EASAC Newsletter December 2014

News | Latest publications | Programme updates Energy Biosciences Environment | Upcoming Events


EASAC President voices concern over abolition of Chief Scientific Advisor

EASAC’s President and Vice-Presidents have voiced their grave concern over the abolition of the post of Chief Scientific Advisor (CSA) in letters to Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. Since Anne Glover began work in 2012, EASAC developed a constructive and valuable relationship with her, and she greatly improved communication between the Commission and the scientific community. The most recent letter also asks the Commission for clarification on its future plans for the provision of scientific evidence in European policy formulation.

EASAC informs MEPs on GMO legislation

At the end of October 2014, EASAC circulated a paper on its position on GMOs to MEPs to feed into current debates at EU level and to remind MEPs of the important and pressing context of biotechnology research.
Read more about EASAC's position and the latest state of the legislation.

Collaboration with EU's Joint Research Centre (JRC) to continue

In September, EASAC and the JRC, the European Commission's in-house science service, renewed their Letter of Intent to collaborate for another three years. The two organisations have been collaborating since September 2011 to build closer links between the national science academies of the EU member states and the European Union's policy-making process.

Latest publications

Antimicrobial drug discovery: greater steps ahead

Antimicrobial resistance is increasingly seen as one of the key health challenges facing Europe. Fighting back will require completely new scientific approaches, EU-wide support to remove bureaucratic obstacles, and efforts to sustain innovation, according to EASAC’s statement on "Antimicrobial drug discovery". EASAC has suggested a new strategy, which recommends support for basic research, resolving bottlenecks in development, optimising EU partnerships, rethinking regulation and raising public and political awareness of the threats posed by antimicrobial resistance.

On 1 October, Nature Reviews: Drug Discovery published a commentary based on the statement by EASAC President Jos van der Meer, Director of the EASAC Biosciences Programme Robin Fears, the UK Government's Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies and the Co-Chair of IAP (InterAcademy Panel) Volker ter Meulen.

On 3 December, the conclusions of the statement will be discussed at an event for all key stakeholders in Brussels.

A Lay Summary of the statement has also been prepared.

European space exploration: strategic considerations of human versus robotic exploration

In its first report on space, EASAC has examined the future of solar system exploration, where there is currently uncertainty over the question of whether missions should be carried out by robots or humans. EASAC’s report emphasises the very strong rationale for continued exploration of the solar system, based on advancing scientific understanding of planets, their moons, asteroids and comets. This could help us understand how our solar system — and life within it — formed and developed. The report addresses the requirements of fundamental research, applied science questions in the context of human space flight, strategies for solar system exploration with robotic missions, and the International Space Station and international collaboration in space exploration.

Shale gas extraction: issues of particular relevance to the European Union

In this statement, EASAC addresses three specific concerns that are being put forward in the public debate about the exploitation of Europe's shale gas potential: (1) the implications of a high population density throughout Europe (in combination with the problem of water usage); (2) the question of methane leakage; and (3) the challenge of (local) public acceptance.

The statement finds that, although these concerns are justified in general, all three of them can be mitigated by use of best practices and proper regulation. The statement thus concludes that the issues studied in the report need to be carefully reflected upon by policy-makers, but are not an insurmountable obstacle for exploring and using Europe's shale gas potential. Currently the scale of the shale gas resources and the economic viability of their extraction in EU countries remain uncertain and, without exploratory drilling, this uncertainty will continue.

Programme updates

Energy Programme

First workshop held for 'Smart Villages' off-grid project

EASAC has been involved in the Smart Villages project, which has been funded by the charitable Malaysian Commonwealth Studies Centre, for the past two years. EASAC has provided expert advice on how sustainable energy could be provided to 'off-grid' villages in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The aim is to create 'smart village' environments where energy access acts as a catalyst for development in education, food security, health, business, the environment, and participatory democracy. The first in a series of international workshops was held in June 2014 in Tanzania, and discussed the dynamic between mini-grids and home-based energy, the impact of falling prices of renewable energy technology, and how to improve regulations and funding.
For further information, see the Smart Villages website.

Biosciences Programme

EASAC's 'Gain of Function' project tackles Bird Flu threat

The EASAC 'Gain of Function' project has been initiated to explore the issues (potential risks and benefits) raised by recent research on the modification of the H5N1 virus to manipulate its transmission potential and its spread by aerosol to humans. The engineering of potential pandemic pathogens raises multiple issues around biosafety, biosecurity and the potential limits to the freedom of research. Furthermore, it is likely that the analysis and conclusions from the EASAC project will be relevant to a broad range of pathogens and other potentially dangerous experiments.

EASAC welcomes submissions of written evidence on any point relating to this project. Please send your written contribution to secretariat@easac.eu. Material will be particularly useful if received by 12 January 2015.

Environment Programme

'Ecosystem services, agriculture, pollinators and predators' project

Following the EU moratorium on neonicotinoids instituted in December 2013, this EASAC project is examining the scientific evidence on these insecticides' effects not just on pollinators but a wider range of ecosystem services on which agriculture depends. The importance of ecosystem services to agriculture is analysed, trends in pollinators and other ecosystem services in European countries presented, and the relationship between these insecticides and ecosystem services (pollinators, natural pest control, soil ecosystems and biodiversity) examined. The working group has met three times, in April, September and December 2014. The final report is expected in spring 2015.

EASAC work on 'Marine sustainability'

EASAC's marine sustainability project focuses on how to implement Marine Protection Areas as part of an ecosystem approach, potential interactions with the biological sustainability of fisheries and how scientific support for the ecosystem approach to marine management could be improved. The working group has met three times, and a report is being drafted for spring 2015.

Upcoming Events

Antimicrobial drug discovery

On Wednesday 3 December 2014, EASAC will host a discussion event in Brussels to allow scientists, policy-makers and stakeholders to discuss its recently published statement on Antimicrobial Drug Discovery, which called for greater political awareness of the challenges posed by antimicrobial resistance and EU-wide support to tackle bottlenecks. Speakers will include Jos van der Meer, EASAC President, and Dame Sally Davies, the UK's Chief Medical Officer. The debates will be moderated by Anne Glover, Principal Science Advisor at the European Commission.

Further information and registration here.

EASAC and Royal Society Breakfast Discussion on Extreme Weather

EASAC and the Royal Society are organising a breakfast discussion with Members of the European Parliament in Brussels on 9 December. The event, "Be prepared: Reducing the impact of extreme weather," will be hosted by Theresa Griffin, MEP. With this event, the academies want to raise awareness of the need to increase resilience to extreme weather events, and the potential role for MEPs, with support from the EU national academies of science.

To register, please email becky.purvis@royalsociety.org.


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