Agricultural land on Earth is limited. However, the increased need for food and feed coupled with the increasing use of biomass feedstocks leads to areas of conflict such as intensive farming, biodiversity loss, land grabbing and indirect land use change. Governments are faced with the major challenge of having to deal with and shape the bioeconomy while taking equally into account the ecological, economic and ethical concerns and integrating them in sustainable solutions.
In the new gene technology report, the interdisciplinary working group of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (BBAW) takes stock of gene technology developments in Germany during the past few decades, and discusses the societal, legal and ethical challenges associated with these technologies in the future. The report is highly topical due to the controversy surrounding the ruling of the European Court of Justice on CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing and reports that the first children whose DNA has been altered using gene editing have been born in China.
The Second Global Bioeconomy Summit, held in Berlin in April 2018, confirmed the essential role of modern genetic engineering methods such as genome editing in producing heat- and drought-tolerant crops adapted to the changing climate. Such methods are clearly required to help achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Despite the restrictive decision taken by the European Court of Justice in July 2018, the German Ministry of Education and Research will continue promoting the further development of genome-editing technologies for use in crop breeding.
The Karlsruhe Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) is one of the largest and most renowned institutions in Germany involved in evaluating scientific and technological developments. The institute assesses the impacts and possible effects of new methods from a wide range of scientific fields - including the life sciences. It particularly focuses on controversial disciplines such as synthetic biology, genome editing and brain research.
A recent study on the disappearance of insects is making headlines: it found that the insect biomass has declined by more than 75% in certain areas in Germany that were monitored by the study over a period of 27 years. The authors believe that the dramatic decline in insect biomass is down to industrial agriculture, which is therefore in conflict with certain bioeconomic principles: the sustainable cultivation of biomass and the safeguarding of food supply.
One billion people worldwide rely on forests as living spaces. Illegal and legal deforestation endangers people’s livelihoods as well as social and economic structures. It also has a detrimental effect on the global climate. Prof. Dr. Daniela Kleinschmit, Professor for Forest and Environmental Policy at the University of Freiburg, discusses the causes and consequences of deforestation. She is co-editor of an international report on illegal logging and timber trading which was written on the initiative of the International Union of Forest Research Organizations (IUFRO).
The Biopolymers/Biomaterials cluster was one of five clusters that won the BioIndustry 2021 competition in 2007 and that received funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The cluster’s ”Biotechnological process development for novel membranes based on collagen” research project was funded by the BMBF from 1st February 2013 to 31st January 2016. The project involved four companies and one university and aimed at improving the processing of collagen using biotechnological methods. Dr. Hans Füßer from Naturin Viscofan GmbH managed the project and here he talks with Dr. Ariane Pott from BIOPRO about how a new sausage skin prototype was developed.
A project called "Energiebündel & Flowerpower" ("Bundle of Energy & Flower Power") run by the "Netzwerk Streuobst Mössingen" (Mössingen meadow orchards network) has established a complex local recycling network for biomass from meadow orchards. The network involves the city of Mössingen, the neighbouring municipality of Nehren, the KFB institution for the physically disabled and their self-help work group called "Streuobst und Naturschutz" (meadow orchard fruits and nature conservation), a biogas operator from Nehren, a start-up company called Vital Carbon, a wood pellet company and first and foremost the owners of small orchards around the city of Mössingen.
Grapevines are treated with pesticides more frequently than any other crop. Peter Nick from the Botanical Institute at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology is pursuing an ambitious goal: sustainable viticulture rather than toxins. Sustainable viticulture takes into account plants’ natural capacities of resistance. Nick uses the European Wild Grape, the ancestor of cultivated grapevine varieties, for his research as the plant is able to successfully fight off many pathogens.