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Policy Lates

Policy Lates brings a panel of experts together for an informal debate on a contemporary science policy topic. There is plenty of time for audience questions and convivial discussions over refreshments. If you have an idea for a Policy Late discussion, please get in touch, via

For more policy news, sign up to our free weekly Science Policy Newsletter through mySociety.


Insect declines in the headlights

Mon 7 Oct 2019 | 19:00-22:00

Royal College of Physicians, 11 Saint Andrews Place, Regent's Park, London NW1 4LE

Biology Week 2019 over two lines mostly greenInsects have hit the headlines recently. Studies suggesting declines at national and global scales have been described in terms of ‘armageddon' and ‘apocalypse' - but what is the reality, and what can we do about it?

This event explored the evidence behind the headlines. We considered what we know about insect declines and what we don't know, to better understand the causes and consequences of insect population changes. Our expert panel discussed how we monitor and conserve this vital and diverse group of organisms, while addressing challenges such as crop protection and control of pest species.


Professor Adam Hart, University of Gloucestershire - Panel Chair
Professor Chris Thomas, Royal Entomological Society and University of York
Dr Larissa Collins, Fera Science Ltd.
Dr Lynn Dicks, University of East Anglia
Dr Nick Isaac, Centre for Ecology & Hydrology


Read our event news story and see highlights on our Twitter Moments. Audio from the event will be available soon.

Event supporter

This event was kindly supported by the Royal Entomological Society.


If you require further information contact Ellie Oakley at or on 020 3925 3444.


Biosciences for All - Paving Pathways for Diversity

Mon 8 Oct 2018 | 18:00-21:00 | Charles Darwin House, 12 Roger Street, London WC1N 2JU



This free Policy Lates event discussed ways to best support an inclusive and accessible environment, across the biosciences. Guests heard from innovators who are developing ways to improve access and support for people from diverse backgrounds to study and work in the biosciences. Guests learnt about the benefits created for people from a range of backgrounds, communities and experiences.


Dr David McAllister CBiol FRSB, UK Research and Innovation - BBSRC (Chair) (Watch on YouTube)
Racheal Adelodun, Sarah Cannon Research Institute (Watch on YouTube)
Dr Saher Ahmed, Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute (Watch on YouTube)
Dr Anne-Marie Coriat, Wellcome Trust (Watch on YouTube)
Professor Sara Rankin FRSB, Imperial College London (Watch on YouTube)
Dr Carole Thomas, John Innes Centre (Watch on YouTube)
Anthony Wynne, The Daphne Jackson Trust (Watch on YouTube)

Read our event news story, see highlights on our Twitter Moments and watch talks filmed by the Biochemical Society on YouTube.


This event was run with support from the Biochemical Society.


A meeting of minds: the biology of mental health

Tuesday 10 October 2017 18:00-21:00


Improving people’s wellbeing is perhaps the ultimate goal of almost all government policy. Mental health is a major driver of wellbeing, yet one in four people in the UK suffer from a mental health problem each year, with enormous cost to individuals and society. Treatment for mental health has historically been deemed a lower priority than physical health, but in the last few years, NHS England has stated in its Mandate the commitment to “put mental health on a par with physical health”.

Further, in January 2017 the Prime Minister unveiled plans to transform mental health support. Policy Lates will examine the biology that underpins mental health and how this can inform policy to improve wellbeing.

Expert panel

Professor Jeremy Pritchard CSciTeach FRSB, University of Birmingham (Chair)
Dr Valerie Gladwell, University of Essex
Dr Karen Mifsud, University of Bristol
Professor Barbara Sahakian FRSB, University of Cambridge
Professor Clare Stanford FRSB, University College London

Read our event news story and watch it on the Biochemical Society Facebook page.


This event was run with support from the Biochemical Society, as well as the British Ecological Society and The Physiological Society - which this year has had a focus on making sense of stress.

Tackling antimicrobial resistance crisis: what roles will regulation & innovation play?

Monday 10 October 2016 18:00-20:00

Earlier this year, a review on antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by Lord Jim O'Neill set out a comprehensive action plan for the world to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, develop new rapid diagnostics tools and incentivise research into new antibiotics.

According to the report, if not tackled urgently, antimicrobial resistance could kill 10 million people a year by 2050, the equivalent of 1 person every 3 seconds; more than cancer kills today.

As a part of the Biology Week, this Policy Lates event examined the roles of innovation and regulation in tackling the AMR crisis from different perspectives, including veterinary research, biotechnology and public health.

Expert panel

Professor Jeff Cole, Vice President, European Federation of Biotechnology (Chair)
John Broughall, Antibiotic Research UK
Professor Mark Fielder, Kingston University
Tamar Ghosh, Lead, Longitude Prize, Nesta

Further information

The event was run by the UK members of the European Federation of Biotechnology (Biochemical Society, Microbiology Society, Royal Society of Biology, Society for Applied Microbiology and Society for Chemical Industry) in association to the Learned Society Partnership on AMR

See our news article for a summary of the event.

Dodging a Biological Bullet - What can we learn from the US and Europe about Biosecurity?

Thursday 20 November 2014 18:00 - 21:00

Dodging-a-Biological-BulletHow can we balance the benefits of carrying out research into infectious pathogens or other biological agents with the potential costs of misuse? Despite the potentially global reach of research and terrorism, different countries have different approaches to dual-use research and biosecurity policy. Is international consensus on this issue likely? Will we be able to dodge potential 'biological bullets' before it's too late? Our international panel presented the biosecurity policy in the US and Europe. For more details about the event, read our news story and visit Policy Lates.

Expert panel

Professor Malcolm Dando FSB (Chair), Professor of International Security, Division of Peace Studies, School of Social and International Studies, University of Bradford
Professor Mike Imperiale, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, University of Michigan
Professor Simon Wain-Hobson, Head of Molecular Retrovirology Unit, Virology Department, Institut Pasteur; Chair of the Foundation for Vaccine Research
Dr Koos van der Bruggen, Secretary of the Working Group Biosecurity at the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences
Professor Kathryn Nixdorff, Department of Microbiology and Genetics, Technische Universität Darmstadt

Need an introduction to dual-use? Read our dual-use for dummies blog post.

Further information

This event coincided with the 'Biological and Chemical Security in an Age of Responsible Innovation' meeting at the Royal Society 19th-21st November 2014, part of the Biochemical security 2030 Project, which is an academic project based at the University of Bath.

See our news article for a summary of the event.

The Precautionary Principle: Can we strike the balance between risk and reward?

Tuesday 1 April 2014 18:00 - 21:00


The precautionary principle is often described as a “better safe than sorry” approach when an action is suspected of being harmful to humans or the environment, and the scientific evidence for safety is uncertain.

It makes sense not to take a risk when we don’t have sufficient information, or when the action is not needed or potentially beneficial in other ways, but how do we decide when this is the case? We face tough decisions over issues such as disease control and food security, and sound science is needed to inform decision-making.

Striking a balance between protecting people and the planet while maximising scientific and economic output isn’t easy, nor is communicating these issues. The precautionary principle is supposed to help – how can we ensure that it does?

Expert Panel

Professor Jim Dunwell (Chair), the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading
Professor Ian Boyd, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs
Tracey Brown, Managing Director, Sense About Science
Professor Joe Perry, University of Greenwich

Further information

See our news article and Storify for a summary of the event.

Algal Biofuels: Full bloom or dead in the water?

November 2013


The Society of Biology partnered with the Royal Society of Chemistry for our latest Policy Lates on the future of Algal Biofuels. Microalgae grown in waste water or macroalgae grown at sea could be potential biofuel crops of the future, but there are numerous technological hurdles to overcome. For instance, can processes be scaled up to provide the vast amount of energy we need, and can input costs be sufficiently reduced to make algal biofuels a viable alternative to petroleum oil? Our discussion has been summarised in this article, and in Storify.

Expert Panel

Dr Michele Stanley FSB (Chair), director of the Algal Bioenergy Special Interest Group. Dr Stanley is a principal investigator in microalgal molecular phycology at the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS).

Oliver Chadwick is the head of biofuels regulation at the Low Carbon Fuels department of the Department for Transport. He will be discussing the current UK and EU policy situation and the Government's work to move to more sustainable biofuels.

Duncan Eggar is the BBSRC’s Bioenergy Champion, who develops and coordinates the work of BBSRC Sustainable Bioenergy Centre, as well as forging new links with national and international policymakers and other funders of sustainable bioenergy research. Mr Eggar has had a long career with BP involving extensive overseas experience. For his last eight years at BP he worked on business sustainability issues and their strategic implications; this included a two-year secondment to the UK Sustainable Development Commission.

Professor Rod Scott is a Professor of Plant Molecular Biology at the University of Bath. His lab researches both the molecular genetics of higher plant reproduction, particularly seed development, and algal biotechnology.

Dr Andrew Spicer is the Scientific Director of Algenuity, which builds foundational technologies to support the emerging algal biotechnology industry. Andrew is a is an acknowledged expert in gene characterisation, expression, manipulation and function in eukaryotes.

Further information

Talks from the panel are now available as videos on our labtube channel

Bioscience to bioweapons: how do we benefit from open dual-use research whilst avoiding misuse?

July 2013

Bioweapon debate panel

There has been a proliferation of bioscience research that seeks to use genetic engineering and modification for beneficial purposes. Research such as bioengineering cells for beneficial use, or genetically modifying dangerous pathogens to better understand them can lead to breakthroughs with the potential to improve our lives.

The push for open access publication, open source data, and more people doing bioscience in more settings, including through citizen science projects, further increases the potential for innovation and discovery. However in the wrong hands, the methods and results from this research have a potential dual-use as tools to deliberately cause harm.

During this Policy Lates events, the panel and audience will discuss how concerned we should be by dual-use bioscience being conducted by professional scientists and citizen science groups, and how we can minimise the risks of misuse whilst maximising access, participation and discovery.

Expert Panel

Professor Malcolm Dando FSB (Chair) Professor of International Security, Division of Peace Studies, School of Social and International Studies, University of Bradford.

Professor Wendy Barclay Chair in Influenza Virology, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London.

Daniel Grushkin Freelance journalist; vice-president and co-founder of Genspace community biology laboratory, New York.

Dr Catherine Jefferson Freelance consultant on bioweapons policy; researcher at the Department of Social Science, Health and Medicine, King’s College London.

Dr Piers Millet MSB Deputy Head of the UN Biological Weapons Convention Implementation Support Unit, United Nations Office of Disarmament Affairs, Geneva.

Talks from the panel are now available as videos on our blog.


Further information

Royal Society of Biology blogs:

The role of codes of conduct in the amateur biology community by Dr Catherine Jefferson
Sorry James, this is not my cup of tea by Dr James Revill
For better or worse: the dual use of biology by Dr Piers Millet
The misuse of research – join the debate by Professor Malcolm Dando
Not by good intentions alone by Tatyana Novossiolova

Articles and Guidelines:
Making avian influenza aerosol-transmissible in mammals. An overview of the research into the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 to enable aerosol transmission  in mammals.
Pandemic Influenza Viruses — Hoping for the Road Not Taken. Perspective article on H7N9; a novel avian flu virus that has emerged in China.
U.S. Bioterror Detection Program Comes Under Scrutiny. A national air sampling system tasked with picking up terrorist biological attacks faces scrutiny. Article from Scientific American.

Follow the #policylates biosecurity debate on Twitter and see our Storify for a summary.

Do we need more Scientists in Parliament?

November 2012

policy lates Nov 2012

Expert panel

Chair: Chi Onwurah MP, engineer and Shadow Minster for Innovation & Science
Panel: Dr Evan Harris (former Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, writer on science policy), Dr Phillip Lee MP (Conservative MP for Bracknell, member of Energy and Climate Change Select Committee, and Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Environment Group), Dr Jennifer Rohn (Cell biologist, novelist and founder and Chair of Science is Vital), Dr Jack Stilgoe (Lecturer in Social Studies of Science, science and technology policy expert and blogger)

Many thanks to Haralambos Dayantis for his work putting together this event.

Further information

For a review of the debate, see our Twitter, Storify, Blogs and Podcasts:

Do we need more scientists in Parliament? Haralambos Dayantis blogs about the Society of Biology's upcoming debate on 'do we need more scientists in Parliament?

Podcast: #policylates debates – do we need more scientists in Parliament?

Podcast: views after the #policylates debate

Jack Stilgoes blog - Should there be more scientists in Parliament?

British Ecology Society blog - Do we need more scientists in policy? An initial resounding 'yes' becomes a more complex debate

The debate continues...

Do we need more scientists in Parliament? They may not make any difference

Interested in Science Policy?

Learn more at NERC's publication Science into Policy, and the Campaign for Science and Engineering's Engaging with Policy guide on Learned Societies.

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