Denmark’s largest foundation, The Novo Nordisk Foundation, has awarded a grant of EUR 100 million to DTU Biosustain, paving the way for the development of new sustainable consumer products and strengthening Danish biotechnology research.
Over the next five years, The Novo Nordisk Foundation will allocate a total of EUR 100 million to the DTU Biosustain research centre, for which the foundation also provided the economic framework when the centre was established in 2011. The additional funding will ensure that the centre can continue its research activities and become a world leader when it comes to gaining knowledge and developing technologies for sustainable production of biochemicals and green consumer products by mastering the design of cell factories.
During the new funding period, DTU Biosustain will focus on three main areas: sustainable chemicals, bio-based products and microbial foods and feed ingredients.
Research within these areas will be an incentive to promote more sustainable lifestyles and use biology as a tool to develop bio-based products such as medicine, foodstuff ingredients and speciality chemicals – products which today are produced mainly through oil-based processes or by extracting valuable materials from rare plants, harming both the climate and the world’s biodiversity. This vision goes hand in hand with DTU’s decision to work strategically with the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
“We are very grateful to receive a grant of this size. It ensures that we have excellent conditions for continuing our research activities and exploration of how biotechnology, synthetic biology, and data analysis can contribute a wide range of consumer goods being produced in a greener and cheaper way than today,” says Bernhard Palsson, CEO at DTU Biosustain.
The Novo Nordisk Foundation hopes that the funding will further strengthen Denmark’s position in the field of biotechnology.
“DTU Biosustain has established a world-class environment for research into the design and development of cell factories and new bio-industrial production methods. The goal is that, in the coming years, the centre will push the boundaries for our knowledge in the field of biotechnology. Biotechnology will be a key element in the green transition, and thus, the centre is a good example of how Denmark can make a significant contribution to the global effort to promote sustainable products and processes,” says Lars Rebien Sørensen, Chairman of The Novo Nordisk Foundation.
In addition to this, he emphasizes that the centre’s work will pave the way for other opportunities in Denmark:
“The research conducted at the centre will give Danish industry easier access to ground-breaking science in the fields of industrial biotechnology and bio-industrial production, which are traditional areas of strengths for Denmark. This could lead to an increase in the number of export ventures and workplaces in Denmark.
Biology enters the age of digitization
The new funding sparks excitement at DTU Biosustain, where it is seen as an acknowledgement of the centre’s work so far. At the same time, the support provides an important framework for continuing existing research activities while venturing into new scientific areas.
Especially the latest technological developments within genome-scale analysis and advanced robot technologies have been a game-changer when it comes to generating and analysing large datasets that are crucial in understanding and managing complex biological systems. Thus, it will be important for the centre to establish an infrastructure – a so-called Biofoundry – so as to be able to use big data in the design of the next generation of cell factories.
This proves that big data has not only become the talk of the town in large technological companies, but that it has also caught the attention of scientists as a tool to develop smarter and greener products.
While it is still a relatively new research area, DTU Biosustain has already been on quite a journey since its establishment in 2011, and today the centre employs more than 300 employees, coming from all over the world. However, the international competition to recruit the greatest talents is fierce, but with the latest grant from the Novo Nordisk Foundation, the centre is able to offer a world-class research environment for science, innovation, and entrepreneurship.
The centre does not expect to drive the development on its own, and future success will depend on an expansion of international collaboration with other research centres. Furthermore, there is a clear wish to establish new collaboration agreements with industrial partners to ensure that scientific work can be translated into new products for the benefit of society.
“We have already established 27 spinout companies, and we will continue to create new companies, strengthening Danish society and creating new and greener workplaces, “says Bernhard Palsson.
The new funding period runs from 1 January 2021 to 31 December 2025.