On 2 December 2002, the Biosciences Federation was founded as an umbrella organisation having the following key aims:

To promote liaison, dialogue and interactions within the diverse community of bioscientists on common issues that relate to research and teaching;

To provide opinion and information to assist the formulation of public policy;

To promote wide and open debate, involving the wider public where appropriate, about the practical and ethical issues surrounding developments in the biosciences and their applications.

The Federation is to be launched formally in the House of Commons towards the end of September. The Institute of Physics and the Royal Society of Chemistry have long served as examples of the importance of a single representative body to support a scientific discipline. Biology has not had such a powerful body. The Institute of Biology (IOB) has partly fulfilled this role, but has only about 16,000 members out of a possible 100,000 or so active (research) biologists in the UK.

The UK Life Sciences Committee (UKLSC) was established some 6 years ago to promote the interests of scientists at the molecular and cellular end of the biosciences, and has been quite active, building up to a membership of 18 learned societies representing about 35,000 bioscientists. However, more was needed. During the past 3 years leading members of the bioscience community have been working behind the scenes to establish a new organisation that can truly claim to be a single, united voice for life scientists. Those societies already signed up to the Biosciences Federation represent 60,000 life scientists and cover the range from physiology and neuroscience, biochemistry and microbiology to ecology. Crucially, the IOB has agreed to join the Federation and will bring valuable expertise particularly in areas such as links with schools, continuing professional development, and in the accreditation of qualifications. The Council of the Biosciences Federation agreed two Standing Committees - on Education (chaired by Keith Elliott, Manchester) and Animal Science (chaired by Nancy Rothwell, Manchester), and more are planned, including one on the environment and sustainability.

The Biosciences LTSN was closely involved with the work of the former UKLSC Education Group and we look forward to continued collaboration. In fact, the first event to be organised by the Federation will be an education colloquium in October run jointly with the LTSN, intended to help school teachers, careers advisers, and university admissions tutors understand the changes that are taking place to the school science curricula and their implications. The Animal Science Group achieved a reputation under UKLSC as being the leading body representing researchers working with experimental animals, and established a good working relationship with the Home Office Inspectorate. We anticipate that the Group will be even more effective under the Federation.

Both the IOB and the UKLSC can justifiably claim to have made an impact on government science policy and will now combine their efforts under the Federation. At the time of writing submissions have already been made to inquiries by the Commons Science and Technology Committee into the value the UK obtains from participating in European science, and into bioterrorism, and one is being prepared on the Higher Education White Paper. Ways to help the Federation become proactive rather than reactive are being investigated. This is an exciting development for biology, but there is much still to do. We welcome receiving comments or suggestions for the Federation from the readership of pA2.

Professor Nancy J Rothwell, School of Biological Sciences
Associated web site: www.bsf.ac.uk