We conduct a great deal of food-related research at Utrecht University. Five years ago, this prompted an effort to prioritise food-related research at Utrecht University and seek out structural interdisciplinary collaboration. These efforts have since led to the establishment of our Future Food hub. A hub is defined as a specific research area in which the university collaborates on societal issues with businesses and institutions.
'There's still so much research to be done when it comes to food', explains Future Food hub chair Professor Rens Voesenek. 'The imminent food shortage presents an especially serious problem. While we need to produce more food, we must also do so in a sustainable manner. Obviously, climate change is not exactly helping in that regard; extreme heat, droughts, floods ... There are clearly some major challenges ahead.'
Learning from nature
Voesenek's own research focuses on immunising crops against the extreme weather patterns caused by climate change. 'Once a potato has been underwater longer than 24 hours, it is no longer fit for consumption. If we can modify potatoes to the point where they can survive water for 48 hours, we'll have made a major breakthrough. We do so by carefully examining natural processes, learning from nature. Various existing plants flourish in underwater or desert environments. Which specific qualities allow them to thrive in those circumstances? Could we ultimately introduce these to our food crops? Our researchers recently described a new mechanism that could lead to the development of flood-proof crops.
The resulting article has been submitted to a renowned scientific journal. We've spent six years on the project so far, and we'll have our hands full with the next steps for years to come.