As part of my continuing involvement in promoting (and positioning us for) the Sustainable BioEconomy in Europe, one of my main activities last week was attendance at the European Forum for Industrial Biotechnology in Düsseldorf. This was a very encouraging meeting, showing how quickly Europe is moving towards a sustainable bioeconomy in the chemicals sector. Because of the nature of bio-based chemicals, one feature was a session on joint ventures between biological and agricultural or chemicals companies: Avantium and Coca Cola making plantbottle (a clear plastic bottle made from renewable sources), Reverdia, a JV from Roquette and DSM, BioAmber and Lanxess, and Global Bioenergies and Lanzatech were featured. There was much interest in bio-succinate, and a recognition that its increasing availability at scale meant that its markets (and those for its derivatives) needed to be developed now. There were many other excellent talks on developing processes, while Achim Marx gave a very interesting talk about the CLIB2021 cluster that is bringing together the many relevant players in Germany, Yvonne Armitage gave a succinct and helpful account of our own Industrial Biotechnology Leadership Forum, and Merlin Goldman of the Technology Strategy Board provided an excellent overview of the signal successes of the TSB’s high-value biomanufacturing programme.  The CLIB2021 brochure contained the memorable line “In future, the rational development of production strains will in general be accompanied by systems biotechnology approaches.” Quite. There were also useful sessions on marine biotechnology, including a nice example by Kjartan Sandnes of a joint programme between Marine Bioproducts AS from Norway and the Centre for Process Innovation at Wilton, turning (potentially vast amounts of) fish waste into added value products, and one on processes featuring a nice presentation by Ian Fotheringham of the UK’s Ingenza.

Overall, a very useful apercu of what other European countries (and one or two others, such as Malaysia, who were there in force) are up to. One thing I noticed was the absence (compared with many European countries such as Germany and the Netherlands) of many Professors of ‘technical’ or ‘applied’ microbiology or ‘industrial enzymology’ in the UK. I suspect that this is mainly because the preferred UK academic currency is still much more the proverbial ‘paper in Nature’ rather than a major contribution to the UK economy. It is not an either/or, and hopefully readers will persuade their Institutions of the competitive advantage that will accrue to those who appoint such people. Equally, many of these countries, and even local regions, had Ministries for Innovation, showing how deeply embedded innovation is in their political and economic cultures.

Since I was in continental Europe, I also arranged to visit and give a talk at the Institute of Molecular Systems Biology at the ETH Zürich, where (inter alia) I was shown a very interesting new method for determining that part of the cell surface proteome that interacts with specific ligands, thereby permitting the discovery of ligands for orphan receptors.

Finally, I note that this week (beginning October 22nd) is Open Access Week.

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