LONDON United Kingdom (Xinhua) --
Despite the uncertainties surrounding Brexit,
2017 has been yet a strong year for British science, with
significant progress made in various fields, ranging from genome
editing to Polar exploration.
Brexit has brought
uncertainties not just to Britain’s political and economic
landscape, but science. Researchers from other EU countries feel
insecure about their future while British scientists worry that
they might not be able to access EU-funded projects.
But the concern has
been relatively eased with a joint statement presented recently
by British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Commission P
resident Jean-Claude Juncker.
contains pledges that a final agreement will allow EU nationals
now living in Britain, and their families, to apply to stay
after Brexit, with minimal paperwork. The same deal is offered
for British nationals living in the other 27 EU countries.
Such proposals are
expected to benefit British science.
“Science has been a
global enterprise for many centuries, and one reason the UK has
maintained its strength as a scientific nation is its openness
to ideas and talent,” said Venki Ramakrishnan, president of the
Royal Society, in a speech delivered in the society’s
Anniversary Day last month.
“We have a long
history of looking beyond our shores to bring talented people
and new ideas to the UK, and there remains very strong support
in the science community to continue to be open,” said
But the document
might not sufficiently soothe some scientists’ anxieties, Kieron
Flanagan, a science and technology policy expert at the
University of Manchester, was quoted as saying in a Nature
“Non-UK EU nationals
must feel battered and bruised by the uncertainty of the
process,” he said. “And I’m not sure how much this will do to
reassure those who might be thinking twice about coming to the
UK in the near future.”
give confidence to those working in academia and science-related
industries, the British government is promising more funding in
research and development.
May announced a plan
to expand investment in research and development from 1.7
percent to 2.4 percent of gross domestic product by 2027. This
could mean around 80 billion pounds (106.8 billion U.S. dollars)
of additional funds for advanced technology in the next decade.
In addition to
policy support, Britain’s researchers have made significant
advancements in different scientific areas.
In February, British
Antarctic Survey (BAS) announced that its team has successfully
relocated the Halley VI Research Station to its new home on the
Brunt Ice Shelf in Antarctica.
The Halley Research
Station is an internationally important platform for global
earth, atmospheric and space weather observation in a climate
sensitive zone, according to BAS. Built on a floating ice shelf
in the Weddell Sea, Halley VI is the world’s first re-locatable
In May, construction
of the Square Kilometre Array Global Headquarters (SKA GHQ) was
initiated at the The University of Manchester’s Jodrell Bank
4,200-square-meter SKA GHQ will eventually be home to more than
135 staff from more than 13 countries, tasked with managing the
construction and operations of the Square Kilometre Array
telescopes, located in Southern Africa and Western Australia.
telescopes will be several times more sensitive and hundreds of
times faster at mapping the sky than today’s best radio
A major breakthrough
was also witnessed in genome editing. In September, the Francis
Crick Institute announced that a team led by its researchers has
used genome editing technology to reveal the role of a key gene
in human embryos in the first few days of development.
This is the first
time that genome editing has been used to study gene function in
human embryos, which could help scientists better understand the
biology of our early development, according to the Institute.
“One way to find out
what a gene does in the developing embryo is to see what happens
when it isn’t working. Now we have demonstrated an efficient way
of doing this, we hope that other scientists will use it to find
out the roles of other genes,” said Dr Kathy Niakan from the
Francis Crick Institute, who led the research, in a statement.
Meanwhile, in its
first human trial led by University College London scientists, a
new drug targeting the cause of Huntington’s disease was shown
to be safe and well-tolerated. It successfully lowered the level
of the harmful huntington protein in the nervous system.
In October, the 2017
Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to three scientists for
improving images made of biological molecules. The winners
include Richard Henderson, a scientist from Britain.
“With the increasing
emphasis on using science to solve the short-term productivity
growth problem as well as tackle pressing needs, it is important
to yet again make the case for basic science,” said Ramakrishnan.
“Basic science is important for its own sake, because it
increases the store of human knowledge.”