26th, 2015

“A report has been published on monitoring the transition towards Open Access in the UK. Commissioned by the Universities UK (UUK) OA Co-ordinating Group and produced by a team of experts led by the Research Information Network (RIN), further details about the report may be found here. Findings include:

  • There has been strong growth in both the availability of OA options for authors, and in their take-up.
  • UK authors are ahead of world averages, particularly in their take-up of the OA option in hybrid journals, and in their posting of articles on websites, repositories and other online services.
  • Take-up of OA publishing models means that universities’ expenditure on article processing charges (APCs) has increased too, and it now represents a significant proportion of their total expenditure on journals.
  • It is too early to assess the extent of any impact of OA on the finances of learned societies.”

“It is hoped that this comprehensive piece of work will provide useful evidence and a solid basis for the further elaboration of OA policies and practices among higher education institutions and publishers.”

To access the report go to:

[Source RIN website: ]