Technology could help solve the world's food crisis

28 June 2017

Agriculture

The STFC Food Network+ (SFN) has launched this week, bringing together hundreds of researchers to bring new capabilities to bear on the challenges of providing a safe, sustainable, nutritious and affordable supply of food for all.

The SFN is building an interdisciplinary community that is working to provide this sustainable and secure food supply by highlighting and developing key opportunities for the STFC community to make a meaningful contribution to the food system - from sustainable intensification, through building resilience in supply chains to novel technologies to engage consumers and help change behaviour and improve nutrition.

The launch was marked by a two day meeting in Manchester and the delegates heard how the SFN will catalyse and fund collaborations between food researchers and the research projects and facilities being funded by the STFC.

“Food contributes over 20% of greenhouse gas emissions and will likely be the main way most people experience climate change” says Professor Katherine Denby, of the University of York and SFN co-lead, “We need to produce safe and nutritious food in a sustainable way without depleting natural resources, and ensure the accessibility and resilience of food supply. The UK’s STFC can play a major role in helping to address these challenges, by bringing access and expertise in the UK’s biggest facilities as well as big data and precision instrumentation expertise from fundamental research in astro, particle and nuclear physics.”

Professor Sarah Bridle, of the University of Manchester and lead of the SFN, is optimistic about the potential for STFC researchers to contribute to solving food challenges “For example, in my astronomy research I analyse images of galaxies from multiple observations of large areas of sky taken at different light wavelengths from optical through to infra-red. I’m now using the same tools to cut out observations of fields of wheat and look for signs of weed infestation.”

Professor Bridle also said that “I think we’re going to be surprised at the new connections that get made. One project to count pollinators in a field produces images of white dots moving across a dark background - show this to a particle physicist and they get excited about the potential to use tools they already developed to analyse particle tracks at CERN!”

The STFC provides the food researchers with access to world-leading UK facilities including the ISIS Neutron and Muon Facility, the UK’s Central Laser Facility and Diamond Light Source, as well as major computing capability through STFC’s Scientific Computing Division and Hartree Centre. These facilities are already being used for food research including looking in detail at milk protein, chocolate, synthetic meat, and proteins in new varieties of wheat.

Notes to editors

Contacts

For more information, please email Jake Gilmore or STFC Food Network+

About The STFC Food Network+

The Science and Technology Facilities Council (STFC) Food Network+ (SFN) aims to bring together STFC researchers and facilities with research and industry in the agri-food sector. The SFN will build an interdisciplinary community working to provide a sustainable, secure supply of safe, nutritious, and affordable high-quality food using less land, with reduced inputs, and in the context of global climate change and declining natural resources. The SFN will highlight and develop key opportunities for the STFC community to make a meaningful contribution to the food system - from sustainable intensification, through building resilience in supply chains to novel technologies to engage consumers and help change behaviour and improve nutrition.

The SFN Launch meeting presented food challenges from agriculture, food supply and safety, through to consumer food waste. The STFC participants showcased their capabilities, culminating in a presentation of the STFC-funded project Zooniverse which brings hundreds of thousands of people from around the world to assist professional researchers.

The STFC Food Network+ runs for 3 years and will fund proof of concept studies, visits between researchers, small focussed meetings, and annual network meetings.

The STFC Food Network+ is led by:

  • Sarah Bridle, Principal Investigator (University of Manchester)
  • Alison Fletcher, Project Manager (University of Manchester)
  • Professor Katherine Denby, Co-Investigator (University of York)
  • Dr Kieran Flanagan, Co-Investigator (University of York)
  • Professor Bruce Grieve, Co-Investigator (University of York)
  • Professor Jason Halford, Co-Investigator (University of Liverpool)
  • Professor Lenny Koh, Co-Investigator (University of Sheffield)
  • Professor Mark Reed, Co-Investigator (Newcastle University)
  • Professor Alastair Taylor, Steering Committee Chair (CEO at Institution of Agricultural Engineers)

Links

Science and Technology Facilities Council Switchboard: 01793 442000