Press release

BBSRC injects £12m into pioneering research that could revolutionise our understanding of the rules of life

Published on 9 November 2023

Researchers at the University of Dundee are among more than 60 across the UK to receive a share of £12 million to pursue visionary bioscience research.

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The investment by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council’s (BBSRC) Pioneer Awards enables the pursuit of unique ideas that challenge current thinking or open up entirely novel areas of exploration.

By drawing upon unconventional thinking and approaches, the investigators hope to make exciting discoveries with the potential to transform our understanding of the fundamental rules of life.

These new investigations aim to radically change the way we think about important biological phenomena covering plant, microbial and animal sciences. 

Professor Guy Poppy, Interim Executive Chair at BBSRC, said, “Understanding the fundamental rules of life, such as the principles governing genetics, evolution and biological processes, is essential for advancing scientific knowledge. It is also imperative to societal progress.

“Many of the challenges faced by today's society, such as global food security, environmental sustainability and healthcare, are deeply rooted in biological processes. 

“BBSRC is committed to understanding the rules of life and by investing in cutting-edge discovery research through schemes such as the Pioneer Awards pilot, we are expanding the horizons of human knowledge while helping to unlock innovative bio-based solutions to some of the world's most pressing challenges.”

Three researchers at the University of Dundee have been awarded Pioneer funding for their projects.

Unlocking the alternative splicing code (Led by Professor Angus Lamond)

Human genes have a modular structure and can generate many different types of proteins through a process called alternative splicing. Defects in alternative splicing underlie many forms of disease of unmet need, including genetic disorders, neurodegeneration, viral infections, and cancer. This research will use recent advances in AI to build computational models designed to predict how alternative splicing is controlled and how small molecule drugs can manipulate alternative splicing to treat human disease. 

Sugar ubiquitylation, a new quality control mechanism for the recognition and elimination of misfolded macromolecules? (Led by Professor Sir Philip Cohen)

The project aims to discover how a toxic glucose polymer that causes fatal heart attacks in young adults is normally eliminated from the body before it leads to heart failure.

26S-NanoLuc: a transformational assay of proteasome assembly (Led by Dr Adrien Rousseau)

The project will engineer the proteasome to develop a transformative assay to quantify assembly of proteasomes that can be used in high-throughput screening. 

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About the Pioneer Awards

BBSRC’s pilot pioneer awards scheme aimed to support original and potentially transformative research at an early stage of development. The scheme was designed to stimulate creativity within the bioscience research community by providing funding that encourages a ‘high-risk, high-reward’ research culture. The funded projects represent either a significant departure from existing lines of investigation within the research field or an entirely new line of inquiry.

Focused on BBSRC’s understanding the rules of life theme, the projects open up new research directions relevant to fundamental bioscience questions and have the potential to substantially shift current and future thinking about key topics.

The projects:

  • are original and visionary, challenging current thinking and paradigms
  • focus on exploring and revealing novel insights and theories relating to our fundamental understanding of biological systems
  • are early stage and untested, lacking preliminary data and perhaps involving creative or unconventional approaches to the research challenge
  • may involve a high level of uncertainty or require a range of exploratory investigations, such that while there are clear aims to explore, the outcomes are neither predictable nor guaranteed
  • involve any combination of experimental, analytical and theoretical work, potentially crossing disciplinary boundaries, including non-bioscience fields


A review of the pilot call is underway.


BBSRC is part of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) and invests in world-class bioscience research and training on behalf of the UK public. Our aim is to further scientific knowledge, to promote economic growth, wealth and job creation and to improve quality of life in the UK and beyond. 

Funded by government, BBSRC invested £451 million in world-class bioscience in 2019-20. We support research and training in universities and strategically funded institutes. BBSRC research and the people we fund are helping society to meet major challenges, including food security, green energy and healthier, longer lives. Our investments underpin important UK economic sectors, such as farming, food, industrial biotechnology and pharmaceuticals.


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