Synthetic biology for food security
Dr Ray Elliott is Head of Open Innovation and Opportunity Management in R&D at Syngenta, Jealott’s Hill. In his current role Ray splits his time between helping to develop new areas of potential interest to Syngenta, e.g. sensors, industrial biotechnology and synthetic biology and helping the organisation solve the challenges it faces through the active use of ‘open innovation’.
During his 28 years in the agrochemical industry, Ray has held a wide variety of scientific and managerial positions within research and development including in synthetic and process chemistry, environmental sciences and latterly analytical sciences.
He has been an active member of a number of committees including the Plant and Microbial Sciences within the BBSRC, the Project Management Committee for the LINK scheme on Renewable Materials and the Innovation, Science and Technology Committee of the CBI. He is currently a member the Steering Committee of the Integrated Bio-refining Technologies Initiative (IBTI) and on the Food and Environment Research Agency external science panel.
He is also chairs the Royal Society of Chemistry Science, Education and Industry Board, has been a member of the RSC Council since 2009 and is a member of the Innovation Strategy Board of the Chemistry Innovation KTN.
The global population is expected to grow by 40% to beyond 9 billion by 2050. The growing population and the increasing number of malnourished people are putting agriculture under pressure to meet the increasing demand for food, feed and renewable resources.
These goals can be achieved as long as agriculture becomes more efficient and agricultural productivity is increased. Modern biotechnology and crop protection chemicals have a critical and essential contribution to make to ensure the production of a wide variety of high quality food at affordable prices, as well as to protect the environment and help to mitigate the effects of climate change.
The tools of synthetic biology help to continue the biotechnological revolution in delivering good quality food and nutrition to the world’s population. Engineered organisms are used to produce vitamins, flavours and processing enzymes for the food industry, and the genetic modification of crops has significantly improved agricultural productivity, with c. 160 million ha of GM crops planted in 2011. The ability to develop bio-fortified foods, such as Golden Rice and omega-3 soya, continues apace. The next major challenge is to combine GM and native traits to enable high-producing crops to withstand biotic and abiotic stresses better.
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