The new collaborative platform Plant2Food will accelerate the development of plant-based foods. Researchers and companies will collaborate in exploring complex challenges within plant and food science and sharing new knowledge across sectors – without taking out patents based on the results. The Novo Nordisk Foundation is supporting the platform with up to DKK 200 million (€27 million) over the next 5 years.
It is necessary to convert a big part of our food production to plant-based foods if we want to make the most appropriate use of our agricultural land as well as being able to feed a growing world population.
The key to accelerating this transition is developing a greater selection of tasty, nutritious and sustainable plant-based food products that are also affordable to consumers.
A new collaboration platform, Plant2Food, will be a hub for researchers and companies who want to collaborate to solve some of the complex issues of developing plant-based foods – without taking out patents based on the results.
The platform is based on open collaboration, which means that the knowledge created through the platform becomes available to everyone, so that more companies and researchers can benefit from the same knowledge. The aim is to accelerate the overall development of new plant-based foods and to optimise collaboration across the various sectors within plant and food science.
“We need to rapidly develop foods that can feed a growing world population without over-utilising the planet’s resources. Plant2Food creates a unique opportunity to make Denmark a leader in developing plant-based foods and ensure that we leverage the huge potential already existing in Denmark’s research community and companies and build networks with the best international experts in the field,” explains Claus Felby, Senior Vice President of Biotech at the Novo Nordisk Foundation, which is awarding up to €27 million (DKK 200 million) for Plant2Food over the next 5 years.
Researchers and companies will collaborate to solve complex issues
Plant2Food will be an Open Innovation in Science platform focusing on open research collaboration. Thus, the universities and companies joining the platform agree to publish all results from the open research projects and waive any claim to intellectual property rights. This will enable researchers and companies to co-develop project ideas and to accelerate projects faster by starting them immediately when a research group and a company agree to explore an idea. The open approach also gives everyone the opportunity to further develop the results and potentially use them for commercial purposes.
“This task is too complex for a single research group or company to solve alone. In Plant2Food, we want to crunch the value chain so that both researchers and companies can derive input from unexpected sources and thereby create solutions that would otherwise not be readily available,” says Marie Louise Conradsen, Head of Open Innovation in Science, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Faculty of Technical Sciences at Aarhus University, which is hosting Plant2Food.
In addition to Aarhus University, the other university partners in Plant2Food are the University of Copenhagen, the Technical University of Denmark and Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands. As partners, the four universities will have access to the funds allocated for research, which make up the predominant share of the grant from the Foundation. The funds will be used to explore challenges defined in collaboration with at least one company – but preferably several.
Using better basic knowledge about crops for developing products
Plant2Food will focus on developing basic knowledge about the properties of crops and how they can be used in food products. This knowledge can subsequently be used further up the value chain to develop nutritious products that are attractive to consumers.
Plant-based mince is an example of how the processing of crops is very important for the finished product. Opening a pack of plant-based mince that emits a strong odour of sulphur is hardly a positive consumer experience. Basic knowledge about crops and how to reduce or block the components that emits bad odour in the finished product is crucial.
Food & Bio Cluster Denmark is the fifth partner in Plant2Food and will strongly focus on how to translate the research into practice in the companies. This cluster represents small and large companies, knowledge institutions and other organisations working within the food and bioresources sector in Denmark. Food & Bio Cluster Denmark will link researchers and industry in Plant2Food, so that the research carried out by the universities is disseminated and translated into practice in the companies.
“The food industry is pursuing new, innovative solutions within plant-based foods to meet a growing market. For example, there is a high demand for new ingredients that are grown in Denmark and can contribute to an improved taste experience. This is precisely why we need research into new ingredients and varietal development of existing protein crops that have good cultivation characteristics in the Danish climate. An improved ingredient base can contribute to the whole plant-based food industry becoming a new position of strength for the Danish food industry,” says director Lars Visbech Sørensen, emphasising that Food & Bio Cluster Denmark is already in dialogue with a large number of companies that have expressed a need for new and long-term solutions.
Plant2Food is an Open Innovation in Science platform based on patent-free and open research in which universities and companies collaborate to solve complex challenges. All partners waive their claims to take intellectual property rights on the knowledge used in the platform.
The collaborations focus on early research in developing plant-based foods. This means that the conducted research is at the lower end of the scale for technology readiness level (TRL), which expresses how mature a specific technology is.
The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded a grant of up to DKK 200 million for Plant2Food, with 80% of the grant allocated to funding research projects awarded in open competition through the platform. The remaining 20% will fund secretariat services and networking and matchmaking activities. The project duration is 5 years.
Researchers at the four partner universities may apply for Plant2Food grants. The same goes for researchers from other universities if they accept the same agreement of waiving their claims to take intellectual property rights on the knowledge used in the platform as the partner universities. Plant2Food is open to all industry partners, but they cannot apply for research funding. They can instead participate as project partners without any co-financing.
The Plant2Food partners are:
- Aarhus University
- University of Copenhagen
- Technical University of Denmark
- Wageningen University and Research, Netherlands
- Food & Bio Cluster Denmark
This is the second time the Foundation has supported the development of an Open Innovation in Science platform. In 2020, the Foundation awarded DKK 54.5 million for the Open Discovery Innovation Network (ODIN), which has the pharma and biotech industry as its focal point.
This article was first published on 10 November by Novo Nordisk Foundation.