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Science Symposium in Chicago – doing research for sustainable food

July 2015

Dr. Martin Brudermüller, Vice Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE and Chief Technology Officer, spoke at the science symposium in Chicago.

At the end of June, around 400 eminent scientists and experts from a variety of disciplines met in Chicago at the second of three Science Symposiums BASF is hosting in its anniversary year. Under the banner of “Sustainable Food Chain – From Field to Table,” they discussed one of the world’s biggest challenges for science: sustainability along the entire value chain of food production. The symposium is part of the co-creation program marking BASF’s 150th anniversary.

“If the remarkable presentations in Chicago have shown one thing, it’s the rapid progress in research. Although we still have some knowledge gaps to close, science and technology are the keys to many challenges in the food supply chain. Science alone cannot ensure the supply for a growing number of people, but it decisively contributes to finding solutions,” said Dr. Martin Brudermüller, Vice Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF SE.

“What makes the conference so attractive is it covers all the topics in the food supply chain," said Dr. Peter Eckes, President of Bioscience Research and Head of Research in North America. "We had talks about organic synthesis, genomic engineering, better crop yields and nutrition. Guests with expertise in one field were able to listen to the talks of brilliant minds from other scientific areas related to the topic of food.”

The presentations covered topics ranging from fundamental research to the question of how to shape science-based politics favoring modern technology in the food supply chain. Keynote speaker Josette Sheeran, President and CEO of Asia Society, stated in her speech that world hunger is a solvable problem. The former Executive Director of the United Nations World Food Program discussed different approaches from which she expects the most substantial progress.

Prof. Dr. Frances Arnold, of the California Institute of Technology, explained how enzyme researchers can learn from nature’s evolutionary tricks in order to trigger still-unknown reactions. Prof. Dr. Steven Ley, of the University of Cambridge, talked about the change of organic synthesis through new technologies and the increasing importance of holistic research. And Prof. Dr. Jennifer Doudna, of the University of California, Berkeley, spoke about the revolutionary technology of precise genome editing.

The second day of the symposium started with a speech from Prof. Dr. François Diederich, from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology ETH in Zurich, on molecular recognition in chemistry and biology, especially for medicine and crop protection. Afterwards, Prof. Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, a professor at Purdue University in Indiana and winner of the World Food Prize in 2009, reported on his work with sorghum millet in Africa.

Guests also had the opportunity to participate in so-called “Think Cells” to discuss topics in depth and generate creative ideas. One topic amongst others focused on the work of Josette Sheeran and the question: How can we improve nutrition of expecting and nursing mothers?

The symposium concluded with Roger Beachy, Founding Executive Director of the World Food Center at University of California, Davis, and his thoughts on providing sufficient nutrition to the world population while facing growing climate challenges.