By 2050, the world's population will be an estimated 9.7bn people, up from today’s 7.7bn. To feed this growing population whilst also protecting the climate and biodiversity, our food system needs to change dramatically. In May, we look at what sort of future food system we want and how to get there. We speak to sustainability expert Prof. Peter Jackson about how lockdowns have exposed our reliance on fragile supply chains, and what needs to happen to shape a more sustainable food system. We look at the smart farming solutions that are being explored to support food producers, and urban experiments from tackling food waste to strengthening organic, local production to see how these efforts can be scaled up to make a big difference. And we investigate insects – a protein-rich food and feed source – and the efforts behind mainstreaming what is still a niche science.
How do you feed a city? It is one of the great questions of our time. After all, for a species that ultimately depends on plants to feed ourselves, we do tend to cram ourselves into places that are rather unfriendly towards them. Our cities are built around cars, offices and perhaps the odd park – not fields of crops.
Insects in products such as pasta or bread, microalgae, and single-cell proteins derived from wood could feed and nourish humans and animals in the future. Now, those exploring alternative proteins for more sustainable eating are working out how to make the switch to bug-based food a reality.
Europe urgently needs to make its food system more sustainable – or else face growing food insecurity and health impacts – and the coronavirus pandemic offers us an opportunity to push for change, according to Professor Peter Jackson.
With the world in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, in April Horizon takes a step back to look at some of the challenges around sudden outbreaks of emerging diseases. We speak to virologist Prof. Marion Koopmans about the likelihood of future outbreaks of new diseases, what causes them and how to spot them before they appear. We speak to scientists who are helping to develop tests for Covid-19 to understand the challenges in coming up with an accurate and detailed diagnostic test for an entirely new disease. We talk to people working on coronavirus treatments about how to shorten the normally lengthy process of drug development. And we look into why diseases suddenly jump from animals, such as bats, into humans and the particular challenges of spotting and responding to these types of outbreaks.
Private companies are increasingly active in the space sector – from high-profile businesses such as SpaceX or Virgin Galactic to the nearly 3,000 small businesses that provide elements for the European Space Agency’s space programme. In March, Horizon explores the impact of this on research and innovation. We speak to a space law researcher about how to avoid the problems emerging from an increasingly crowded orbit, such as collisions. We look at how to minimise the environmental impact of satellites and delve into efforts to build a reusable European launcher for small payloads. We also look at the challenge of assembling, maintaining and repairing objects in space and the developments in space robotics that could help.
The iridescence of marble berries and the clever, light-bending perforations of microalgae are some lessons from nature that scientists are drawing upon to create biodegradable glitter and makeup pigments, and bionic algae to use in lasers or to clean pollutants.
Efforts to design a safe vaccine for Covid-19 are moving forward at full throttle, yet experts agree that it’s likely to be a year, at least, before an immunisation is ready. Meanwhile, scientists around Europe are exploring ingenious ways – including with the help of alpacas – to use the latest techniques in molecular manipulation to repair coronavirus-induced lung damage or to block the virus before it wreaks havoc.
Scientists are drawing on nature’s clever ways to build structures and produce iridescence.
Infection-halting therapies being explored include neutralising antibodies.
Metagenomics can help us spot emerging diseases such as coronavirus, says virologist Marion Koopmans.