February 2015 - Revolution Bioengineering
25 Feb

I was a judge at Thought for Food

This is like no other conference you've ever been to.

The Thought For Food (TFF)Challenge is focused on a critical global and humanitarian issue—feeding our growing planet. Our worldwide population of 7 billion is projected to grow to 9.6 billion people by 2050. We will have to produce more food in the next 50 years than all the history of humanity combined—not just because there are more total mouths to feed, but because people moving into the middle class are clamoring for more protein and better diets. Current forecasts of productivity increases show that we will miss our mark.

The future of humanity is literally at stake. This is superhero territory

The TFF summit brought together some of the brightest young minds committed to solving the global problem of feeding 9.6 billion people by 2050. They asked me and five other people involved in business, science, economics, and technology to judge the finalists and pick winners from amongst the best of the best.

The best of the best like to dance.

The best of the best like to dance.

We heard 10 inspiring and impeccably polished pitches by the participating teams about how their innovation will help feed the world by 2050. Each group was energetic, sharp, and clearly communicated what their innovation was, how it fit into larger infrastructure, and how it would make a real difference in the lives of people all over the world.

We judges were a diverse group with different backgrounds and expertise, but I thought Sara Farley of GKI and Gavin Armstrong of Lucky Iron Fish were the clear MVPs of the judging panel. Sara knows developing countries, knows how they work, knows problems and opportunities, and asked really insightful questions of each team. Gavin, with a strong business background and experience growing a company in challenging marketplaces asked questions that got to the foundation of the teams’ business.

Up on stage with judge Sara Farley at the Thought for Food summit, sharing my thoughts on the teams - such incredible energy!  Photo credit: Miguel Quesada, Thought for Food

Up on stage with judge Sara Farley at the Thought for Food summit, sharing my thoughts on the teams – such incredible energy! Photo credit: Miguel Quesada, Thought for Food

The insights that Sarah and Gavin brought was instrumental for the panel in picking the best team for the win– not that it was easy. We ended up delaying the whole conference because it was so challenging for us to pick the first and second place amongst the 10 teams.

In the end, we picked two second places, and wished we could have picked more. The runners-up were FoPo , a company that takes food before the point of spoilage and freeze dries it, thereby conserving it’s nutritional value and essentially giving it a limitless shelflife, and Aahaar- a middleman-eliminating solution for farmers and markets to deliver refrigerated food faster to where it’s needed.

Here they are, the Grand Prize winner, Innovision, and runners up, Aahaar and FoPo. Click through to see all the teams!

Here they are, the Grand Prize winner, Innovision, and runners up, Aahaar and FoPo. Click through to see all the teams!

The grand prize went to Innovision, an elegant and affordable food storage technology that keeps food fresh longer. Their innovation tackled food waste between the farm and the consumer making agriculture more efficient in an area of the world that is needs it most. This team of bright students from the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh absolutely has what it takes to deliver this idea first to Bangladesh, and then the rest of the world.

I talked with several of the teams afterwards, and they all had a great outlook on their path forward – these people are going to solve problems, and they won’t let one missed win get in their way. The TFF Global Summit brought together existing players in the agriculture with the brilliant young people that will change the way we feed the world.

Keep your eyes on TFF and the teams involved past and present. That’s where the superheroes are going to come from.

Why was a group making color-changing flowers invited to talk at a food secuirty conference? Click to find out!

24 Feb

Agricultural Biotechnology: RevBio at Thought for Food

Revolution Bio has been trying to start an inclusive conversation about biotechnology – something the agriculture world hasn’t been particularly good at. So when we were invited to talk about synthetic biology at Thought for Food (TFF), we had to take some time to think about how we fit into the big picture.

The TFF Challenge and Global Summit is the SxSW of food security, with morning dance parties, inspirational speakers, and the positive message that you can make a difference. It’s a lot of fun, but the underlying focus is the fact that we will need more food – a lot more – in the next 50 years. The global food system is plagued with inefficient agricultural practices, problems with food storage and distribution resulting in one big issue —waste. We waste potential and we waste food in vast quantities.

US farmers can grow five times as much corn on the same amount of land as African farmers.

US farmers can grow five times as much corn on the same amount of land as African farmers.

In the USA, the King of Corn, we yield about 160 bushels per acre. Africa yields about 30. Lack of training, tools, and techniques results in small-holders in developing nations leaving potential agricultural yields on the table.We don’t need expensive technology to help these farmers– simple low-tech and low-cost approaches like agricultural education will drive enormous gains in farming efficiency.


The Gates Foundation advocates for all of these things – better seeds, better tools, better education – in a recent call to action.

And then there is the waste of food–when food is grown and it is simply thrown away. Between storage, shipping, and packaging, the developing world wastes 1/3 of their food between the farmer and the consumer. In developed worlds, logistics is very efficient, but consumers are not. In developed countries – me, you, most people reading this – wastes 1/3 of the food they bring home.
So how did Revolution fit into this picture? How can biotechnology make a difference here?

Synthetic biology is a technology of promise and potential, but for most people it’s an unknown. And in the context of our food, that unknown comes with a lot of questions about health, safety and necessity. So in our talk at TFF, we started there. We didn’t talk about the world-saving benefits of agricultural biotechnology. Instead, we started a discussion to clear the air, remove the bogeymen and start speaking honestly about what biotechnology can and cannot do.

This model, developed by Harvest Choice lets you look at potential yeild increases with various technologies. Insect protection throughout the developing world yeilds an 11% increase.  Compare that to "no-till"(using a method of weed control other than tilling) - that increases yeild by 67%.  Try it yourself  by clicking here.

This model, developed by Harvest Choice lets you look at potential yeild increases with various technologies. Insect protection throughout the developing world yields an 11% increase. “No-till”(using a method of weed control other than tilling) – that increases yeild by 67%. Try it yourself.


Biotechnology cannot save the world by itself. It functions within a system that needs better logistics, new protein sources, and integrated social approaches to nutrition. In some contexts agricultural biotechnology can be a powerful tool, in others, conventional breeding, or a different solution all together might be the answer. It’s up to us to figure out how to thoughtfully integrate this technology with the many others that will build a food secure future. That conversation needs to involve everyone.

We did our part to expand that discussion at TFF with some color changing magic. Who are you talking about biotechnology with?

Want to know more about TFF? Nikolai was on the team judging panel! Click to learn about the winning teams & the future of food.

23 Feb

Alliance for Beautiful Biotechnology

Welcome to the Alliance for Beautiful Biotechnology! We’ve made a commitment to beautiful biotechnology – biotechnology that inspires, uplifts, and delights. We’re starting with color changing flowers, and these great organizations have decided to join us. Interested in becoming part of the alliance? Send us an email or find us on twitter & facebook.

Fascination of Plants is all about celebrating the green things that grow around us. They want you to take a second look at plants - that's why they're sponsoring a contest to name our color changing flower!

Fascination of Plants is sponsoring a contest to name our color changing flower! They’re all about celebrating the green things that grow around us – our color changing flowers will help people slow down and take a second look.

IDT is inspired by Picasso's quote, "Everything you can imagine is real", and they've been kind enough to support our vision with synthesis credits & media coverage!

IDT is inspired by Picasso’s quote, “Everything you can imagine is real”, and they’ve been kind enough to support our vision with synthesis credits & media coverage!

Ball Horticultural is providing germplasm deep coloration an great growth habit.

Ball Horticultural is providing germplasm with deep coloration and great growth habit. Translation: We start with great garden plants.


Mebiol makes next generation cultivation materials - hydrogels that can support plants with 80% less water.  They're donating this cool material to the art installation.

Mebiol makes next generation cultivation materials – hydrogels that can support plants with 80% less water. They’re donating this cool material to the art installation.