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Interview with Professor Gary Henehan

Professor Gary Henehan

Within the fifteen years since the birth of MAGI Group, we wanted to interview some of the guests and speakers of the event. As in the case of Professor Gary Henehan, Professor Pharmaceutical and Food Chemistry, Technological University Dublin

What steps have been taken in Venice, during the fifteen years of Magi? 

I am not sure I can answer this fully.

I can say that I believe Magi has been a force for the advancement of clinical science and has made many important contributions to the scientific literature in the last 15 years.  Magi has increasingly become a place where ideas come together which I believe is very valuable. Magi’s research driven approach is a model of industry/academia interaction. 

 What news from the Food Science?  

Food Science is such a rapidly changing area and there are so many advancing fields. I can mention a few important ones: 

1. Sustainability. There is increasing emphasis on the impact of food production on the planet and on greenhouse gas production, in particular. It is clear that practices will have to change to minimise climate and environmental impact. These changes may be very far reaching.

2. Lab Grown Food. There is a strong movement to produce a variety of meat and fish products by growing these foods in laboratory culture. In reality many of these will be factory scale fermentation processes that will produce the foods of the future. This is gaining ground as there is a push to lessen the impact of climate change and the effect of adverse weather (heatwaves, flooding etc) on food production.

3. Food Packaging. There is a growing concern at the large amount of food packaging being dumped in our environment. It is a process that cannot go on forever because a mountain of waste is building. There will be a move, in the coming years, to use less packaging and to make use of more biodegradeable or recyclable packaging materials.

4. Food and Health. There is increasing evidence our gut bacteria can influence our health. Along with that, is a realisation that diet may be able to impact on the gut microbiome and human health. We may expect to see foods tailored to individual needs in terms of health outcomes. This work is at an early stage but could lead to foods tailored to provide specific health benefits.

5.  Robotics and Artificial Intelligence in Food Production. There is a rapid growth in manufacturing robotics and this is likely to impact on all industries including the Food Industry. This will be more prominent as food production becomes more streamlined and moves into the area of “laboratory grown meat”, for example. Along with the adoption of robotics will be the enhanced use of  Artificial Intelligence in all aspects of food production.Biotechnologies are becoming essential.

What future do you foresee for biotech?  

It is clear that Biotech will, in the coming decade, begin to fulfil the promise that was forseen at the time of sequencing of the human genome. A number of key technologies have reached an advanced stage of development.

Some ideas I have mentioned above, where I see Biotech being very important in food production and human health. The other area that is growing very rapidly is the field of Biocatalysis. The technology to use enzymes for biomanufacturing of bulk chemicals, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and fine chemicals has exploded in the last 10 years and is now at a tipping point where it is feasible to use biological systems in manufacturing. More and more our economy will become a biobased economy. I expect to see a range of industries switch to use of enzymes for making of chemicals in a green and sustainable manner.

Of course, in medicine, the biotechnology associated with DNA editing and mRNA delivery of therapeutic proteins will also grow at a rapid pace as the applications of these new technologies are rolled out. The potential is enormous and we are alredy seeing the changes as new therapies are being developed all the time. They have the potential to completely change the face of human healthcare.  

What relationship must there be between biotech and biocatalysis? 

I believe these areas are complementary. Thus, the area of Biocatalysis is a part of Biotechnology. It is an aspect that will increase in importance as the technology develops. I believe a key player in this will be the deployment of “non conventional media” such as Deep Eutectic Solvents” as vehicles in which Biocatalysis will take place. These next generation solvents are biodegradeable an environmentally benign. A key driver for Biocatalysis and indeed, the emergence of a biobased economy in general is that these systems are not as energy intensive as many traditional processes. 

Green is becoming more and more important …  

The movement towards treating our planet and environment more gently and managing it as a sustainable resource rather than as an inexhaustible dumping ground will only grow. This is particularly true for the younger generation who are rightly horrified at some of our current practices especially issues such as the growing mountain of plastic waste in our oceans and the decline of biodiversity. As well as making sense for the planet, Green technologies make sense for human health and, when fully adopted, will be cheaper than current practices. These obvious benefits will drive Green technology adoption.

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