July 5, 2023, by bbzpn
Goodbye to the Future Food Beacon and welcome to the Food Systems Institute
In 2017 the University of Nottingham launched its six ‘Beacons of Excellence’, including the Future Food Beacon. This represented a very different approach by the University to research funding, which directed its own money toward areas in which we already had considerable expertise, and that could be expanded to become globally recognised as a world–leading. Nottingham already had over a century of experience of food-related research which, of course, included the Sutton Bonington Campus, with facilities in crop and livestock production, food science and technology and, more recently, human nutrition and dietetics. The Beacon aimed to draw upon this, and upon expertise from across our other national and international campuses, with the following mission:
‘To deliver world class research to help address the challenge of providing sufficient quantities of nutritious and palatable food to a growing world population within a changing environment. This will be achieved through coupling the power of genome-enabled plant and animal sciences with cutting edge nutritional sciences, food processing and manufacturing technologies, and informed by an understanding of the economic, legal, social and ethical issues that underpin and shape food systems.’
Little did we know of the challenges our food systems were about face when, first Covid 19, and then the Ukraine war, highlighted their fragility. With atmospheric temperatures continuing to rise, malnutrition increasing amongst low-income communities, and obesity and type 2 diabetes continuing to impact higher-income groups, there is clearly much work still to be done. However, science was never going to solve these problems alone. Food systems are as much about commerce, politics, culture and consumer choice as they are about scientific innovation. Understandably, when disaster strikes, national, rather than international concerns come to the fore. However, with global temperature rises now predicted to further increase by 1.5oC before 2030, the need for innovative interventions in food production are becoming even more urgent.
The Beacon met many of its targets in terms of research income generation and research output, and enhanced the University’s global reputation in food research. The capital invested dramatically increased our infrastructure, both in terms of people and facilities. The University now has eleven new academic members of staff working across different areas of food research. Twenty two PhD students will complete their studies this year with a further eleven finishing next year. I hope that their work with the Beacon has helped to prepare them for careers that will help tackle the crisis our food systems continue to face.
Facilities in genomics, phenomics and nutritional analysis have been upgraded with state of the art technology. A purpose built ancient DNA laboratory has been created on the Sutton Bonington Campus. A strong community working right across the food system arena been created. It is now down to the Food Systems Institute and its new Director, Jack Bobo, to build on these achievements and, by working with national and international partners in academia, industry and policy, help to translate them into practical solutions to the many problems we face. I will leave Jack to present his vision of how the Institute will work and its ambitions, but achieving these will require strong partnership working both within the University and with external colleagues.
As someone who engaged with the Future Food Beacon from its onset, I can honestly say that it reinvigorated my enthusiasm for research which, perhaps inevitably, was starting to wane after a little over thirty years at the University. I very much hope the Food Systems Institute can have the same impact on colleagues who strive to deliver on the administrative, teaching and research tasks associated with academic life.
I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to the work of the Beacon in the last five years, including Simon Ridgway (finance) and Lexi Earl (communications) who have now moved on. Particular thanks go to Elizabeth Frissell, Gigi Walker and Joanna Smuga-Lumatz for their excellent administrative support, and to Pete Noy who has done a remarkable job of seeing so many research applications over the line. In addition, Pete has built strong links with the local community and the food industry which have helped to translate some of our research into real-world solutions.
Finally, of course, I should acknowledge the insight of Tim Foster and David Salt who started the whole thing off, with originally competing bids, which finally became the Future Food Beacon. I wish the best of luck to everyone involved in the Food Systems Institute and let’s hope the world can start to draw upon the technical innovations that science will produce, and find real life solutions to the problems that our food systems face.
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