The UK’s Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) has launched a nationwide consultation with the Biosciences Federation (BSF) to identify “niche areas of expertise that are in danger of being lost from the bioscience research community”.

The BBSRC and the BSF have invited the UK’s bioscience societies, as well as industrial trade bodies and associations, to provide evidence on specialist areas of expertise they have concerns about.

In particular, the consultation is looking for “evidence of user need for a specific area of research expertise and details of why that skill might be disappearing from the wider research base (i.e., academic, research institutes or industry)”, the BBSRC noted, adding: “This will enable prioritisation of support for areas that have a vital impact on the UK’s ability to carry out world-class bioscience research”.

According to Dr Celia Caulcott, director of innovation and skills at the BBSCR, it is “clear that in some niche areas there is particular vulnerability to factors such as limited training or career opportunities, or the retirement of existing specialists”.

One field in which concerns have been voiced about a skills drought is in vivo pharmacology. This was one of the issues raised in Review and Refresh of Bioscience 2015, the progress report published in January by the Bioscience Innovation and Growth team headed by Sir David Cooksey.

In its recent response to the report, the UK government said the BBSCR, the Medical Research Council (MRC) and others would “continue to strengthen the UK’s training base and science in in vivo areas”. Initiatives over the past five years had bolstered the UK’s position in this field but “we recognise that more is needed, and MRC will expand its PhD studentship funding for the area in 2009”, the government stated.

The issue will also be examined in the broader context of the Framework for the future of Higher Education, currently under development for the next 10-15 years. This process includes assessing “how strategic subjects might be designated and supported to best meet the needs of the economy and society in the future”, the government pointed out.