DFSS is coming up March 29th and we’re bringing some of the participants to you now with a pre-summit interview. In this edition we talk to Kelvin Ng, Head, Strategic Innovation, Bioprocessing Technology Institute. If you want to see a listing of speakers and sessions, please click here. To register as a delegate, click here.
- For those readers not familiar with Singapore, please explain what A*STAR is.
The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore’s lead public sector agency that shapes the future of Singapore by spearheading economic-oriented research and grooming research talent. Through collaborations with both public and private sectors, we leverage the spirit of open innovation to effect positive impact on our society. Essentially, we translate scientific discoveries and innovative technologies to economic growth, job creation, and societal benefits.
- How has A*STAR been involved in food innovation?
A*STAR’s food research budded in 2009 and has since blossomed into several cutting-edge research programmes. In the beginning, we partnered major brand owners such as Nestlé, Danone and Coca-Cola. As their R&D presence expanded in Singapore, a second wave of companies: the ingredient innovators, including Ingredion and Roquette, expanded their R&D presence in Singapore too. With a maturing ecosystem, we are now witnessing the emergence of small innovative companies, venture capital firms, and contract research organisations. Biopolis and Fusionopolis—the home of A*STAR—has been a key node for many of these companies’ research and innovation activities in Singapore. Co-location of research talent cultivates a fertile field for the cross-pollination of ideas.
- What is the next challenge for A*STAR?
Food security. Today, more than 90% of Singapore’s food supply is imported. The Singapore Food Agency (formerly Agri-Food & Veterinary Authority) has recently set a “30-by-30” goal to produce 30% of Singapore’s nutritional needs locally by 2030. Such a scale of societal impact demands technological innovation. Singapore has faced a very similar problem with our water supply, and we are now recognised as a regional hub for water innovation. We have told the Singapore Water Story; we are now building the Singapore Food Story.
- Tell us more about the Singapore Food Story.
Singapore has committed significant investments to address our food security. There are three major themes for R&D. One concerns urban food production such as vertical or indoor farming. Another concerns food safety, supply chains, and consumer perceptions. The third theme concerns future foods, specifically alternative proteins. We are mainly looking at plant proteins, microbial proteins, and cultured meat as additional sources of dietary proteins.
- How can Singapore establish itself as a leader regionally and globally in alternative proteins?
One of the differentiating elements for Singapore is our innovation ecosystem. Beyond research, we actively engage regulators, industry, and workforce developers to strengthen our ability and agility in supporting end-to-end growth across the value chain. Skills and know-how necessary for the alternative proteins industry can initially be borrowed from the biopharmaceutical, food processing, and advanced manufacturing industries, which are already mature in Singapore. Being a compact society with food security as a national need, Singapore is motivated to respond nimbly.
- What is your role in the Singapore Food Story?
Trained as a scientist, I provide technical inputs to shape research directions and assemble research teams. I also scientifically support the Singapore Food Agency in crafting a regulatory framework for cultured meat. Having some industry experience, I help to identify gaps in the value chain and develop strategies to fill those gaps. I work with an incredibly multi-talented team who work tirelessly across agencies, sectors, and countries. We keep each other motivated and excited about the future.
- What advice do you have for bright young science students who are inspired to create foods that contribute to human health, environmental protection and kindness to our fellow animals?
Don’t lose your passion, don’t lose your direction. Be good to yourself, others, and find good people to work with.