Innovations for diverse sources of nutrition in the future

Teaser_Plant breeding: a key technology in the bioeconomy

An article by Professor Monika Schreiner, Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ)

One of the greatest challenges we face is how to ensure that future generations have a sufficient and balanced supply of healthy – and diverse – foods. The production processes and the food itself should be as sustainable as possible, as this is the only way that we will be able to successfully combat the effects of climate change and the scarcity of resources. In this context, the research project Food4Future is exploring new approaches to future food security. The project is being supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) within the framework of its funding line "Agricultural Systems of the Future".

Biodiversity is the key

Globally speaking, plant-based diets have become increasingly uniform. They consist primarily of "cash crops" such as wheat, rice, potatoes and corn – the universal "staple foods".

And yet biodiversity is so important, not only with respect to ecological aspects such as the development of sustainable agricultural systems, but also with respect to a varied diet. On the one hand, unbalanced diets can result in the consumption of too many calories, causing us to become overweight. On the other, we may not get enough key nutrients such as vitamins, and consequently show signs of deficiency.

Visions of the future – Star Wars begins

How will our future look? If you have ever seen the film Star Wars, you will be familiar with Coruscant, a planet-wide city that is the seat of government of the Galactic Republic. This is not necessarily the future reserved for a galaxy far, far away; it could also be the future of our own Earth: one gigantic megacity with no land available any more for growing foods the way we do today.

Alternative food sources

As the global population grows, agricultural land and fresh water are in increasingly short supply. This is why we selected organisms that are adapted to living in salt water for the Food4Future project: halophytes (i.e. plants that can grow in saline environments), macro algae and jellyfish. Crickets are used in the food production process because they consume residual substances. All organisms can provide proteins, though they can also serve as a source of other important elements such as essential fatty acids, vitamins and many others. In addition, we use new lighting concepts to promote the growth of these desirable elements.

The trend towards urbanisation also requires new ideas for food security. More people already live in cities than in rural areas. This means that food must also be produced in the urban environment – i.e. at the site where it is consumed. Lightweight composite materials that can be individually shaped and are weather-proof will make it possible to create urban "bio spaces". They will allow wasteland to be reused. Who knows, in the future you may find yourself, on your way to work, driving past a macro algae production facility that has been set up on disused railway sidings.