BBC Director General Tony Hall munched on a dried locust this morning to highlight new ways of feeding the world. But if supporters of the ‘grubs as grub’ campaign were hoping for a glowing review he wasn’t entirely on message.
“I have got halfway through it. I might just take the rest home and share it with the family this evening.”
But there was a serious point to his gastro adventure. Lord Hall was helping launch a £10 million science prize that, with the help of a TV audience, challenges British scientists to solve some of the biggest problems facing mankind today.
The six subject areas will feature in a Horizon special on Thursday with advocates advancing the case why their cause should be supported.
This will kick off a month-long poll asking viewers which issue the prize should aim to tackle and the winning area for research will be announced on The One Show on June 25.
Areas include dementia, antibiotics resistance, paralysis, sustainable food and clean water. Viewers will also be able to vote for research into eco-friendly flight.
David Attenborough and Brian Cox were among those in the audience to hear Lord Hall describe the 2014 Longitude Prize as “one of the most ambitious prizes ever awarded in science.”
The Astronomer Royal, Lord Martin Rees, said it would stimulate innovation and be judged objectively “unlike the Oscars or the Turner Prize”. “There is a pressing need for the UK to channel more of its brainpower into innovation.” he said.
The advocates appearing on Thursday’s Horizon include TV’s Michael Mosley. He is arguing for the prize money to be spent on tackling malnutrition – hence the protein-rich dried locusts handed to the director general. “They are trying to rebrand them as flying shrimps,” he joked.
But Mosley revealed that planting has just started at a test site in Rothamsted, Hertfordshire of a genetically modified crop that it’s hoped will produce omega-3 oils, an essential nutrient most commonly found in fish, but also fed back to the fish that are raised on offshore farms. “It makes a lot more sense if you can grow fields of omega-3 and then feed the crops to the fish. It makes fish farming much more sustainable.”
Afterwards, he admitted it was contentious science. “Not everyone will approve, but if it’s done modestly and with care I think it could be of use.”
So this Thursday you’ll be invited to vote on one of the six modern-world challenges listed below. The one that attracts the most votes will then be opened up to the science community for their ideas, with a £10 million prize awaiting the eventual winner. “It must be a genuine breakthrough and be achievable within five years,” said Lord Rees.
So which of these experts will you support?
Dementia – Dr Kevin Fong
Developing new technology to help improve the life of dementia sufferers.
Flight – Dr Helen Czerski
Designing an environmentally friendly aeroplane that doesn’t use fossil fuels.
Food – Michael Mosley
Feeding a growing global population in a nutritious way with less available land.
Paralysis – Dr Saleyha Ahsan
Harnessing technology to give paralysed people much greater freedom of movement.
Water – Professor Iain Stewart
Easing pressure on the planet’s fresh water supply by creating cheap desalination technology.
Antibiotics – Liz Bonnin
Creating a cheap, accurate and rapid test for bacterial infections allowing doctors to better target treatments.