BioScience Keeps Us Safe

Never has there been a greater focus on the role of science in keeping us all safe and how the understanding of bioscience and genetics can deliver breakthroughs that can transform our future. Not just in protecting our health from the threats of viral pandemics and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) but across the food supply chain. More than ever, the food industry is reliant on good science; for example to support productivity, to protect animal and human health from disease, to improve crop yields and ultimately to deliver enough safe food to feed an increasingly hungry world.

In this series of articles, FOLIUM Science’s in-house experts reflect on the role that bioscience plays in the food supply chain and draw on their own personal experiences to consider how the future might look.

FOLIUM Science’s Chief Technical Officer, Dr Hadden Graham shares his thoughts on some of the bigger breakthroughs in bioscience.

“Biotechnology has been important for thousands of years. Even as far back as Egyptian times when fermentation was used to preserve food. Selective plant breeding has been carried out for centuries, but the big breakthroughs came when there was a greater understanding of how to speed up the process and how to deliver predictable outcomes based on an understanding of the genetic make-up of an organism”

Genetics sits at the core of much of the science that is applicable in the food supply chain. The improvement in breeding stock amongst poultry producers is a good example

“These breeders aren’t using GM to improve their stock. They are selecting based on performance and using big data to identify and produce the desired genetic traits in the next generation. And it’s not just about performance. Genetic selection will support better animal health and welfare by selecting for leg strength or bone strength for example. We now understand so much more about animal genetics, but we still need to learn more about how to feed the genetics to help control the diseases”

But delivering the breakthrough bioscience and innovation to market has its challenges. Particularly, in Hadden’s view when it comes to consumers.

“Some people think it is the regulatory authorities that present the greatest barrier to bioscience innovation, but a bigger problem can be the way that consumers perceive it. Consumers often fear the unknown and, on the whole, don’t understand science. This isn’t necessarily their fault as science is getting pretty complex and not as easy to understand as it might have been 20 years ago but the degree of consumer resistance to some aspects of bioscience has limited some applications, even though the regulatory authorities have the appropriate systems and processes in place”

With scientific experts in the headlines every day, one outcome of the corona virus pandemic could be a greater trust in science amongst consumers alongside a more intense focus on where our food comes from.

“Governments across the world are now realising the importance of listening to experts. They need the scientists to tell them what to do as there is no other way to deal with the problems we have to face in the world today. This applies to the long-term provision of our food as well as to the combatting of diseases. For consumers, the key question will be around trust. Will science regain the trust of consumers that has eroded in recent years?. At the very least we should expect a shift in attitudes towards those with genuine expertise and experience. It’s an important time for the biotechnology industry; we are on the cusp of finding solutions to some of today’s big health issues including many cancers and diseases. Our CRISPR based Guided Biotics® technology is a part of this”

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Hadden’s first-hand experience in delivering breakthrough bioscience to market for the food supply chain was demonstrated in the late 1980’s when feed enzymes were first launched by the pioneering feed additive producer, Finnfeeds. Although enzymes had unwittingly been used for centuries in beer and cheese production and had been studied in animal performance trials as far back as the 1920’s it wasn’t until the right market opportunity presented itself that this billion-dollar industry was born.

“ Although the actions of enzymes in animal feeds was understood, the catalyst and commercial breakthrough was the impact that feeding enzymes had on barley fed poultry. Domestically grown barley was significantly cheaper than imported wheat but had historically created problems with litter when fed to birds. The addition of enzymes into the feed transformed this and the rest, as they say is history. This was an example of where good science reacted to the market opportunity and was rapidly developed by commercially astute scientists into a commercial application“

So what lessons can we learn from these reflections?

Firstly, although bioscience has played a role in the production of safe food for centuries, the importance of delivering science-based solutions for the food supply chain has never been greater. Population growth and changing consumer consumption patterns means that efficiency of production will rely on a deep understanding of the drivers of greater productivity. And beyond these ongoing pressures, the current threats to human health posed by AMR or viral pandemics are very real and can only be solved by a commitment to invest in the research and innovation required.

Secondly, we should expect to see science as the hero in our future stories and a return of a world where science trumps politics. Or at least that’s what we should hope for.

And finally, there are enormous commercial opportunities for investors in biotechnology and for science driven organisations that can not only develop products that improve the productivity of food producers and support the production of safe food but that can put the commercial operations in place to move swiftly to market.