Policy Profile: Alessandro Coatti MRSB

The RSB’s senior science policy officer on the many intersecting policy issues in animal science

February 21st 2022 

What do you do at the RSB?

Within the science policy team we tend to have specialist areas that we focus on, and mine is primarily animal science and genetic technologies.

Animal science looks at the knowledge and potential applications we can derive from the study of animals – from fundamental research to more translational studies and R&D for drugs and treatments. Animal science also includes the study of animal welfare – for example, how can we promote the welfare of animals in laboratories or in food production? We also deal with the reproducibility of animal research.

Animal science is a good paradigm for science policy more generally, because it involves all the different aspects that can play into science policy discussions. You look at the benefits of the science, the practice of how it is done, the ethical dilemmas, and the regulatory frameworks and licensing required. Then you have people’s perceptions of the research, how the media portrays it and how that shapes the politics and regulation.

What did you do before you came to the RSB and why were you interested in moving into policy?

I trained as a molecular and cellular biologist and then I got interested in the brain. For my master’s I looked at epigenetics in the nervous system, then did an MPhil that examined at how neural circuits process sensory information in the brain.

I decided that I wanted to move away from academia and looked at interesting alternative careers. I thought public engagement for science might be exciting, but after doing some reading and thinking about an internship I had done at the Italian Embassy in London, I realised that policy could be another avenue to explore.

I visited the Royal Society and the Royal Institution, and saw that ecosystem of learned societies – and realised that through policy work I could still be close to scientists, but do something that is impactful for society and science.

What do you particularly enjoy about working in this area?

There are two main aspects – one is the passion for science that I’ve always had, and the other is a new passion for community building and stakeholder engagement. I have discovered I really like the mediation and negotiation part of the role. You have to listen to people with different views and try to understand their thoughts, what their interests are and how you can reach a consensus.

What do you find challenging?

The RSB has a very broad remit, which is both a blessing and a curse. Sometimes I regret that I don’t have the mental space and time to delver deeper into a topic –you have three months to deliver something and then move on to a new project. But that also means I get exposed to many different topics, to the breadth of life science.

What are the biggest issues coming up in animal science in 2022?

One of the main things is the regulatory changes that are on the horizon for genetic technologies in the UK and in the EU. I think people realise now that the regulations have not kept pace with technological innovations. We also have the animal sentience bill that is going through parliament at the moment, so that could potentially add a new layer of advice or regulation on animal welfare in the UK.

Alessandro Coatti MRSB is senior science policy officer at the RSB.