Select Committee on Science and Technology Written Evidence


Memorandum from Dr Justin Molloy, National Institute for Medical Reseach


  I am writing to you on behalf of scientists at NIMR who trained in the physical sciences (including chemistry, physics, mathematics and engineering) and who work at the interface between classical scientific disciplines. We all believe that interdisciplinary research is of critical importance in the post genomic era of biomedical research. We also believe that interdisciplinary research can continue to be conducted, effectively and in a world-leading manner, at the National Institute for Medical Research based on its current site at Mill Hill.


  Mathematical Biology: De novo structure prediction, bioinformatics, modelling of mesoscopic and complex systems.

  Physical Biochemistry: Synthetic organic chemistry, enzyme kinetics and mechanism, single molecule research, AFM, CryoEM, optical tweezers, single molecule fluorescence imaging in cells, mechanistic studies of motor proteins, DNA processing enzymes, signalling molecules and membrane receptors, medical nanotechnology.

  Protein Structure: X-ray crystallography structure determination, enzyme mechanism, protein complex assembly

  Molecular structure: NMR structure determination and molecular dynamics, biomolecular interactions and the MRC Biomedical NMR centre.


  (1)  We have an excellent track record of interdisciplinary research: work from the Divisions of Physical Biochemistry, Mathematical Biology, Protein Structure, Molecular Structure and the MRC Biomedical NMR centre is world-leading and the scientific excellence of our work has never been in question. We believe that the breadth and quality of the interdisciplinary work we do, reflects the fact that the research programmes have evolved organically over the past 20 years. Mill Hill is unique in the UK in that there are genuinely no scientific barriers here and this is what draws the best young people to work here.

  (2)  We can still recruit the best scientists doing interdisciplinary science to NIMR. Over the past two years we have recruited Molloy & Veigel (single molecule research), Goldstein (mathematical and systems biology), Rosenthal (cryo-electron microscopy), Ramos and Driscoll (molecular structure and NMR). We must be doing something right in order to out-compete Cambridge, Oxford, Imperial and several other leading UK Universities to recruit such people to work here.

  (3)  Significantly, we have also retained all senior staff that work in this area in spite of tempting offers being made to induce them to move elsewhere. Staff morale remains high: we are passionate about the NIMR, loyal to MRC but still convinced that Mill Hill remains the best future site for the renewed National Institute for Medical Research. We want our opinions to be heard and do not wish to align ourselves with any dictum that we think is flawed.


  We first want to dispel the misconception that interdisciplinary work at Mill Hill cannot continue to thrive here in the future. Our vision for interdisciplinary research at Mill Hill is forward-looking and is based on a "tried-and-tested" plan. The future of interdisciplinary science maintained on the current site at the Mill Hill site would involve no compromises. This is in sharp contrast to the proposed moves to central London that involve fragmenting the science because of conflicting demands of our work in terms of space, vibration and magnetic fields. It would be unacceptable to break up the interdisciplinary community that has been created in Mill Hill and madness to hive it off from the rest of the Institute. Furthermore, Mill Hill is on a secure site where our highly quantitative work can be translated readily into animal models and used to study live cells and genetically manipulated organisms.

  Mill Hill has massive scope for expansion and since funding for biomedical research will increase over the next 20 years (as part of our new knowledge-based economy), the MRC will need to expand both its extramural and its intramural research capacity. Mill Hill offers a single contiguous site, with ample space for expansion, and this will enable us to compete with the best in the USA, Japan, Germany, France and Scandinavia. Interdisciplinary work often has special infrastructure needs and Mill Hill provides the necessary flexibility in this respect.

  We are sympathetic with our University colleagues who face significant barriers and problems in embracing interdisciplinary research. These include, geographically separated departments, intellectual isolation between communities, problems in juggling teaching commitments and research, poor uptake of physical science undergraduate courses, difficulties in organising interdisciplinary graduate and undergraduate taught courses and poor "matchmaking" between the best biologists and the best physical scientists. Moving NIMR to UCL or King's is unlikely to help or alleviate any of these problems. The short-term political and financial impact might be significant (eg RAE 2007). However, the long-term scientific benefit to the "host" University in terms of boosting interdisciplinary research might only be marginal at best.

  We fear plans to move NIMR to King's or UCL might damage our research capacity: Both of the proposed new sites will be spatially constrained and future expansion will be limited. The Institute may need to be geographically fragmented in order to facilitate the conflicting needs of physical science work (involving high-field NMR, low vibration requirements for cryo-EM and single molecule research). This factor alone will destroy our vision for interdisciplinary research remaining a completely integrated component of the Institute. Staff recruitment to a central London location will also be difficult or prohibitively expensive.

  We know that over the next 10-20 years, interdisciplinary research will permeate all aspects of biomedical research from molecules to cells and from cells to organisms. On this point, we believe that the contentious issue of where to place the animal house is being unrealistically "glossed-over". We know that there will be huge knock-on problems in terms of security and ease of access across the institute if the animal facility were to be located within central London.

  We have a clear view of how our science will develop in the future and we have prepared a case for how this can be achieved at Mill Hill. However, we wonder why the MRC Council fear our bid so much that they refuse to consider it alongside the King's and UCL bids as an equal "Option". We simply do not understand the political complexity and wonder why our views and our vision are being compromised and marginalized. We actually wonder whether we are the people whom MRC intend to recruit to staff the renewed NIMR.

We would welcome the opportunity to engage fully with MRC Council to help develop interdisciplinary research at NIMR. For a secure and successful future, we would like there to be a continuing dialogue between our Director and staff at NIMR with MRC Council and Head Office.

Name1º/2º Degree Research AreaSpeciality

Justin MolloyPhysiology/

Molecular BiophysicsSingle Molecules, nanotechnology
Claudia VeigelMedicine Biochemistry MD/PhD Molecular BiophysicsSingle Molecules, nanotechnology
Martin WebbChemistry BiochemistryMolecular Mechanism
John EcclestonChemistry BiochemistryMolecular Mechanism
John CorrieChemistry Organic SynthesisMolecular Probes
Edward HulmeBiochemistry Membrane ProteinsStructure of GPCRs
Nigel BirdsallChemistry PharmacologyGPCR pharmacology
Peter RosenthalPhysics Electron microscopySingle particle cryo-EM, molecular structure determination, cell tomography
Lesley CalderBiology Electron MicroscopyHigh Resolution, negative stain EM
Peter BayleyPhysics Molecular BiophysicsBiomolecular interactions
Mark WallaceChemical Physics Biological FluorescenceSingle Molecules, nanotechnology
Stephan SchmitzBiotechnology Molecular biophysicsOptical tweezers, motor proteins
Gregory MashanovPhysiology

Cell BiophysicsCell biology, single molecules, computer programming, nanotechnology
Gordon ReidChemistry Organic Synthesislabelled nucleotides
Peter FletcherChemistry Peptide synthesisPeptide synthesis
Steve MartinChemistry Molecular BiophysicsOptically based biophysics, biomolecular interactions
Mike AnsonPhysicsMolecular Biophysics Optically based studies of single motor proteins
George PapageorgioChemistry Organic SynthesisMolecular probes/caged compounds
Ranjit MunasingeChemistry Organic SynthesisMolecular probes/caged compounds
Mark DillinghamBiochemistry Protein-DNA interactionsStructure-function determination of DNA helicases
Michael OkohBiochemistry Small molecule probesCell-based assays of inorganic phosphate
Richard GoldsteinMathematics Mathematical BiologyBioinformatics, systems biology
Willie TaylorMathematics Mathematical BiologyStructures-function, bioinformatics, complexity mesoscopic systems.
Fernandez ReyesDetails to follow Mathematical BiologyBioinformatics, systems biology
DouglasDetails to follow Mathematical BiologyBioinformatics, systems biology
SaldanhaDetails to follow Mathematical BiologyBioinformatics, systems biology
BlackburneDetails to follow Mathematical BiologyBioinformatics, systems biology
ShethDetails to follow Mathematical BiologyBioinformatics, systems biology
ChernovaDetails to follow Mathematical BiologyBioinformatics, systems biology
Michael GreenDetails to follow Mathematical BiologyMolecular modelling, MD simulations
Franca FraternaliDetails to follow Mathematical BiologyMolecular modelling, MD simulations
Guy DodsonChemistry

X-ray CrystallographyProtein structure determination
Steve SmerdonGenetics

X-ray crystallographyProtein structure-function determination
Steve GamblinBiochemistry X-ray crystallographyProtein structure-function determination
Katrin RittingerChemistry X-ray crystallographyProtein structure-function determination
Ian TaylorBiochemistry

X-ray crystallographyProtein structure-function determination
Phil WalkerBiochemistry X-ray crystallographyProtein crystallography, computing

Biochemistry biophysics
X-ray crystallographyProtein crystallography

Biochemistry biophysics
X-ray crystallographyProtein crystallography

Biochemistry biophysics
X-ray crystallographyProtein crystallography

Biochemistry biophysics
X-ray crystallographyProtein crystallography

Biochemistry biophysics
X-ray crystallographyProtein crystallography
Steven HowellBiochemistry

Mass Spec.
Mass SpectrometryProtein-ligand Mass Spec. MALDI TOF
Dan ZhuComputer Science Bioimaging/optical techniques. Computation Computer programming, algorithm development image analysis
Stamatis PagakisElectrical Engineering Biomedical Engineering Bioimaging/optical techniquesImaging methods, including method develoment, image analysis. Cellular and molecular imaging
Annalisa PastoreBiochemistry Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy Molecular structure determination, protein-ligand, protein-protein interactions
Tom FrenkielPhysics NMR NMRMRC Biomedical NMR facility
Geoff KellyNMRNMR MRC Biomedical NMR facility
Andres RamosBiology Biophysics NMRMolecular Structure determination, protein-ligand, protein-protein interactions.
AdolfiniBiologyNMR Molecular Structure determination
Jake GrimmettBiology

NMRComputing/computer programming/ Algorithm development
McCorrmickBiologyNMR Molecular Structure determination
BirdsallBiologyNMR Molecular interactions
Laura MasinoBiochemistry

NMR Protein structure-function relationships
HollingworthBiochemistry NMR
BlissPhysics & Physiology

Long-term potentiation and memory

Electrophysiology of sensory cells and hippocampal slices Two-photon photolysis of caged compounds in synaptic clefts.

23 November 2004

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