Richard Sayre on Biotech’s New Agricultural Revolution

The green revolution of the 20th century is credited for saving over a billion lives and there’s a need for even more innovation to solve nutrition, food equity, food security, and environmental sustainability problems. Biotech pioneers like Dr. Richard T. Sayre are approaching these challenges with technology that builds on new insights into how biologic systems small and large work at the deepest levels.

What are you doing in your work?

I serve as a consultant for a number of early stage ag-biotech companies. In addition, I present invited seminars to major global corporations in the area of technology development in renewable energy and carbon sequestration and bioproducts development.

What prepared you for what you're doing?

My professional career path started as a university professor followed by leading a number of global research and development consortia including programs in crop biofortification (BioCassava Plus Program funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation) to address malnutrition to US DOE sponsored consortia including an Energy Frontier Research Center and multiple programs focusing on the development of integrated algal biofuel systems.

What's an indicator that a food system (or space habitat) is working for the people in it?

A major indicator as to whether a food system is working for its target audience is whether it meets their expectations in an affordable and low input means.

What is the most interesting work going on right now in your area?

The most interesting developments in agricultural biotech are those focusing on robust and stable improvements in crop yields in the context of a circular economy that recycles material and minimizes energy inputs as much as possible. One example of a company operating in this space that has impressed me is Bioiberica. All of their products are of biological origin and the material waste streams generated in their product manufacturing are recycled.

What innovation outside your direct area is most interesting to you?

Personalized medicine which matches the patient genome with the most targeted and effective therapeutics.

What problem related to Space for Food most needs to be addressed?

I believe there are two issues of primary concern for Space for Food systems that require novel innovation. They are high efficiency energy conversion systems for producing food, e.g. enhanced photosynthetic efficiency, and inorganic nutrient recycling systems to conserve valuable materials balance.

Who is doing the most interesting work in your area (other than you, of course!)?

This is a moving target. I literally wake up each day excited by new developments in biotechnology that open opportunities for new technology platforms that have the potential to enhance our lives in a more sustainable manner.

What's your favorite food, space, or ag memory?

I have had the fortunate opportunity to travel in developing countries in Africa, South America and Asia and see the positive impact of integrated agricultural development on the livelihoods of subsistence farmers. I could not have appreciated the potential of enhanced food security on the people living in these poorer regions of the world without seeing it for myself.

What inspires or recharges you?

I most enjoy time in the natural world with my family.

Biotech is a big source of food and ag innovation today - driving access, sustainability, nutrition and more. Don’t forget to register now to learn from Richard and his perspective at the May 4 event Space for Food - From Vision to Reality. You can follow Richard on LinkedIn here.