By Daniel Hunter

A package of investment in the 8 great technologies of the future will accelerate high-tech progress from the lab to the marketplace and help drive UK economic growth, Science and Universities Minister David Willetts announced.

In the Mountbatten lecture, delivered at the Institution of Engineering and Technology, David Willetts set out how the UK will tackle some of the greatest challenges of our time, like climate change, energy storage, food production and population growth.

Mr Willetts announced that a £70 million Agri-Tech Catalyst, which will help new agricultural technologies bridge the so-called “valley of death” between the lab and the marketplace, is open for bids. This will support one of the UKs largest manufacturing sectors, with the entire agri-food supply chain estimated to contribute £96 billion to the UK economy and support more than 450,000 jobs.

This includes £10 million from the Department for International Development to support the transfer of technology and new products to developing countries.

Other funding includes:

- £44 million for 2 projects to monitor crucial ocean currents in the North Atlantic. These currents shape Britain’s climate and weather patterns and this information could help meteorologists better predict the weather

- £3.5 million in business-led projects to develop innovative tools and services like gene sequencing, for the UK synthetic biology industry

- £15 million for King’s College London to create a Research and Innovation Hub within the new Cancer Centre at Guy’s Hospital

- £10 million for the University of Glasgow to create a new Clinical Research Facility and imaging suite at South Glasgow Hospitals Campus

- £10 million for the University of Southampton to build new engineering research facilities and infrastructure

- £34 million investment in a new data research network and 4 administrative data research centres to help the UK get ahead in the global technology race

Science Minister David Willetts said: “The British scientific and technological revolution is something to be proud of. By investing in these 8 great technologies I firmly believe that the UK will continue to be at the forefront of the global technology race.

“We are 1 of the most efficient research nations, and we get the best returns on our investment. We are investing to help translate our excellent science into commercially successful technologies which in turn boosts our businesses, creates jobs and drives economic growth.”

The 8 great technologies are areas which experts have identified as, with the right investment, having the potential to make the greatest contribution to a high-tech, UK industrial revolution.

The new technologies help support the government’s wider industrial strategy — a long term approach across the whole of government to give businesses the confidence to invest and grow.

Environment Minister Lord de Mauley said: “This investment presents an exciting new opportunity to accelerate the development of the UK Agri-Tech sector.

“It will help industry and research organisations to work much more closely together, transferring innovation from the laboratory to the farm to help us meet the challenge of increasing food production and reducing our impact on the natural environment.”

Iain Gray, CEO of the Technology Strategy Board, added: “We welcome the Minister’s announcement of the Agri-Tech Catalyst, which will complement and build on the ongoing success of the Technology Strategy Board’s Sustainable Agriculture and Food Innovation Platform, helping to ensure the success of near-market agricultural innovations.

“We’re particularly pleased that the government has seen fit to build upon the catalyst model we and our partners have implemented with such success through the Biomedical Catalyst and look forward to continuing to support innovative UK companies working in the Agri-Tech field.”

Professor Douglas Kell, Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Chief Executive, also commented: “Advances in agricultural technologies have underpinned virtually the whole of human civilisation and development. Today, advances in relevant basic, strategic and applied science provide a wealth of opportunity for the UK, both economically and socially.

“The launch of this Catalyst will help to translate our world-leading food and farming research into practice so that we can make the most of these opportunities and offer real contributions to global food security.”

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