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MRC strategic review of mouse genetics

by Guest Author on 26 Jun 2019

As we undertake our Strategic Review of mouse genetics, our Executive Chair Professor Fiona Watt sets out the MRC position in the light of recent press activity regarding the MRC Mammalian Genetics Unit (MGU).

MRC Harwell Institute, directed by Professor Steve Brown, encompasses the Mammalian Genetics Unit and the Mary Lyon Centre. The MGU carries out academic research while the Mary Lyon Centre has world-class expertise in genetically modified mice.

All MRC units and institutes undergo five-yearly (quinquennial) reviews of their science programmes, during which the achievements and plans of our scientists are presented and evaluated in depth, together with a detailed consideration of the finances. The next five-yearly review of the MGU is not due until 2022. However, in 2018 Steve made us aware of his intention to retire in 2020. This led us to instigate a strategic review – a high level consultation on how best to focus MRC investment to ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of mouse genetics.

The review was timely – not only because of Steve’s planned retirement but also because of three changes in the national and international research landscape.

First, the focus of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute has shifted from mouse to human genetics under its current director and we were keen to consult nationally and internationally on whether this calls for a change in the way the MRC supports mouse genetics.

Secondly, there are plans for considerable expansion of research on the Harwell campus, with new opportunities for synergies amongst the different parts of UK Research and Innovation – the Mary Lyon Centre is potentially well placed to make important contributions to these.

Third, the way we use mice is changing. For example, some researchers outsource genotyping and obtain mice from commercial suppliers for reasons of efficiency and cost saving – we wanted to consider the impact of such developments on the way MRC-funded researchers work with mice.

It is important for the MRC as a funding body to take strategic decisions about the research we support. Therefore MRC strategic reviews are not uncommon. A key principle of such reviews is that the scientific vision of the MRC directors and senior staff is prominent from the outset. Since the initial recommendations about the MGU were made there has been input from the director and widening engagement with all staff and the broader community.

The decisions regarding the future of the MGU will be taken only after MRC Strategy Board and Council have considered the outcome of the staff and Trade Union consultation process.


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