Towards 2050: securing food through technology

Monday, 20 July, 2015

Towards 2050: securing food through technology

The future of food is almost within our reach, and not before time. As the world catapults towards 2050’s projected population of 9 billion, food technology innovators are working to revolutionise our food system.

Technology leaders are employing increasingly sophisticated science and technology to develop solutions designed to improve food sustainability, nutrition, agriculture and safety. If successfully expanded to a global scale, their work could effect major changes in the way our food is produced. The Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) FutureFood 2050 has conducted a series of interviews to find out more about the research that could help to feed future generations.

Spanish industrial researcher Carole Tonello is working on high-pressure processing advancements to boost the shelf life of food without chemical preservatives. Tonello says the technology retains more flavour, nutrients and freshness than heat-based techniques, but the barrier to widespread uptake is the higher cost. Tonello’s focus is therefore on improving the technology to reduce costs and improve productivity.

Amit Gefen is launching a project to develop a lab-grown chicken breast. With changing dietary habits expected to more than double the demand for meat-based protein, the Israeli biomedical engineer hopes to meet that demand sustainably, while also maximising nutritional value.

Jorge Heraud is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur who is creating cutting-edge digital technology for more efficient, sustainable agriculture tools. The co-founder and CEO of start-up Blue River Technology has invented a ‘smart’ implement that is able to thin out excess lettuce plants. Smart implements use cutting-edge robots, computer vision and software algorithms to make farming more efficient and more sustainable. The aim is to utilise this technology to precisely deliver fertilisers and pesticides to individual plants, significantly reducing chemical use in agriculture.

IBM/Mars’ Consortium for Sequencing the Food Supply Chain plans to catalogue all the active genes that typically exist in different food environments — from farms through transport, processing and distribution — in order to help boost food safety. One of the project’s leaders, IBM research scientist James Kaufman, believes the resulting wealth of new data will revolutionise the safety of our food supply, enabling the reduction of foodborne illness by making the system more predictive.

Researcher Todd Kuiken is promoting informed policymaking for the emerging food products being produced by synthetic biology processes (synbio). He believes clear labelling and better communications that explain all the chemical components of food ingredients, whether they’re produced from petrochemicals or GMOs or via synbio, could help educate consumers on the array of ingredients in their food.

Y.-H. Percival Zhang is a Virginia Tech biological systems engineer developing a new process that turns plentiful plant matter into edible starch and biofuel. Zhang’s team created a cocktail of enzymes that would break down cellulose — found in easy-to-grow perennial grasses or agricultural waste like cornhusks — and stitch the pieces back together to create a starch called amylose. A dose of brewer’s yeast converts the glucose left over from the conversion into ethanol.

FutureFood 2050 is a multiyear program highlighting the people and stories leading the efforts in finding solutions to a healthier, safer and better nourished planet to feed 9 billion-plus people by 2050. Throughout 2015, the program will release 75 interviews with the world’s most impactful leaders in food and science.

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