The United Kingdom has a world-class science base, which makes major economic, environmental and social contributions to the life of the nation. It is also a hugely important part of our shared culture. Our historical record, current achievement and future potential in science are important parts of what define us as a nation. Microbiology is a large and very strong part of that science base, important in areas as diverse as infectious disease, climate change, biotechnology and food security.
Part of the country’s scientific strength comes from our continuing commitment to international partnerships. Scientific ideas do not respect national borders and, by definition, the global challenges that microbiology can help to address cannot be solved by any one country or bloc of nations. Throughout the world, the best laboratories are those that draw on and integrate diverse talents, ideas and backgrounds, welcoming researchers from all over the world. The Microbiology Society has always been an international organisation that values international partnerships. It is a UK and Ireland-based organisation, whose Irish Division has always encompassed scientists across the entire island of Ireland. Importantly, 93% of the authors in the Microbiology Society journals are from outside the UK and its conferences have always included speakers and presenters from all parts of the world. Inevitably, many of the UK’s scientific links are with our European neighbours, and the Society was a key driving force behind the establishment of the Federation of European Microbiology Societies. Our members have established valued and highly functional networks that have brought together researchers across the European Union. Many of our UK members have been funded via the European Research Council and Europe-wide training networks. Europe has always been a leader in science.
Now that the referendum has decided that the UK will be leaving the European Union, and the new Prime Minister has appointed her team to manage the process, the Microbiology Society wishes to make two things very clear. First, the Society’s appetite for international collaborations in continental Europe and the wider world is as strong as ever. Second, we will engage constructively with the political process of exiting the EU so that we can help to determine our future relationship with the rest of the world.
However large the challenge, there is reason to be positive that a constructive way forward is possible. What scientists do is to answer difficult questions and solve opaque puzzles. This country produced Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and an astonishingly high proportion of Nobel Prize winners. Microbiologists have made discoveries from fundamental understanding of how cells work to life-changing applications to control fatal diseases. If we can do these things, we can find a positive way through the current challenges.
The Microbiology Society will continue to work with our friends and partners in Europe to find a way forward that will allow European and UK science in general and microbiology in particular to thrive in the future as it has in the past. We will also work with government to ensure that microbiology contributes fully to the development of our economy during this period of change. We must also strive to ensure that Brexit does not result in a lack of methodological and intellectual cross-fertilisation by diminishing the mobility of people, and hence skills across Europe. We will therefore work with the British academies and other organisations to ensure that we neither lose momentum nor fail to develop networks of expertise that have contributed to the success of our Society and to the UK research base in general.