Category Archives: agriculture

A nanozyme that is organic, non-toxic, environmentally friendly, cost effective, and can detect the presence of glyphosate

An October 16, 2023 University of Illinois news release (also on EurekAlert), describes research into developing a tool to detect the presence of the agricultural herbicide, glyphosate, Note: Links have been removed,

Nanozymes are synthetic materials that mimic the properties of natural enzymes for applications in biomedicine and chemical engineering. They are generally considered too toxic and expensive for use in agriculture and food science. Now, researchers from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have developed a nanozyme that is organic, non-toxic, environmentally friendly, and cost effective. In a newly published paper, they describe its features and its capacity to detect the presence of glyphosate, a common agricultural herbicide. Their goal is to eventually create a user-friendly test kit for consumers and agricultural producers.

“The word nanozyme is derived from nanomaterial and enzyme. Nanozymes were first developed about 15 years ago, when researchers found that iron oxide nanoparticles may perform catalytic activity similar to natural enzymes (peroxidase),” explained Dong Hoon Lee, a doctoral student in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE), part of the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (ACES) and The Grainger College of Engineering at U. of I.

These nanozymes mimic the activity of peroxidase, an enzyme that catalyzes the oxidation of a substrate by using hydrogen peroxide as an oxidizing agent. They provide higher stability and lower cost than natural peroxidase, and they are widely used in biomedical research, including biosensors for detection of target molecules in disease diagnostics.

“Traditional nanozymes are created from inorganic, metal-based materials, making them too toxic and expensive to be directly applied on food and agriculture,” Lee said.

“Our research group is pioneering the development of fully organic compound-based nanozymes (OC nanozymes) which exhibit peroxidase-like activities. The OC nanozyme follows the catalytic activity of the natural enzyme but is predominantly based on agriculture-friendly organic compounds, such as urea acting as a chelating-like agent and polyvinyl alcohol as a particle stabilizer.”

The researchers also implemented a colorimetric sensing system integrated with the OC nanozyme for target molecule detection. Colorimetric assays, an optical sensing method, use color intensity to provide an estimated concentration of the presence of specific molecules in a substance, such that darker or lighter color indicates lower or higher quantity of target molecules. The organic-compound nanozyme performed on par with nanozymes typically used in biosensing applications within their kinetic profile with molecule detection performance.

“Traditional nanozymes come with a host of issues: toxicity, lengthy degradation, and a complex production process. In contrast, our nanozyme is quicker to produce, cost-effective, non-toxic, and environmentally friendly,” said Mohammed Kamruzzaman, assistant professor in ABE and co-author on the study.

Lee and Kamruzzaman applied the OC nanozyme-based, colorimetric sensing platform to detect the presence of glyphosate, a widely used herbicide in the agricultural industry. They performed colorimetric assays in solutions containing varying concentrations of glyphosate, finding the organic nanozyme was able to successfully detect glyphosate with adequate accuracy.

“There is an increasing demand for testing pesticide or herbicide presence in agricultural products to protect human and crop health. We want to develop an OC nanozyme-based, point-of-use testing platform for farmers or consumers that they can apply in the field or at home,” Kamruzzaman stated. “People would obtain a test kit with a substance to mix with their sample, then take a picture and use an app on their phone to identify the color intensity and interpret if there is any glyphosate present. The ultimate goal is to make the test portable and applicable anywhere.”

The researchers are also working on developing additional nanozymes, envisioning these environmental-friendly materials hold great potential for a wide range of applications.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Organic compound-based nanozymes for agricultural herbicide detection by Dong Hoon Lee and Mohammed Kamruzzaman. Nanoscale, 2023,15, 12954-12960 First published July 28, 2023

This paper is open access once you have created your free account.

Gene editing to identify and change parts of chicken DNA and limit the spread of bird flu virus

This news comes from the University of Edinburgh (Scotland). From an October 10, 2023 news item on phys.org, Note: A link has been removed,

Scientists have used gene editing techniques to identify and change parts of chicken DNA that could limit the spread of the bird flu virus in the animals.

Researchers were able to restrict—but not completely block—the virus from infecting chickens by altering a small section of their DNA.

The birds showed no signs that the change in their DNA had any impact on their health or well-being.

The findings are an encouraging step forward, but experts highlight that further gene edits would be needed to produce a chicken population which cannot be infected by bird flu—one of the world’s most costly animal diseases.

An October 10, 2023 University of Edinburgh press release, which originated the news item, provides more detail about this research,

Gene editing

Scientists from University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the Pirbright Institute bred the chickens using gene editing techniques to alter the section of DNA responsible for producing the protein ANP32A. During an infection, flu viruses hijack this molecule to help replicate themselves.

When the ANP32A gene-edited chickens were exposed to a normal dose of the H9N2-UDL strain of avian influenza virus – commonly known as bird flu – 9 out of 10 birds remained uninfected and there was no spread to other chickens.

Partial protection

The research team then exposed the gene-edited birds to an artificially high dose of avian influenza virus to further test their resilience.

When exposed to the high dose, half of the group – 5 out of 10 birds – became infected. However, the gene edit did provide some protection, with the amount of virus in the infected gene-edited chickens much lower than the level typically seen during infection in non-gene-edited chickens.

The gene edit also helped to limit onward spread of the virus to just one of four non-gene-edited chickens placed in the same incubator. There was no transmission to gene-edited birds.

Viral evolution

Scientists found that in the ANP32A gene-edited birds, the virus had adapted to enlist the support of two related proteins – ANP32B and ANP32E – to replicate.

Following lab tests, scientists found that some of the mutations enabled the virus to utilise the human version of ANP32, but its replication remained low in cell cultures from the human airway.

Experts say that additional genetic changes would be needed for the virus to infect and spread effectively in humans.

However, the findings demonstrate that the single ANP32A gene edit is not robust enough for application in the production of chickens, according to the team.

Gene editing

Scientists from University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the Pirbright Institute bred the chickens using gene editing techniques to alter the section of DNA responsible for producing the protein ANP32A. During an infection, flu viruses hijack this molecule to help replicate themselves.

When the ANP32A gene-edited chickens were exposed to a normal dose of the H9N2-UDL strain of avian influenza virus – commonly known as bird flu – 9 out of 10 birds remained uninfected and there was no spread to other chickens.

Partial protection

The research team then exposed the gene-edited birds to an artificially high dose of avian influenza virus to further test their resilience.

When exposed to the high dose, half of the group – 5 out of 10 birds – became infected. However, the gene edit did provide some protection, with the amount of virus in the infected gene-edited chickens much lower than the level typically seen during infection in non-gene-edited chickens.

The gene edit also helped to limit onward spread of the virus to just one of four non-gene-edited chickens placed in the same incubator. There was no transmission to gene-edited birds.

Viral evolution

Scientists found that in the ANP32A gene-edited birds, the virus had adapted to enlist the support of two related proteins – ANP32B and ANP32E – to replicate.

Following lab tests, scientists found that some of the mutations enabled the virus to utilise the human version of ANP32, but its replication remained low in cell cultures from the human airway.

Experts say that additional genetic changes would be needed for the virus to infect and spread effectively in humans.

However, the findings demonstrate that the single ANP32A gene edit is not robust enough for application in the production of chickens, according to the team.

Further edits

To prevent the emergence of escape viruses – viruses that adapt to evade the gene edit and cause infection – the research team next targeted additional sections of DNA responsible for producing all three proteins – ANP32A, ANP32B and ANP32E – inside lab-grown chicken cells.

In cell cultures in the lab, growth of the virus was successfully blocked in cells with the three gene edits.

The next step will be to try to develop chickens with edits to all three genes. No birds have been produced yet.

The study highlights the importance of responsible gene editing and the need to be alert to the risks of driving viral evolution in unwanted directions if complete resistance is not achieved, experts say.

Bird flu is a major global threat, with a devastating impact in both farmed and wild bird populations. In the UK alone, the current outbreak of H5N1 bird flu has decimated seabird populations and cost the poultry industry more than £100 million in losses.

In rare instances, mutations in the bird flu virus allow it to infect people and cause serious illness. Efforts to control the spread of the disease are urgently needed.

“Bird flu is a great threat to bird populations. Vaccination against the virus poses a number of challenges, with significant practical and cost issues associated with vaccine deployment. Gene-editing offers a promising route towards permanent disease resistance, which could be passed down through generations, protecting poultry and reducing the risks to humans and wild birds. Our work shows that stopping the spread of avian influenza in chickens will need several simultaneous genetic changes.” Professor Mike McGrew, The study’s principal investigator, from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute

“This work is an exciting collaboration that fuses our expertise in virology with the world-leading genetic capability at the Roslin Institute. Although we haven’t yet got the perfect combination of gene edits to take this approach into the field, the results have told us a lot about how influenza virus functions inside the infected cell and how to slow its replication.” Professor Wendy Barclay, Imperial College London

The research was funded by UKRI-BBSRC, which also provides strategic funding to The Roslin Institute, and was supported by Edinburgh Innovations, the University’s commercialisation service.

Ryan O’Hare’s October 10, 2023 Imperial College London (ICL) press release offers a slightly different perspective on the same work, Note: A link has been removed,

Scientists have successfully used gene editing techniques to limit the spread of bird flu in chickens.

In a UK first, researchers have been able to restrict, but not completely block, the avian influenza virus from infecting the birds by precisely altering a small section of their DNA.

The modified birds showed no signs that the change had any impact on the animals’ health or well-being.

But the researchers say that while the findings are encouraging, further gene edits would be needed to produce chickens which cannot be infected by bird flu.

The study, carried out by researchers from the University of Edinburgh, Imperial College London and the Pirbright Institute, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

Professor Wendy Barclay, Head of the Department of Infectious Disease at Imperial College London, said: “This work is an exciting collaboration that fuses our expertise in virology with the world world-leading genetic capability at the Roslin Institute.

“Although we haven’t yet got the perfect combination of gene edits to take this approach into the field, the results have told us a lot about how influenza virus functions inside the infected cell and how to slow its replication.”

Global Threat

Bird flu is a major global threat, with a devastating impact in both farmed and wild bird populations. In the UK alone, the current outbreak of H5N1 bird flu has decimated seabird populations and cost the poultry industry more than £100 million in losses.

In the latest study, researchers aimed to test whether precise edits to the chicken’s genome could potentially generate birds which are resistant to the virus.

The team bred chickens with small edits to a gene called ANP32A. During an infection, influenza viruses hijack the ANP32A protein to help replicate themselves.

But when the gene-edited birds were exposed to a normal dose of virus (the H9N2 strain of avian influenza), 9 out of 10 birds remained uninfected and there was no spread to other chickens.

When the birds were exposed to an artificially high dose of virus, only half of them became infected. The single gene edit also provided some protection against transmission, with a much lower amount of virus in infected gene-edited birds compared to non-edited birds.

In addition, the edit also helped to limit onward spread of the virus to just one of four non-edited chickens placed in the same incubator. There was no transmission to gene-edited birds.

Triple edits

Analysis revealed that in the edited birds, the virus adapted to enlist the support of two related proteins to replicate – ANP32B and ANP32E.

Following lab tests, the researchers found some of the mutations may enable the virus to utilise the human version of ANP32, but replication remained low in cell cultures from the human airway. The researchers stress that additional genetic changes would be needed for the virus to have the potential to infect and spread effectively in humans.

According to the team, the findings demonstrate that a single gene edit is not robust enough to produce resistant chickens. To prevent the emergence of viruses able to adapt to the single edit, the team next used a triple edit to target additional proteins (ANP32A, ANP32B and ANP32E) in lab-grown chicken cells.

In cell cultures in the lab, growth of the virus was successfully blocked in cells with edits to all three genes. In future, researchers hope to develop chickens with this triple edit, but no birds have been produced at this stage.

According to the researchers, the study highlights the importance of responsible gene editing and the need to be alert to the risks of driving viral evolution in unwanted directions if complete resistance is not achieved, experts say.

Professor Mike McGrew, from the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute and principal investigator of the study, said: “Bird flu is a great threat to bird populations. Vaccination against the virus poses a number of challenges, with significant practical and cost issues associated with vaccine deployment.

“Gene-editing offers a promising route towards permanent disease resistance, which could be passed down through generations, protecting poultry and reducing the risks to humans and wild birds. Our work shows that stopping the spread of avian influenza in chickens will need several simultaneous genetic changes.”

A non-gene-edited chicken (left) pictured next to an ANP32A gene-edited chicken (right). Image credit: Norrie Russell Courtesy: University of Edinburgh

There’s also an October 10, 2023 article by Jon Cohen for Science.org, which gives some idea of how much work it took to get to this point, Note: Links have been removed,

For 3 decades, Helen Sang has tinkered with the genomes of chickens to try to make the birds resistant to the flu viruses that periodically devastate flocks and raise fears of a human pandemic. Now, as an especially virulent strain of avian influenza sweeps through poultry and wild birds around the world, the geneticist at the University of Edinburgh’s Roslin Institute has her first solid success. Using the CRISPR gene editor and recent findings about what makes poultry vulnerable to flu, Sang and colleagues from three other institutions have created chickens that can resist real-life doses of avian flu viruses. “Sticking to it gets you somewhere in the end,” she says.

The result, published today [October 5, 2023] in Nature Communications, is “a long-awaited achievement,” says Jiří Hejnar, a virologist at the Czech Academy of Sciences’s Institute of Molecular Genetics whose group showed in 2020 that CRISPR-edited chickens could resist a cancer-causing virus. But farmers won’t be raising flu-proof chickens anytime soon. The edited birds still became infected when exposed to larger amounts of the flu virus. And the strategy raises a safety concern: chickens edited this way could, in theory, drive the evolution of flu variants better at infecting people. “What this showed is a proof of concept,” says Wendy Barclay, a virologist at Imperial College London who worked on the new study. “But we’re not there yet.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Creating resistance to avian influenza infection through genome editing of the ANP32 gene family by Alewo Idoko-Akoh, Daniel H. Goldhill, Carol M. Sheppard, Dagmara Bialy, Jessica L. Quantrill, Ksenia Sukhova, Jonathan C. Brown, Samuel Richardson, Ciara Campbell, Lorna Taylor, Adrian Sherman, Salik Nazki, Jason S. Long, Michael A. Skinner, Holly Shelton, Helen M. Sang, Wendy S. Barclay & Mike J. McGrew. Nature Communications volume 14, Article number: 6136 (2023) DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-023-41476-3 Published: 10 October 2023

This paper is open access.

The University of British Columbia and its November 28, 2023 Great UBC Bug Bake Off

Last week, I received (via email) this enticing November 27, 2023 University of British Columbia media advisory,

Welcome, baking enthusiasts and insect epicureans, to the Great UBC Bug
Bake Off!

On Nov. 28 [2023], media are invited as four teams of faculty of land and food
systems students engage in a six-legged culinary showdown. Students will
showcase insect-laden dishes that are delicious, nutritious and
environmentally friendly. Esteemed judges, including UBC executive chef
David Speight, will weigh in on the taste, texture and insect ingenuity
of the creations.

We spoke to course instructor and sessional lecturer Dr. Yasmin Akhtar
about the competition, and why she advocates for entomophagy – eating
insects and bugs.

WHY DO YOU HOST THIS INSECT DISH COMPETITION?

This competition is the culmination of my applied biology course
“Insects as Food and Feed” where we spent the semester learning
about the benefits and risks of eating and using insects. One of my
goals is to reduce the negative perceptions people may have of eating
bugs. This competition is a fun way to raise awareness among students
about the nutritional value of insects, their role in sustainable food
systems and the importance of considering alternative protein sources.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EATING INSECTS?

In addition to being really tasty, there are two main benefits of eating
insects.

Many insects are incredibly nutritious: They are high in protein,
calcium, good fatty acids and vitamins. For example, a species of
grasshoppers commonly eaten in Mexico, Sphenarium purpurascens,
contain 48 grams of protein per 100 grams, compared to 27 grams of
protein per 100 grams of beef. Insect protein is also easily absorbed by
humans and some insects contain all the essential amino acids that
humans need.

The other benefit is environmental. Rearing insects requires much less
space, fewer resources like water and much less feed. They produce much
lower greenhouse gas emissions than cattle or pigs, for example. It also
encourages the sustainable use of diverse insect species, rather than
relying on a small number of traditional livestock species to meet the
world’s needs.

It is also relatively cheap to rear insects, which means that
small-scale farmers can benefit.

WHAT ARE SOME EASY WAYS TO INCORPORATE BUGS INTO YOUR DIET?

Insect flours and insect powders are an easy way to incorporate bugs
into your diet – especially if you are wary of eating insects whole.
You can purchase insect flour online and simply replace wheat flour in
any recipe with the insect flour for tasty, high-protein baked products
like muffins or as filling in samosas.

Barbecuing insects is another great option: they absorb flavour really
well, and dry out to become very crunchy. Barbecued crickets are my
favourite! I also really like chocolate-covered ants, and adding insect
powder to green tea.

WHAT ARE SOME RISKS OF EATING INSECTS THAT PEOPLE SHOULD BE AWARE OF?

Insects live in a lot of different environments, including soil, and can
be infested with microorganisms like bacteria, fungi and other viruses.
Just like other animal proteins, insects should be treated before they
are consumed – using heat to boil or cook them, for example.

If capturing insects from the wild, you need to be aware that they may
be contaminated with pesticides that were used to spray fruits and
vegetables. A better option would be purchase them from insect farms,
where they are safely raised to be used as food.

Lastly, if you’re allergic to seafood, then you’ll likely also be
allergic to insects because they share similar protein allergens.

EVENT: GREAT UBC BUG BAKE OFF

Date/time: Tuesday, Nov. 28, 11:15 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Contest will begin promptly at 11:30 a.m. so please arrive early to set
up.

Location: Vij’s Kitchen, Room 130, 2205 East Mall

As you might have expected, the media attended. From a November 28, 2023 article by Stefan Labbé for vancouverisawesome.com

Inside a culinary lab at the University of British Columbia, nine students took turns offering a menu of insect-infused recipes to a panel of judges. 

Beef tacos wrapped in cricket flour-laced tortillas. Mealworm ginger sugar cookies “to add a little protein during the holidays.” And cheesecake with a layer of crushed cricket fudge. Judge and UBC executive chef David Speight snapped off a piece of ginger cookie in his mouth. 

“It doesn’t really taste like mealworm,” he said with a smile. “That’s good.”

The competition, billed as the Great UBC Bug Bake Off, pit the students against each other to see who could come up with the tastiest, and perhaps least offensive dish. But for students who had just spent months learning about insects as food and feed, the stakes of eating bugs was much larger. 

“We’re going hungry globally,” said UBC student Rozy Etaghene, after presenting her cheesecake.

By 2050, the global population is expected to hit nine million people [sic; the UN projection is for 9.8 billion]. To feed all those mouths, agricultural production will have to double, according to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization. But agriculture already takes up 30 per cent of the planet’s land, with up to 70 per cent of that reserved for livestock like cattle, pigs and chickens.

But substituting chicken wings for fried crickets is not always an easy sell. A decade ago, Vancouver chef Vikram Vij donated $250,000 to renovate UBC’s culinary lab. At the time, the co-owner of Vij’s restaurants, Meeru Dhalwala, was in the midst of experimentation, first putting insects on the menu in 2008.

It all started with roasted crickets, an insect that requires only two kilograms of feed for every one kilogram of body weight gain. Spiced with cayenne, cumin and coriander, Dhalwala said she would treat them like ground almonds. 

“I made a cricket paratha, like a flatbread,” she said. “It was a really big deal at the time.”

Back at the UBC culinary lab, the judges had come to a decision: Etaghene’s cheesecake had lost out to a pound cake and plate of cranberry short-bread cookies — both baked with cricket flour.

dhalwala-cricket-parantha
A cricket paratha served at Meeru Dhalwala’s restaurant in Seattle sold four times better than in Vancouver, says the restaurateur. Stefan Labbé/Glacier Media

Labbé’s November 28, 2023 article offers a lot of information on insects as food in Canada and in the world, as well as, more about the bake off.

Another November 28, 2023 article this time written by Cosmin Dzsurdzsa for True North (I have more about True North after the excerpt) highlights other aspects of the event, Note: Links have been removed,

Canadian journalists were so eager to attend the University of British Columbia’s Bug Bake Off on Tuesday [November 28, 2023] to get a taste of edible insect creations that the event was booked to capacity the night before.

Former CBC producer and UBC media relations specialist Sachintha Wickramasinghe told True North on Monday that the event was at capacity.

“There’s been significant interest since this morning and we are already at capacity for media,” said Wicramansinghe. 

There has been growing interest by governments and the private sector to warm consumers up to the idea of edible insects. The Liberal government has lavished edible insect cricket farming companies with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of subsidies [emphasis mine]. 

For anyone curious about True North, there’s this from the True North Centre for Public Policy Wikipedia entry, Note: Links have been removed,

The True North Centre for Public Policy is a Canadian media outlet that simultaneously describes itself as a “media company”, an “advocacy organization” and as a “registered charity with the government of Canada.”[1][2] It operates a digital media arm known simply as True North [emphasis mine].[3][4]

In 1994, the Independent Immigration Aid Association was started with the goal of helping immigrants from the United Kingdom settle in British Columbia.[2][5] According to Daniel Brown, a former director of the charity, a new board of directors took control of the charity in 2017 and renamed it the True North Centre for Public Policy.[2] Control was handed off to three people:[2]

  • Kaz Nejatian, a former staffer for United Conservative Party leader Jason Kenney, and current COO of Shopify.[6]
  • William McBeath, the director of Training and Marketing for the right-wing Manning Centre for Building Democracy.
  • Erynne Schuster, an Edmonton-based lawyer.

Nejatian’s wife, Candice Malcolm, describes herself as the “founder and Editor-In-Chief” of True North.[7][8]

The political leanings of the people in charge of True North in its various manifestations don’t seem to have influenced Dzsurdzsa’s November 28, 2023 article unduly. however, I’m a little surprised by the stated size of the industry subsidies made by the Liberal government. I found an $8.5 million dollar investment (isn’t that similar to a subsidy?) for one project alone in a June 29, 2022 article by Nicole Kerwin for Pet Food Processing, Note: A link has been removed,

Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada revealed June 27 [2022] an $8.5 million investment to Aspire, an insect agricultural company, to build a new production facility in Canada. The facility will process cricket-based protein, helping to advance the use of insect proteins in human and pet food products.

According to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, food-grade processing of insects is relatively new in Canada, however insect-based proteins create an opportunity for the country’s agri-food industry to develop more sustainable products.

“The strength of Canadian agriculture has always been its openness to new ideas and new approaches,” said Peter Fragiskatos, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of National Revenue and member of Parliament for London North Center. “Aspire [Food Group] is helping to re-shape how we think about agriculture and opening the door to new product and market opportunities.”

Founded in 2013, Aspire strives to tackle worldwide food scarcity with a focus on edible insect production, therefore developing highly nutritious foods and lowering its environmental impact. Currently, the company has production facilities in London, Ontario, and Austin, Texas. In 2020, Aspire purchased 12 acres of land in Ontario to construct what it expects to be the largest automated, food-grade cricket processing facility in the world.

“Aspire is re-imagining what it means to sustainably produce food, and how smart technology can turn that vision into a reality,” said Francious Drouin, parliamentary secretary to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada. “Aspire’s innovative facility will help further establish London’s reputation as a hub for cutting-edge technology, strongly contributing to Ontario and Canada’s position as an innovator in agriculture and agri-food.”

Apsire [sic] plans to use the investment, as well as smart technology, to build its first commercial insect production facility in Ontario. The facility will boost Aspire’s insect farming capabilities, providing it with the ability to grow and monitor billions of crickets, which will be used to create nutrient-rich protein ingredients for use in the human and pet food industries.

Getting back to the Bake Off, there’s a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) video (runtime: 3 mins. 34 secs.),

UBC Bug Bake Off serves up insect dishes

Students at the University of British Columbia have whipped up some protein-rich dishes made with a special ingredient: bugs. Our Science and Climate Specialist Darius Mahdavi tried the insect-laden dishes and brought some for our Dan Burritt as well.

Sadly, you will have to endure a couple of commercials before getting to the ‘main course’.

Nanocellulose and food waste, an Australian perspective

A trio of Australian academics (Alan Labas, Benjamin Matthew Long, and Dylan Liu, all from Federation University Australia) have written a September 26, 2023 essay about nanocellulose derived from food waste for The Conversation, Note: Links have been removed,

Food waste is a global problem with approximately 1.3 billion tonnes of food wasted each year throughout the food lifecycle – from the farm to food manufacturers and households.

Across the food supply chain, Australians waste around 7.6 million tonnes of food each year. This costs our economy approximately A$36.6 billion annually.

In a recent study published in Bioresource Technology Reports, we have found a way to use food waste for making a versatile material known as nanocellulose. In particular, we used acid whey – a significant dairy production waste material that it usually difficult to dispose of.

For those who may not be familiar with nanocellulose, a lot of research was done here in Canada with a focus on using forest and agricultural waste products to produce nanocellulose. (See the CelluForce and Blue Goose Biorefineries websites for more about nanocellulose production, which in both their cases results in a specific material known as cellulose nanocrystals [CNC].) There’s more about the different kinds of nanocellulose later in this post.

The September 26, 2023 essay offers a good description of nanocellulose,

Nanocellulose is a biopolymer, which means it’s a naturally produced long chain of sugars. It has remarkable properties – bacterial nanocellulose is strong, chemically stable and biocompatible, meaning it’s not harmful to human cells. This makes it a highly marketable product with applications in packaging, wound treatments, drug delivery or food production.

Then, there’s this about the production process, from the September 26, 2023 essay, Note: A link has been removed,

The traditional approach for making nanocellulose can be expensive, uses large amounts of energy and takes a long time. Some types of nanocellulose production [emphasis mine] also use a chemical process that produces unwanted waste byproducts.

By contrast, our new approach uses just food waste and a symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeasts (SCOBY) – something you may be familiar with as a kombucha starter. Our process is low cost, consumes little energy and produces no waste.

… Lovers of home-brewed kombucha may actually be familiar with the raw nanocellulose material – it forms as a floating off-white structure called a pellicle. Some people already use this kombucha by-product as vegan leather.) A similar pellicle formed on our acid whey mixture.

I’m not sure if the “types of nanocellulose production” the writers are referring to are different types of nanocellose materials or different types of nanocellulose extraction.

A little more about nanocellulose

The Nanocellulose Wikipedia entry highlights the different materials that can be derived from nanocellulose, Note: Links have been removed,

Nanocellulose is a term referring to nano-structured cellulose. This may be either cellulose nanocrystal (CNC or NCC [nanocellulose crystal]), cellulose nanofibers (CNF) also called nanofibrillated cellulose (NFC), or bacterial nanocellulose, which refers to nano-structured cellulose produced by bacteria.

CNF is a material composed of nanosized cellulose fibrils with a high aspect ratio (length to width ratio). Typical fibril widths are 5–20 nanometers with a wide range of lengths, typically several micrometers. It is pseudo-plastic and exhibits thixotropy, the property of certain gels or fluids that are thick (viscous) under normal conditions, but become less viscous when shaken or agitated. When the shearing forces are removed the gel regains much of its original state. The fibrils are isolated from any cellulose containing source including wood-based fibers (pulp fibers) through high-pressure, high temperature and high velocity impact homogenization, grinding or microfluidization (see manufacture below).[1][2][3]

Nanocellulose can also be obtained from native fibers by an acid hydrolysis, giving rise to highly crystalline and rigid nanoparticles which are shorter (100s to 1000 nanometers) than the cellulose nanofibrils (CNF) obtained through homogenization, microfluiodization or grinding routes. The resulting material is known as cellulose nanocrystal (CNC).[4]

Nanochitin is similar in its nanostructure to nanocellulose.

Interestingly, Canadian development efforts are not mentioned in the essay until the very end, where we are lost in a plethora of other mentions, Note 1: Links have been removed; Note 2: All emphases mine,

A lthough wood-driven nanocellulose was first produced in 1983 by Herrick[7] and Turbak,[6] its commercial production postponed till 2010, mainly due to the high production energy consumption and high production cost. Innventia AB (Sweden) established the first nanocellulose pilot production plant 2010.[109] Companies and research institutes actively producing micro and nano fibrillated cellulose include: American Process (US), Borregaard (Norway), CelluComp (UK), Chuetsu Pulp and Paper (Japan), CTP/FCBA (France), Daicel (Japan), Dai-ichi Kyogo (Japan), Empa (Switzerland), FiberLean Technologies (UK), InoFib (France), Nano Novin Polymer Co. (Iran), Nippon Paper (Japan), Norske Skog (Norway), Oji Paper (Japan), RISE (Sweden), SAPPI (Netherlands), Seiko PMC (Japan), Stora Enso (Finland), Sugino Machine (Japan), Suzano (Brazil), Tianjin Haojia Cellulose Co. Ltd (China), University of Maine (US), UPM (Finland), US Forest Products Lab (US), VTT (Finland), and Weidmann Fiber Technology (Switzerland).[110] Companies and research institutes actively producing cellulose nanocrystals include: Alberta Innovates (Canada), American Process (US), Blue Goose Biorefineries (Canada), CelluForce (Canada), FPInnovations (Canada), Hangzhou Yeuha Technology Co. (China), Melodea (Israel/Sweden), Sweetwater Energy (US), Tianjin Haojia Cellulose Co. Ltd (China), and US Forest Products Lab (US).[110] Companies and research institutes actively producing cellulose filaments include: Kruger (Canada), Performance BioFilaments (Canada), and Tianjin Haojia Cellulose Co. Ltd (China).[110] Cellucomp (Scotland) produces Curran, a root-vegetable based nanocellulose.[111]

This leaves me with a couple of questions: Is my understanding of the nanocellulose story insular or Is the Wikipedia entry a little US-centric? It’s entirely possible the answer to both questions could be yes.

Why so much interest in nanocellulose? Money

From the September 26, 2023 essay, Note: A link has been removed,

Demand for nanocellulose is growing worldwide. The global market was valued at US$0.4 billion in 2022 (A$0.6bn) and is expected to grow to US$2 billion by 2030 (A$3.1bn). Bacterial nanocellulose produced from food waste can help to satisfy this demand.

This growth is in part due to how we can use nanocellulose instead of petroleum-based and other non-renewable materials in things like packaging. Among its desirable properties, nanocellulose is also fully biodegradable.

If you have time, do read the September 26, 2023 essay in its entirety.

H/t to September 27, 2023 news item on phys.org

Agricultural pest control with nanoparticles derived from plant viruses

As with many of these ‘nanoparticle solutions’ to a problem, it seems the nanoparticles are the delivery system. A September 21, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily announces the research,

A new form of agricultural pest control could one day take root — one that treats crop infestations deep under the ground in a targeted manner with less pesticide.

Engineers at the University of California San Diego have developed nanoparticles, fashioned from plant viruses, that can deliver pesticide molecules to soil depths that were previously unreachable. This advance could potentially help farmers effectively combat parasitic nematodes that plague the root zones of crops, all while minimizing costs, pesticide use and environmental toxicity.

A September 21, 2023 University of California at San Diego news release (also on EurekAlert) by Liezel Labios, which originated the news item, provides more information about the problems along with a nod to nanomedicine as the inspiration for the proposed solution, Note: Links have been removed,

Controlling infestations caused by root-damaging nematodes has long been a challenge in agriculture. One reason is that the types of pesticides used against nematodes tend to cling to the top layers of soil, making it tough to reach the root level where nematodes wreak havoc. As a result, farmers often resort to applying excessive amounts of pesticide, as well as water to wash pesticides down to the root zone. This can lead to contamination of soil and groundwater.

To find a more sustainable and effective solution, a team led by Nicole Steinmetz, a professor of nanoengineering at the UC San Diego Jacobs School of Engineering and founding director of the Center for Nano-ImmunoEngineering, developed plant virus nanoparticles that can transport pesticide molecules deep into the soil, precisely where they are needed. The work is detailed in a paper published in Nano Letters.

Steinmetz’s team drew inspiration from nanomedicine [emphasis mine], where nanoparticles are being created for targeted drug delivery, and adapted this concept to agriculture. This idea of repurposing and redesigning biological materials for different applications is also a focus area of the UC San Diego Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (MRSEC), of which Steinmetz is a co-lead. 

“We’re developing a precision farming approach where we’re creating nanoparticles for targeted pesticide delivery,” said Steinmetz, who is the study’s senior author. “This technology holds the promise of enhancing treatment effectiveness in the field without the need to increase pesticide dosage.”

The star of this approach is the tobacco mild green mosaic virus, a plant virus that has the ability to move through soil with ease. Researchers modified these virus nanoparticles, rendering them noninfectious to crops by removing their RNA. They then mixed these nanoparticles with pesticide solutions in water and heated them, creating spherical virus-like nanoparticles packed with pesticides through a simple one-pot synthesis.

This one-pot synthesis offers several advantages. First, it is cost-effective, with just a few steps and a straightforward purification process. The result is a more scalable method, paving the way toward a more affordable product for farmers, noted Steinmetz. Second, by simply packaging the pesticide inside the nanoparticles, rather than chemically binding it to the surface, this method preserves the original chemical structure of the pesticide.

“If we had used a traditional synthetic method where we link the pesticide molecules to the nanoparticles, we would have essentially created a new compound, which will need to go through a whole new registration and regulatory approval process,” said study first author Adam Caparco, a postdoctoral researcher in Steinmetz’s lab. “But since we’re just encapsulating the pesticide within the nanoparticles, we’re not changing the active ingredient, so we won’t need to get new approval for it. That could help expedite the translation of this technology to the market.”

Moreover, the tobacco mild green mosaic virus is already approved by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as an herbicide to control an invasive plant called the tropical soda apple. This existing approval could further streamline the path from lab to market.

The researchers conducted experiments in the lab to demonstrate the efficacy of their pesticide-packed nanoparticles. The nanoparticles were watered through columns of soil and successfully transported the pesticides to depths of at least 10 centimeters. The solutions were collected from the bottom of the soil columns and were found to contain the pesticide-packed nanoparticles. When the researchers treated nematodes with these solutions, they eliminated at least half of the population in a petri dish.

While the researchers have not yet tested the nanoparticles on nematodes lurking beneath the soil, they note that this study marks a significant step forward.

“Our technology enables pesticides meant to combat nematodes to be used in the soil,” said Caparco. “These pesticides alone cannot penetrate the soil. But with our nanoparticles, they now have soil mobility, can reach the root level, and potentially kill the nematodes.”

Future research will involve testing the nanoparticles on actual infested plants to assess their effectiveness in real-world agricultural scenarios. Steinmetz’s lab will perform these follow-up studies in collaboration with the U.S. Horticultural Research Laboratory. Her team has also established plans for an industry partnership aimed at advancing the nanoparticles into a commercial product.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Delivery of Nematicides Using TMGMV-Derived Spherical Nanoparticles by Adam A. Caparco, Ivonne González-Gamboa, Samuel S. Hays, Jonathan K. Pokorski, and Nicole F. Steinmetz. Nano Lett. 2023, 23, 12, 5785–5793 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1021/acs.nanolett.3c01684 Publication Date:June 16, 2023 Copyright © 2023 American Chemical Society

This paper is behind a paywall.

Silk micro or nanoparticles for tracking seeds

I hadn’t heard of counterfeit seeds before but this March 22, 2023 news item on phys.org describes the problem and announces an approach to prevention,

Average crop yields in Africa are consistently far below expected, and one significant reason is the prevalence of counterfeit seeds whose germination rates are far lower than those of the genuine ones. The World Bank estimates that as much as half of all seeds sold in some African countries are fake, which could help to account for crop production that is far below potential.

There have been many attempts to prevent this counterfeiting through tracking labels, but none have proved effective; among other issues, such labels have been vulnerable to hacking because of the deterministic nature of their encoding systems. But now, a team of MIT [Massachusetts Institute of Technology] researchers has come up with a kind of tiny, biodegradable tag that can be applied directly to the seeds themselves, and that provides a unique randomly created code that cannot be duplicated.

I found this picture helped me to understand how ‘tracking’ these seeds could be useful,

As a way to reduce seed counterfeiting, MIT researchers developed a silk-based tag that, when applied to seeds, provides a unique code that cannot be duplicated. Credits: Credit: Photograph courtesy of the researchers. Edited by Jose-Luis Olivares, MIT

A March 22, 2023 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) news release by David Chandler (also on EurekAlert), which originated the news item, describes the work in more detail (Note: I’m glad to see David Chandler is getting bylines again even if it’s on the EurekAlert version only),

The new system, which uses minuscule dots of silk-based material, each containing a unique combination of different chemical signatures, is described today in the journal Science Advances in a paper by MIT’s dean of engineering Anantha Chandrakasan, professor of civil and environmental engineering Benedetto Marelli, postdoc Hui Sun, and graduate student Saurav Maji.

The problem of counterfeiting is an enormous one globally, the researchers point out, affecting everything from drugs to luxury goods, and many different systems have been developed to try to combat this. But there has been less attention to the problem in the area of agriculture, even though the consequences can be severe. In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, the World Bank estimates that counterfeit seeds are a significant factor in crop yields that average less than one-fifth of the potential for maize, and less than one-third for rice. 

Marelli explains that a key to the new system is creating a randomly-produced physical object whose exact composition is virtually impossible to duplicate. The labels they create “leverage randomness and uncertainty in the process of application, to generate unique signature features that can be read, and that cannot be replicated,” he says.

What they’re dealing with, Sun adds, “is the very old job of trying, basically, not to get your stuff stolen. And you can try as much as you can, but eventually somebody is always smart enough to figure out how to do it, so nothing is really unbreakable. But the idea is, it’s almost impossible, if not impossible, to replicate it, or it takes so much effort that it’s not worth it anymore.”

The idea of an “unclonable” code was originally developed as a way of protecting the authenticity of computer chips, explains Chandrakasan, who is the Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. “In integrated circuits, individual transistors have slightly different properties coined device variations,” he explains, “and you could then use that variability and combine that variability with higher-level circuits to create a unique ID for the device. And once you have that, then you can use that unique ID as a part of a security protocol. Something like transistor variability is hard to replicate from device to device, so that’s what gives it its uniqueness, versus storing a particular fixed ID.” The concept is based on what are known as physically unclonable functions, or PUFs.

The team decided to try to apply that PUF principle to the problem of fake seeds, and the use of silk proteins was a natural choice because the material is not only harmless to the environment but also classified by the Food and Drug Administration in the “generally recognized as safe” category, so it requires no special approval for use on food products.

“You could coat it on top of seeds,” Maji says, “and if you synthesize silk in a certain way, it will also have natural random variations. So that’s the idea, that every seed or every bag could have a unique signature.”

Developing effective secure system solutions have long been one of Chandrakasan’s specialties, while Marelli has spent many years developing systems for applying silk coatings to a variety of fruits, vegetables, and seeds, so their collaboration was a natural for developing such a silk-based coding system towards enhanced security. 

“The challenge was what type of form factor to give to silk,” Sun says, “so that it can be fabricated very easily.” They developed a simple drop-casting approach that produces tags that are less than one-tenth of an inch in diameter. The second challenge was to develop “a way where we can read the uniqueness, in also a very high throughput and easy way.”

For the unique silk-based codes, Marelli says, “eventually we found a way to add a color to these microparticles [emphasis mine] so that they assemble in random structures.” The resulting unique patterns can be read out not only by a spectrograph or a portable microscope, but even by an ordinary cellphone camera with a macro lens. This image can be processed locally to generate the PUF code and then sent to the cloud and compared with a secure database to ensure the authenticity of the product. “It’s random so that people cannot easily replicate it,” says Sun. “People cannot predict it without measuring it.”

And the number of possible permutations that could result from the way they mix four basic types of colored silk nanoparticles [emphasis mine] is astronomical. “We were able to show that with a minimal amount of silk, we were able to generate 128 random bits of security,” Maji says. “So this gives rise to 2 to the power 128 possible combinations, which is extremely difficult to crack given the computational capabilities of the state-of-the-art computing systems.”

Marelli says that “for us, it’s a good test bed in order to think out-of-the-box, and how we can have a path that somehow is more democratic.” In this case, that means “something that you can literally read with your phone, and you can fabricate by simply drop casting a solution, without using any advanced manufacturing technique, without going in a clean room.”

Some additional work will be needed to make this a practical commercial product, Chandrakasan says. “There will have to be a development for at-scale reading” via smartphones. “So. that’s clearly a future opportunity.” But the principle now shows a clear path to the day when “a farmer could at least, maybe not every seed, but could maybe take some random seeds in a particular batch and verify them,” he says.

I’ve looked at the paper (very quickly) and haven’t spotted any mention of silk nanoparticles. It’s all silk microparticles.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Integrating biopolymer design with physical unclonable functions for anticounterfeiting and product traceability in agriculture by Hui Sun, Saurav Maji, Anantha P. Chandrakasan, and Benedetto Marelli. Science Advances 22 Mar 2023 Vol 9, Issue 12 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.adf1978

This paper is open access.

Gene-edited food: better tasting and/or allergen-free?

I have two items about gene-edited food. One is from the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) and the other is from Hiroshima University (Japan).

Better tasting food?

Cherries without pits do not fit my definition of better tasting food but it’s just one of the touted ‘improvements’.

https://i.cbc.ca/1.6513602.1684353993!/fileImage/httpImage/image.jpg_gen/derivatives/16x9_780/a-little-dirt-never-hurt-01.jpg
Can you imagine eating cherries without having to deal with its pits? That could be a reality thanks to gene-editing tools like CRISPR. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

A May 18, 2023 article by Mouhamad Rachini for CBC’s radio programme, The Current, features information from a radio segment on gene-edited food,

When Michael Wolf tried a new type of mustard green that had been gene-edited to taste less bitter, he came away impressed.

“I don’t necessarily like my food very bitter, so I appreciated it,” Wolf, founder of the food tech publication The Spoon, told The Current’s Matt Galloway.

Food scientists are starting to use gene-editing technology, called CRISPR [clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats], to change certain features of some Canadians’ favourite fruits and vegetables. For example, scientists told Wolf that the technology could be used to create cherries without a pit.

Pairwise, a North Carolina-based gene-editing startup, recently rolled out a mustard green engineered to be less bitter than the original plant. It’s the first CRISPR-edited food to hit the U.S. market. 

Although the gene-edited mustard greens haven’t appeared in Canada yet, the process could find a home here very soon.

Earlier this month, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Marie-Claude Bibeau announced that the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) seed guidelines now allow for some modified plants.

The updated rules now allow seeds created through gene-editing without an independent safety assessment by the government, as long as they aren’t spliced with DNA from other types of fruits or vegetables, or altered to make them pesticide-resistant. [emphasis mine]

Wolf explained further that gene-editing with CRISPR has some key differences from other types of genetic modification for food, which has been around for some time.

“[With genetic modification], you’re maybe inserting a foreign DNA into a molecule. But with CRISPR, what it’s essentially doing is just cutting out undesirable traits,” he said. [emphasis mine]

“So you’re not really inserting something that might be foreign to the organism. So it’s something that is a bit, I guess, less concerning for a lot of people who are worried about GMO because that takes away that concern.” [emphasis mine]

“Removing bitterness in a vegetable, I believe, is doing a disservice to our palate,” Dionisia Roman-Osicki of Virden, Man., wrote to The Current. “You can’t be a foodie without recognizing the value of bitterness in food.”

Organic farmer Antony John said there are already “cultural methods” to sweeten the taste and nutritional values of certain foods without genetic modification, such as carrots.

“The cold temperatures causes the carrots to provide an antifreeze, and that antifreeze is sugar,” said John, co-owner of the Soiled Reputation farm in Sebringville, Ont. “So they convert the starch in their roots into sugars. So letting your carrots grow when it’s cold and when there’s subzero temperatures will enhance the sugar in it.”

The radio segment embedded in Rachini’s May 18, 2023 article is 13 mins. 14 secs.

Allergen-free eggs

Over at Hiroshima University, a May 17, 2023 press release (also on EurekAlert but published May 16, 2023) announces research into making eggs safer for people who have allergies, Note 1: The researchers have used a different kind of gene-editing (or genome-editing) technique Note 2: Links have been removed,

Researchers have developed a chicken egg that may be safe for people with egg white allergies. Chicken egg allergies are one of the most common allergies in children. Though most children outgrow this allergy by age 16, some will still have an egg allergy into adulthood. Egg white allergies can cause a variety of symptoms, including vomiting, stomach cramps, breathing problems, hives, and swelling and some people with egg white allergies are unable to receive certain flu vaccines.

Using genome editing technology, researchers have produced an egg without the protein that causes egg white allergies. This protein, called ovomucoid, accounts for approximately 11% of all the protein in egg whites.

Research detailing the food safety profile of this modified egg, called the OVM-knockout, was detailed in a paper published in Food and Chemical Toxicology in April 2023.

“To use OVM-knockout chicken eggs as food, it is important to evaluate its safety as food. In this study, we examined the presence or absence of mutant protein expression, vector sequence insertion, and off-target effects in chickens knocked out with OVM by platinum transcription activator-like effector nucleases (TALENs),” said Ryo Ezaki, an assistant professor at the Graduate School of Integrated Sciences for Life at Hiroshima University in Hiroshima, Japan. TALENs are restriction enzymes that recognize specific DNA sequences and break or cut them.

In order to develop the OVM-knockout eggs, researchers needed to detect and eliminate the ovomucoid protein in the egg whites. TALENs were engineered to target a piece of RNA called exon 1, which codes for specific proteins. The eggs produced from this technique were then tested to ensure there was no ovomucoid protein, mutant ovomucoid protein, or other off-target effects. The eggs had the desired frameshift mutation, which is a mutation created by inserting or deleting nucleotide bases in a gene, and none of them expressed mature ovomucoid proteins. Anti-ovomucoid and anti-mutant ovomucoid antibodies were used to detect any traces of the protein, but there was no evidence of ovomucoid in the eggs. This means that mutant ovomucoids could not create new allergens. This is an important step in determining the safety profile of the eggs.

Other gene editing tools, such as CRISPR, tend to have off-target mutagenesis effects. This means that new mutations are prompted by the gene editing process. However, whole genome sequencing of the altered egg whites showed mutations, which were possibly off-target effects, were not localized to the protein-coding regions.

“The eggs laid by homozygous OVM-knockout hens showed no evident abnormalities. The albumen contained neither the mature OVM nor the OVM-truncated variant,” said Ezaki. “The potential TALEN-induced off-target effects in OVM-knockout chickens were localized in the intergenic and intron regions. Plasmid vectors used for genome editing were only transiently present and did not integrate into the genome of edited chickens. These results indicate the importance of safety evaluations and reveal that the eggs laid by this OVM knockout chicken solve the allergy problem in food and vaccines.”

Looking ahead, researchers will continue to verify the safety profile of the OVM-knockout eggs. Because some people are highly allergic to this specific protein, even small amounts of ovomucoid can cause a reaction. Researchers will need to perform additional immunological and clinical studies to determine the safety of the OVM-knockout eggs. At this time, researchers have determined that OVM-knockout eggs are less allergenic than standard eggs and can be safely used in heat-processed foods that patients with egg allergies can eat. “The next phase of research will be to evaluate the physical properties and processing suitability of OVM-knockout eggs, and to confirm their efficacy through clinical trials,” said Ezaki. “We will continue to conduct further research toward the practical application of allergy-reduced eggs.”

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Transcription activator-like effector nuclease-mediated deletion safely eliminates the major egg allergen ovomucoid in chickens by Ryo Ezaki, Tetsushi Sakuma, Daisuke Kodama, Ryou Sasahara, Taichi Shiraogawa, Kennosuke Ichikawa, Mei Matsuzaki, Akihiro Handa, Takashi Yamamoto & Hiroyuki Horiuchi. Food and Chemical Toxicology Volume 175, May 2023, 113703 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fct.2023.113703

This paper is open access.

Discussing Nano-Yield’s fertilizer delivery systems on the Ag Tech Talk podcast

I was hoping for some technical information in the Ag Tech Talk podcast (which is produced by AgriBusiness Global [AGB]) or on the interview subject’s Nano-Yield website but—no. The Ag Tech Talk host, Daniel Jacobs, provides a little information about size when discussing the nanoscale; offering a blade of grass as an example, Unfortunately, Jacobs is unable to get more technical information from Clark Bell, the company’s CEO (Chief Executive Officer) but there is ample discussion of the company’s business.

An excerpt from the transcript below the May 19, 2023 Ag tech Talk podcast should give you a sense of how the discussion went,

With fertilizer (and other input costs) rising, getting the most for your money has never been more critical. Nano-Yield offers a nanotechnology solution to deliver product at the molecular level. We talked with Clark Bell, CEO for Nano-Yield, to learn more about this technology, what innovations are on the horizon, how biologicals fit into the picture, and much more.

ABG [AgribBusiness Globa]: How many different countries are you in right now?

CB [Clark Bell]: We are in 10. We actually just inked a deal with Bangladesh, which we should talk about.

ABG: You wouldn’t define it as something that would cure citrus greening. You had a solution that helped that process. What else is it that your products, your solutions, offer folks?

CB: I think the claims are first and foremost fertilizers, and chemistries have some inefficiencies, and they can be corrected by different compounds by adding 4 ounces of nanoliquid technology into a spray tank, we can improve the uptake, or the absorption of different fertilizer molecules, synthetic chemistry uptake or even biologicals. And so that’s where we fit into the industry. People are trying to get more out of their tank. And so, they add nanoliquid technology to improve with uptake and better absorption to improve quality yields.

There are opportunities where people can use less material applied due to nanoliquid technology. So, in some areas like Bangladesh, for instance, where supply is a major issue — they don’t manufacture any of it domestically. It’s all brought in. So, we’re answering a problem for them or other countries that have access to. We are addressing things like corn and soybeans on broad acres in the U.S. where the grains trading, it’s very profitable that if they can get more yield and more quality, they’ll spend $5 on nanoliquid technology an acre, and they can see a minimum of a four-times return on investment by throwing that in there. So, we kind of essentially just make it so that we improve the performance of whatever they’ve already been using on their farm to get better output.

ABG: We’ve been hearing a lot about the fertilizer prices just shooting through the roof. And obviously anything that would increase yield, and not cost them an arm and a leg, or better use what they already have on their field would certainly be appreciated.

CB: Yes, certainly. We’ve been doing this for nine years, but essentially, since the pandemic. That’s really where things took off. It just takes some of the marketplace to prove your science, right? And they have a lot of data. And so that was kind of an inflection point for us. We’re up to like 800 trials now that we can showcase ROI and efficiency now.

But second to that is also the timing of the market, which is oftentimes the number one iteration of how technology is adopted is if you time the market right. And when we first came up with this concept in 2014, urea hadn’t increased by three times year over year. And so, when we go into 2021 and 2022, when those issues with MAP (Monoammonium phosphate) and DAP (Diammonium phosphate) and urea and essentially all the commodity fertilizers are just so darn expensive, we’ve been able to answer that problem for people. And again, one of one of the benefits. What we do is we can either improve the performance of what you’re already using, or in some instances there can be reductions and less material applied by using Nano-Liquid technology.

ABG: Can you give me the elevator speech version of exactly what your technology does for someone for a layman who doesn’t really, understand the technical points of the of how it works.

CB: Yeah, we were at a start of a board this last weekend. And so, I was talking to a group of tech and software people that don’t understand ag. And so, in simple terms Nano-Yield sells a sustainable fertilizer technology that improves the absorption of fertilizers and chemicals from what apply into crops.

ABG: How does it do that?

CB: The way that takes place is by adding nano particles into a tank that helps the different molecules and chemicals that are in that tank where oftentimes they don’t have a good delivery system to be delivered to those tissues, or leaves, or into the root systems. And by using the Nanoliquid technology, those nano particles now encapsulate and deliver those chemicals and fertilizers, so that there’s a better uptake. And there’s an efficiency the way that all comes into place.

The May 19, 2023 Ag tech Talk podcast runs for about 30 mins. and the transcript is included after the audio file. You can find the Nano-Yield website here.

Fairy-like robot powered by wind and light

Caption: For their artificial fairy, Hao Zeng and Jianfeng Yang got inspired by dandelion seeds. Credit: Jianfeng Yang / Tampere University

That image makes me think of Tinker Bell (the fairy in the novel/play/movie with ‘Peter Pan’ in its titles) but I can also see how the researchers were inspired by dandelion seeds, which we used to call ‘wishes’.

Dandelion Seeds Free Stock Photo – Public Domain Pictures

A January 30, 2023 news item on ScienceDaily announces the fairy-like robot,

The development of stimuli-responsive polymers has brought about a wealth of material-related opportunities for next-generation small-scale, wirelessly controlled soft-bodied robots. For some time now, engineers have known how to use these materials to make small robots that can walk, swim and jump. So far, no one has been able to make them fly.

Researchers of the Light Robots group at Tampere University [Finland] are now researching how to make smart material fly. Hao Zeng, Academy Research Fellow and the group leader, and Jianfeng Yang, a doctoral researcher, have come up with a new design for their project called FAIRY — Flying Aero-robots based on Light Responsive Materials Assembly. They have developed a polymer-assembly robot that flies by wind and is controlled by light.

A January 26, 2023 Tampere University press release (also on EurekAlert but published January 30, 2023), which originated the news item, elucidates why the researchers are excited about their work,

Superior to its natural counterparts, this artificial seed is equipped with a soft actuator. The actuator is made of light-responsive liquid crystalline elastomer, which induces opening or closing actions of the bristles upon visible light excitation,” explains Hao Zeng.

The artificial fairy is controlled by light

The artificial fairy developed by Zeng and Yang has several biomimetic features. Because of its high porosity (0.95) and lightweight (1.2 mg) structure, it can easily float in the air directed by the wind. What is more, a stable separated vortex ring generation enables long-distance wind-assisted travelling.

“The fairy can be powered and controlled by a light source, such as a laser beam or LED,” Zeng says.

This means that light can be used to change the shape of the tiny dandelion seed-like structure. The fairy can adapt manually to wind direction and force by changing its shape. A light beam can also be used to control the take-off and landing actions of the polymer assembly.

Potential application opportunities in agriculture

Next, the researchers will focus on improving the material sensitivity to enable the operation of the device in sunlight. In addition, they will up-scale the structure so that it can carry micro-electronic devices such as GPS and sensors as well as biochemical compounds.

According to Zeng, there is potential for even more significant applications.

“It sounds like science fiction, but the proof-of-concept experiments included in our research show that the robot we have developed provides an important step towards realistic applications suitable for artificial pollination,” he reveals.

In the future, millions of artificial dandelion seeds carrying pollen could be dispersed freely by natural winds and then steered by light toward specific areas with trees awaiting pollination.

“This would have a huge impact on agriculture globally since the loss of pollinators due to global warming has become a serious threat to biodiversity and food production,” Zeng says.

Challenges remain to be solved

However, many problems need to be solved first. For example, how to control the landing spot in a precise way, and how to reuse the devices and make them biodegradable? These issues require close collaboration with materials scientists and people working on microrobotics.

The FAIRY project started in September 2021 and will last until August 2026. It is funded by the Academy of Finland. The flying robot is researched in cooperation with Dr. Wenqi Hu from Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (Germany) and Dr. Hang Zhang from Aalto University.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the paper,

Dandelion-Inspired, Wind-Dispersed Polymer-Assembly Controlled by Light by Jianfeng Yang, Hang Zhang, Alex Berdin, Wenqi Hu, Hao Zeng. Advanced Science Volume 10, Issue 7 March 3, 2023 2206752 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/advs.202206752 First published online: 27 December 2022

This paper is open access.

The 2023 Canadian federal budget: science & technology of health, the clean economy, reconciliation, and more (1 of 2)

The Canadian federal government released its 2023 budget on Tuesday, March 28, 2023. There were no flashy science research announcements in the budget. Trudeau and his team like to trumpet science initiatives and grand plans (even if they’re reannouncing something from a previous budget) but like last year—this year—not so much.

Consequently, this posting about the annual federal budget should have been shorter than usual. What happened?

Partly, it’s the military spending (chapter 5 of the budget in part 2 of this 2023 budget post). For those who are unfamiliar with the link between military scientific research and their impact on the general population, there are a number of inventions and innovations directly due to military research, e.g., plastic surgery, television, and the internet. (You can check a November 6, 2018 essay for The Conversation by Robert Kirby, Professor of Clinical Education and Surgery at Keele University, for more about the impact of World War 1 and medical research, “World War I: the birth of plastic surgery and modern anaesthesia.”)

So, there’s a lot to be found by inference. Consequently, I found Chapter 3 to also be unexpectedly rich in science and technology efforts.

Throughout both parts of this 2023 Canadian federal budget post, you will find excerpts from individual chapters of the federal budget followed my commentary directly after. My general commentary is reserved for the end.

Sometimes, I have included an item because it piqued my interest. E.g., Canadian agriculture is dependent on Russian fertilizer!!! News to me and I imagine many others. BTW, this budget aims to wean us from this dependency.

Chapter 2: Investing in Public Health Care and Affordable Dental Care

Here goes: from https://www.budget.canada.ca/2023/report-rapport/toc-tdm-en.html,

2.1 Investing in Public Health Care

Improving Canada’s Readiness for Health Emergencies

Vaccines and other cutting-edge life-science innovations have helped us to take control of the COVID-19 pandemic. To support these efforts, the federal government has committed significant funding towards the revitalization of Canada’s biomanufacturing sector through a Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy [emphasis mine]. To date, the government has invested more than $1.8 billion in 32 vaccine, therapeutic, and biomanufacturing projects across Canada, alongside $127 million for upgrades to specialized labs at universities across the country. Canada is building a life sciences ecosystem that is attracting major investments from leading global companies, including Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Sanofi.

To build upon the progress of the past three years, the government will explore new ways to be more efficient and effective in the development and production of the vaccines, therapies, and diagnostic tools that would be required for future health emergencies. As a first step, the government will further consult Canadian and international experts on how to best organize our readiness efforts for years to come. …

Gold rush in them thar life sciences

I have covered the rush to capitalize on Canadian life sciences research (with a special emphasis on British Columbia) in various posts including (amongst others): my December 30, 2020 posting “Avo Media, Science Telephone, and a Canadian COVID-19 billionaire scientist,” and my August 23, 2021 posting “Who’s running the life science companies’ public relations campaign in British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)?” There’s also my August 20, 2021 posting “Getting erased from the mRNA/COVID-19 story,” highlighting how brutal the competition amongst these Canadian researchers can be.

Getting back to the 2023 budget, ‘The Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy’ mentioned in this latest budget was announced in a July 28, 2021 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release. You can find the strategy here and an overview of the strategy here. You may want to check out the overview as it features links to,

What We Heard Report: Results of the consultation on biomanufacturing and life sciences capacity in Canada

Ontario’s Strategy: Taking life sciences to the next level

Quebec’s Strategy: 2022–2025 Québec Life Sciences Strategy

Nova Scotia’s Strategy: BioFuture2030 Prince Edward Island’s Strategy:

The Prince Edward Island Bioscience Cluster [emphases mine]

2022 saw one government announcement concerning the strategy, from a March 3, 2022 Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada news release, Note: Links have been removed,

Protecting the health and safety of Canadians and making sure we have the domestic capacity to respond to future health crises are top priorities of the Government of Canada. With the guidance of Canada’s Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy, the government is actively supporting the growth of a strong, competitive domestic life sciences sector, with cutting-edge biomanufacturing capabilities.

Today [March 3, 2022], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, announced a $92 million investment in adMare BioInnovations to drive company innovation, scale-up and training activities in Canada’s life sciences sector. This investment will help translate commercially promising health research into innovative new therapies and will see Canadian anchor companies provide the training required and drive the growth of Canada’s life science companies.

The real action took place earlier this month (March 2023) just prior to the budget. Oddly, I can’t find any mention of these initiatives in the budget document. (Confession: I have not given the 2023 budget a close reading although I have been through the whole budget once and viewed individual chapters more closely a few times.)

This March 2, 2023 (?) Tri-agency Institutional Programs Secretariat news release kicked things off, Note 1: I found the date at the bottom of their webpage; Note 2: Links have been removed,

The Government of Canada’s main priority continues to be protecting the health and safety of Canadians. Throughout the pandemic, the quick and decisive actions taken by the government meant that Canada was able to scale up domestic biomanufacturing capacity, which had been in decline for over 40 years. Since then, the government is rebuilding a strong and competitive biomanufacturing and life sciences sector brick by brick. This includes strengthening the foundations of the life sciences ecosystem through the research and talent of Canada’s world-class postsecondary institutions and research hospitals, as well as fostering increased collaboration with innovative companies.

Today [March 2, 2023?], the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, announced an investment of $10 million in support of the creation of five research hubs [emphasis mine]:

  • CBRF PRAIRIE Hub, led by the University of Alberta
  • Canada’s Immuno-Engineering and Biomanufacturing Hub, led by The University of British Columbia
  • Eastern Canada Pandemic Preparedness Hub, led by the Université de Montréal
  • Canadian Pandemic Preparedness Hub, led by the University of Ottawa and McMaster University
  • Canadian Hub for Health Intelligence & Innovation in Infectious Diseases, led by the University of Toronto

This investment, made through Stage 1 of the integrated Canada Biomedical Research Fund (CBRF) and Biosciences Research Infrastructure Fund (BRIF) competition, will bolster research and talent development efforts led by the institutions, working in collaboration with their partners. The hubs combine the strengths of academia, industry and the public and not-for-profit sectors to jointly improve pandemic readiness and the overall health and well-being of Canadians.

The multidisciplinary research hubs will accelerate the research and development of next-generation vaccines and therapeutics and diagnostics, while supporting training and development to expand the pipeline of skilled talent. The hubs will also accelerate the translation of promising research into commercially viable products and processes. This investment helps to strengthen the resilience of Canada’s life sciences sector by supporting leading Canadian research in innovative technologies that keep us safe and boost our economy.

Today’s [March 2, 2023?] announcement also launched Stage 2 of the CBRF-BRIF competition. This is a national competition that includes $570 million in available funding for proposals, aimed at cutting-edge research, talent development and research infrastructure projects associated with the selected research hubs. By strengthening research and talent capacity and leveraging collaborations across the entire biomanufacturing ecosystem, Canada will be better prepared to face future pandemics, in order to protect Canadian’s health and safety. 

Then, the Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada’s March 9, 2023 news release made this announcement, Note: Links have been removed,

Since March 2020, major achievements have been made to rebuild a vibrant domestic life sciences ecosystem to protect Canadians against future health threats. The growth of the sector is a top priority for the Government of Canada, and with over $1.8 billion committed to 33 projects to boost our domestic biomanufacturing, vaccine and therapeutics capacity, we are strengthening our resiliency for current health emergencies and our readiness for future ones.

The COVID-19 Vaccine Task Force played a critical role in guiding and supporting the Government of Canada’s COVID-19 vaccine response. Today [March 9, 2023], recognizing the importance of science-based decisions, the Honourable François-Philippe Champagne, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry, and the Honourable Jean-Yves Duclos, Minister of Health, are pleased to announce the creation of the Council of Expert Advisors (CEA). The 14 members of the CEA, who held their first official meeting earlier this week, will advise the Government of Canada on the long-term, sustainable growth of Canada’s biomanufacturing and life sciences sector, and on how to enhance our preparedness and capacity to protect the health and safety of Canadians.

The membership of the CEA comprises leaders with in-depth scientific, industrial, academic and public health expertise. The CEA co-chairs are Joanne Langley, Professor of Pediatrics and of Community Health and Epidemiology at the Dalhousie University Faculty of Medicine, and Division Head of Infectious Diseases at the IWK Health Centre; and Marco Marra, Professor in Medical Genetics at the University of British Columbia (UBC), UBC Canada Research Chair in Genome Science and distinguished scientist at the BC Cancer Foundation.

The CEA’s first meeting focused on the previous steps taken under Canada’s Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy and on its path forward. The creation of the CEA is an important milestone in the strategy, as it continues to evolve and adapt to new technologies and changing conditions in the marketplace and life sciences ecosystem. The CEA will also inform on investments that enhance capacity across Canada to support end-to-end production of critical vaccines, therapeutics and essential medical countermeasures, and to ensure that Canadians can reap the full economic benefits of the innovations developed, including well-paying jobs.

As I’m from British Columbia, I’m highlighting this University of British Columbia (UBC) March 17, 2023 news release about their involvement, Note: Links have been removed,

Canada’s biotech ecosystem is poised for a major boost with the federal government announcement today that B.C. will be home to Canada’s Immuno-Engineering and Biomanufacturing Hub (CIEBH).

The B.C.-based research and innovation hub, led by UBC, brings together a coalition of provincial, national and international partners to position Canada as a global epicentre for the development and manufacturing of next-generation immune-based therapeutics.

A primary goal of CIEBH is to establish a seamless drug development pipeline that will enable Canada to respond to future pandemics and other health challenges in fewer than 100 days.

This hub will build on the strengths of B.C.’s biotech and life sciences industry, and those of our national and global partners, to make Canada a world leader in the development of lifesaving medicines,” said Dr. Deborah Buszard, interim president and vice-chancellor of UBC. “It’s about creating a healthier future for all Canadians. Together with our outstanding alliance of partners, we will ensure Canada is prepared to respond rapidly to future health challenges with homegrown solutions.”

CIEBH is one of five new research hubs announced by the federal government that will work together to improve pandemic readiness and the overall health and well-being of Canadians. Federal funding of $570 million is available over the next four years to support project proposals associated with these hubs in order to advance Canada’s Biomanufacturing and Life Sciences Strategy.

More than 50 organizations representing the private, public, not-for-profit and academic sectors have come together to form the hub, creating a rich environment that will bolster biomedical innovation in Canada. Among these partners are leading B.C. biotech companies that played a key role in Canada’s COVID-19 pandemic response and are developing cutting-edge treatments for a range of human diseases.

CIEBH, led by UBC, will further align the critical mass of biomedical research strengths concentrated at B.C. academic institutions, including the B.C. Institute of Technology, Simon Fraser University and the University of Victoria, as well as the clinical expertise of B.C. research hospitals and health authorities. With linkages to key partners across Canada, including Dalhousie University, the University of Waterloo, and the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization, the hub will create a national network to address gaps in Canada’s drug development pipeline.

In recent decades, B.C. has emerged as a global leader in immuno-engineering, a field that is transforming how society treats disease by harnessing and modulating the immune system.

B.C. academic institutions and prominent Canadian companies like Precision NanoSystems, Acuitas Therapeutics and AbCellera have developed significant expertise in advanced immune-based therapeutics such as lipid nanoparticle- and mRNA-based vaccines, engineered antibodies, cell therapies and treatments for antimicrobial resistant infections. UBC professor Dr. Pieter Cullis, a member of CIEBH’s core scientific team, has been widely recognized for his pioneering work developing the lipid nanoparticle delivery technology that enables mRNA therapeutics such as the highly effective COVID-19 mRNA vaccines.

As noted previously, I’m a little puzzled that the federal government didn’t mention the investment in these hubs in their budget. They usually trumpet these kinds of initiatives.

On a related track, I’m even more puzzled that the province of British Columbia does not have its own life sciences research strategy in light of that sector’s success. Certainly it seems that Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward are all eager to get a piece of the action. Still, there is a Life Sciences in British Columbia: Sector Profile dated June 2020 and an undated (likely from some time between July 2017 to January 2020 when Bruce Ralston whose name is on the document was the relevant cabinet minister) British Columbia Technology and Innovation Policy Framework.

In case you missed the link earlier, see my August 23, 2021 posting “Who’s running the life science companies’ public relations campaign in British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada)?” which includes additional information about the BC life sciences sector, federal and provincial funding, the City of Vancouver’s involvement, and other related matters.

Chapter 3: A Made-In-Canada Plan: Affordable Energy, Good Jobs, and a Growing Clean Economy

The most science-focused information is in Chapter 3, from https://www.budget.canada.ca/2023/report-rapport/toc-tdm-en.html,

3.2 A Growing, Clean Economy

More than US$100 trillion in private capital is projected to be spent between now and 2050 to build the global clean economy.

Canada is currently competing with the United States, the European Union, and countries around the world for our share of this investment. To secure our share of this global investment, we must capitalize on Canada’s competitive advantages, including our skilled and diverse workforce, and our abundance of critical resources that the world needs.

The federal government has taken significant action over the past seven years to support Canada’s net-zero economic future. To build on this progress and support the growth of Canada’s clean economy, Budget 2023 proposes a range of measures that will encourage businesses to invest in Canada and create good-paying jobs for Canadian workers.

This made-in-Canada plan follows the federal tiered structure to incent the development of Canada’s clean economy and provide additional support for projects that need it. This plan includes:

  • Clear and predictable investment tax credits to provide foundational support for clean technology manufacturing, clean hydrogen, zero-emission technologies, and carbon capture and storage;
  • The deployment of financial instruments through the Canada Growth Fund, such as contracts for difference, to absorb certain risks and encourage private sector investment in low-carbon projects, technologies, businesses, and supply chains; and,
  • Targeted clean technology and sector supports delivered by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada to support battery manufacturing and further advance the development, application, and manufacturing of clean technologies.

Canada’s Potential in Critical Minerals

As a global leader in mining, Canada is in a prime position to provide a stable resource base for critical minerals [emphasis mine] that are central to major global industries such as clean technology, auto manufacturing, health care, aerospace, and the digital economy. For nickel and copper alone, the known reserves in Canada are more than 10 million tonnes, with many other potential sources at the exploration stage.

The Buy North American provisions for critical minerals and electric vehicles in the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act will create opportunities for Canada. In particular, U.S. acceleration of clean technology manufacturing will require robust supply chains of critical minerals that Canada has in abundance. However, to fully unleash Canada’s potential in critical minerals, we need to ensure a framework is in place to accelerate private investment.

Budget 2022 committed $3.8 billion for Canada’s Critical Minerals Strategy to provide foundational support to Canada’s mining sector to take advantage of these new opportunities. The Strategy was published in December 2022.

On March 24, 2023, the government launched the Critical Minerals Infrastructure Fund [emphasis mine; I cannot find a government announcement/news release for this fund]—a new fund announced in Budget 2022 that will allocate $1.5 billion towards energy and transportation projects needed to unlock priority mineral deposits. The new fund will complement other clean energy and transportation supports, such as the Canada Infrastructure Bank and the National Trade Corridors Fund, as well as other federal programs that invest in critical minerals projects, such as the Strategic Innovation Fund.

The new Investment Tax Credit for Clean Technology Manufacturing proposed in Budget 2023 will also provide a significant incentive to boost private investment in Canadian critical minerals projects and create new opportunities and middle class jobs in communities across the country.

An Investment Tax Credit for Clean Technology Manufacturing

Supporting Canadian companies in the manufacturing and processing of clean technologies, and in the extraction and processing of critical minerals, will create good middle class jobs for Canadians, ensure our businesses remain competitive in major global industries, and support the supply chains of our allies around the world.

While the Clean Technology Investment Tax Credit, first announced in Budget 2022, will provide support to Canadian companies adopting clean technologies, the Clean Technology Manufacturing Investment Tax Credit will provide support to Canadian companies that are manufacturing or processing clean technologies and their precursors.

  • Budget 2023 proposes a refundable tax credit equal to 30 per cent of the cost of investments in new machinery and equipment used to manufacture or process key clean technologies, and extract, process, or recycle key critical minerals, including:
    • Extraction, processing, or recycling of critical minerals essential for clean technology supply chains, specifically: lithium, cobalt, nickel, graphite, copper, and rare earth elements;
    • Manufacturing of renewable or nuclear energy equipment;
    • Processing or recycling of nuclear fuels and heavy water; [emphases mine]
    • Manufacturing of grid-scale electrical energy storage equipment;
    • Manufacturing of zero-emission vehicles; and,
    • Manufacturing or processing of certain upstream components and materials for the above activities, such as cathode materials and batteries used in electric vehicles.

The investment tax credit is expected to cost $4.5 billion over five years, starting in 2023-24, and an additional $6.6 billion from 2028-29 to 2034-35. The credit would apply to property that is acquired and becomes available for use on or after January 1, 2024, and would no longer be in effect after 2034, subject to a phase-out starting in 2032.

3.4 Reliable Transportation and Resilient Infrastructure

Supporting Resilient Infrastructure Through Innovation

The Smart Cities Challenge [emphasis mine] was launched in 2017 to encourage cities to adopt new and innovative approaches to improve the quality of life for their residents. The first round of the Challenge resulted in $75 million in prizes across four winning applicants: Montreal, Quebec; Guelph, Ontario; communities of Nunavut; and Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.

New and innovative solutions are required to help communities reduce the risks and impacts posed by weather-related events and disasters triggered by climate change. To help address this issue, the government will be launching a new round of the Smart Cities Challenge later this year, which will focus on using connected technologies, data, and innovative approaches to improve climate resiliency.

3.5 Investing in Tomorrow’s Technology

With the best-educated workforce on earth, world-class academic and research institutions, and robust start-up ecosystems across the country, Canada’s economy is fast becoming a global technology leader – building on its strengths in areas like artificial intelligence. Canada is already home to some of the top markets for high-tech careers in North America, including the three fastest growing markets between 2016 and 2021: Vancouver, Toronto, and Quebec City.

However, more can be done to help the Canadian economy reach its full potential. Reversing a longstanding trend of underinvestment in research and development by Canadian business [emphasis mine] is essential our long-term economic growth.

Budget 2023 proposes new measures to encourage business innovation in Canada, as well as new investments in college research and the forestry industry that will help to build a stronger and more innovative Canadian economy.

Attracting High-Tech Investment to Canada

In recent months, Canada has attracted several new digital and high-tech projects that will support our innovative economy, including:

  • Nokia: a $340 million project that will strengthen Canada’s position as a leader in 5G and digital innovation;
  • Xanadu Quantum Technologies: a $178 million project that will support Canada’s leadership in quantum computing;
  • Sanctuary Cognitive Systems Corporation: a $121 million project that will boost Canada’s leadership in the global Artificial Intelligence market; and,
  • EXFO: a $77 million project to create a 5G Centre of Excellence that aims to develop one of the world’s first Artificial Intelligence-based automated network solutions.

Review of the Scientific Research and Experimental Development Tax Incentive Program

The Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) tax incentive program continues to be a cornerstone of Canada’s innovation strategy by supporting research and development with the goal of encouraging Canadian businesses of all sizes to invest in innovation that drives economic growth.

In Budget 2022, the federal government announced its intention to review the SR&ED program to ensure it is providing adequate support and improving the development, retention, and commercialization of intellectual property, including the consideration of adopting a patent box regime. [emphasis mine] The Department of Finance will continue to engage with stakeholders on the next steps in the coming months.

Modernizing Canada’s Research Ecosystem

Canada’s research community and world-class researchers solve some of the world’s toughest problems, and Canada’s spending on higher education research and development, as a share of GDP, has exceeded all other G7 countries. 

Since 2016, the federal government has committed more than $16 billion of additional funding to support research and science across Canada. This includes:

  • Nearly $4 billion in Budget 2018 for Canada’s research system, including $2.4 billion for the Canada Foundation for Innovation and the granting councils—the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research; [emphases mine]
  • More than $500 million in Budget 2019 in total additional support to third-party research and science organizations, in addition to the creation of the Strategic Science Fund, which will announce successful recipients later this year;
  • $1.2 billion in Budget 2021 for Pan-Canadian Genomics and Artificial Intelligence Strategies, and a National Quantum Strategy;
  • $1 billion in Budget 2021 to the granting councils and the Canada Foundation for Innovation for life sciences researchers and infrastructure; and,
  • The January 2023 announcement of Canada’s intention to become a full member in the Square Kilometre Array Observatory, which will provide Canadian astronomers with access to its ground-breaking data. The government is providing up to $269.3 million to support this collaboration.

In order to maintain Canada’s research strength—and the knowledge, innovations, and talent it fosters—our systems to support science and research must evolve. The government has been consulting with stakeholders, including through the independent Advisory Panel on the Federal Research Support System, to seek advice from research leaders on how to further strengthen Canada’s research support system.

The government is carefully considering the Advisory Panel’s advice, with more detail to follow in the coming months on further efforts to modernize the system.

Using College Research to Help Businesses Grow

Canada’s colleges, CEGEPs, and polytechnic institutes use their facilities, equipment, and expertise to solve applied research problems every day. Students at these institutions are developing the skills they need to start good careers when they leave school, and by partnering with these institutions, businesses can access the talent and the tools they need to innovate and grow.

  • To help more Canadian businesses access the expertise and research and development facilities they need, Budget 2023 proposes to provide $108.6 million over three years, starting in 2023-24, to expand the College and Community Innovation Program, administered by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council.

Supporting Canadian Leadership in Space

For decades, Canada’s participation in the International Space Station has helped to fuel important scientific advances, and showcased Canada’s ability to create leading-edge space technologies, such as Canadarm2. Canadian space technologies have inspired advances in other fields, such as the NeuroArm, the world’s first robot capable of operating inside an MRI, making previously impossible surgeries possible.

  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $1.1 billion [emphasis mine] over 14 years, starting in 2023-24, on a cash basis, to the Canadian Space Agency [emphasis mine] to continue Canada’s participation in the International Space Station until 2030.

Looking forward, humanity is returning to the moon [emphasis mine]. Canada intends to join these efforts by contributing a robotic lunar utility vehicle to perform key activities in support of human lunar exploration. Canadian participation in the NASA-led Lunar Gateway station—a space station that will orbit the moon—also presents new opportunities for innovative advances in science and technology. Canada is providing Canadarm3 to the Lunar Gateway, and a Canadian astronaut will join Artemis II, the first crewed mission to the moon since 1972. In Budget 2023, the government is providing further support to assist these missions.

  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $1.2 billion [emphasis mine] over 13 years, starting in 2024-25, to the Canadian Space Agency to develop and contribute a lunar utility vehicle to assist astronauts on the moon.
  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $150 million [emphasis mine[ over five years, starting in 2023-24, to the Canadian Space Agency for the next phase of the Lunar Exploration Accelerator Program to support the Canada’s world-class space industry and help accelerate the development of new technologies.
  • Budget 2023 also proposes to provide $76.5 million [emphasis mine] over eight years, starting in 2023-24, on a cash basis, to the Canadian Space Agency in support of Canadian science on the Lunar Gateway station.

Investing in Canada’s Forest Economy

The forestry sector plays an important role in Canada’s natural resource economy [emphasis mine], and is a source of good careers in many rural communities across Canada, including Indigenous communities. As global demand for sustainable forest products grows, continued support for Canada’s forestry sector will help it innovate, grow, and support good middle class jobs for Canadians.

  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $368.4 million over three years, starting in 2023-24, with $3.1 million in remaining amortization, to Natural Resources Canada to renew and update forest sector support, including for research and development, Indigenous and international leadership, and data. Of this amount, $30.1 million would be sourced from existing departmental resources.

Establishing the Dairy Innovation and Investment Fund

The dairy sector is facing a growing surplus of solids non-fat (SNF) [emphasis mine], a by-product of dairy processing. Limited processing capacity for SNF results in lost opportunities for dairy processors and farmers.

  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $333 million over ten years, starting in 2023-24, for Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to support investments in research and development of new products based on SNF, market development for these products, and processing capacity for SNF-based products more broadly.

Supporting Farmers for Diversifying Away from Russian Fertilizers

Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine has resulted in higher prices for nitrogen fertilizers, which has had a notable impact on Eastern Canadian farmers who rely heavily on imported fertilizer.

  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $34.1 million over three years, starting in 2023-24, to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s On-Farm Climate Action Fund to support adoption of nitrogen management practices by Eastern Canadian farmers, that will help optimize the use and reduce the need for fertilizer.

Providing Interest Relief for Agricultural Producers

Farm production costs have increased in Canada and around the world, including as a result Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and global supply chain disruptions. It is important that Canada’s agricultural producers have access to the cash flow they need to cover these costs until they sell their products.

  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $13 million in 2023-24 to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to increase the interest-free limit for loans under the Advance Payments Program from $250,000 to $350,000 for the 2023 program year.

Additionally, the government will consult with provincial and territorial counterparts to explore ways to extend help to small agricultural producers who demonstrate urgent financial need.

Maintaining Livestock Sector Exports with a Foot-and-Mouth Disease Vaccine Bank

Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) is a highly transmissible illness that can affect cattle, pigs, and other cloven-hoofed animals. Recent outbreaks in Asia and Africa have increased the risk of global spread, and a FMD outbreak in Canada would cut off exports for all livestock sectors, with major economic implications. However, the impact of a potential outbreak would be significantly reduced with the early vaccination of livestock. 

  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $57.5 million over five years, starting in 2023-24, with $5.6 million ongoing, to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to establish a FMD vaccine bank for Canada, and to develop FMD response plans. The government will seek a cost-sharing arrangement with provinces and territories.

Canadian economic theory (the staples theory), mining, nuclear energy, quantum science, and more

Critical minerals are getting a lot of attention these days. (They were featured in the 2022 budget, see my April 19, 2022 posting, scroll down to the Mining subhead.) This year, US President Joe Biden, in his first visit to Canada as President, singled out critical minerals at the end of his 28 hour state visit (from a March 24, 2023 CBC news online article by Alexander Panetta; Note: Links have been removed),

There was a pot of gold at the end of President Joe Biden’s jaunt to Canada. It’s going to Canada’s mining sector.

The U.S. military will deliver funds this spring to critical minerals projects in both the U.S. and Canada. The goal is to accelerate the development of a critical minerals industry on this continent.

The context is the United States’ intensifying rivalry with China.

The U.S. is desperate to reduce its reliance on its adversary for materials needed to power electric vehicles, electronics and many other products, and has set aside hundreds of millions of dollars under a program called the Defence Production Act.

The Pentagon already has told Canadian companies they would be eligible to apply. It has said the cash would arrive as grants, not loans.

On Friday [March 24, 2023], before Biden left Ottawa, he promised they’ll get some.

The White House and the Prime Minister’s Office announced that companies from both countries will be eligible this spring for money from a $250 million US fund.

Which Canadian companies? The leaders didn’t say. Canadian officials have provided the U.S. with a list of at least 70 projects that could warrant U.S. funding.

“Our nations are blessed with incredible natural resources,” Biden told Canadian parliamentarians during his speech in the House of Commons.

Canada in particular has large quantities of critical minerals [emphasis mine] that are essential for our clean energy future, for the world’s clean energy future.

I don’t believe that Joe Biden has ever heard of the Canadian academic Harold Innis (neither have most Canadians) but Biden is echoing a rather well known theory, in some circles, about Canada’s economy (from the Harold Innis Wikipedia entry),

Harold Adams Innis FRSC (November 5, 1894 – November 9, 1952) was a Canadian professor of political economy at the University of Toronto and the author of seminal works on media, communication theory, and Canadian economic history. He helped develop the staples thesis, which holds that Canada’s culture, political history, and economy have been decisively influenced by the exploitation and export of a series of “staples” such as fur, fish, lumber, wheat, mined metals, and coal. The staple thesis dominated economic history in Canada from the 1930s to 1960s, and continues to be a fundamental part of the Canadian political economic tradition.[8] [all emphases mine]

The staples theory is referred to informally as “hewers of wood and drawers of water.”

Critical Minerals Infrastructure Fund

I cannot find an announcement for this fund (perhaps it’s a US government fund?) but there is a March 7, 2023 Natural Resources Canada news release, Note: A link has been removed,

Simply put, our future depends on critical minerals. The Government of Canada is committed to investing in this future, which is why the Canadian Critical Minerals Strategy — launched by the Honourable Jonathan Wilkinson, Minister of Natural Resources, in December 2022 — is backed by up to $3.8 billion in federal funding. [emphases mine] Today [March 7, 2023], Minister Wilkinson announced more details on the implementation of this Strategy. Over $344 million in funding is supporting the following five new programs and initiatives:

  • Critical Minerals Technology and Innovation Program – $144.4 million for the research, development, demonstration, commercialization and adoption of new technologies and processes that support sustainable growth in Canadian critical minerals value chains and associated innovation ecosystems. 
  • Critical Minerals Geoscience and Data Initiative – $79.2 million to enhance the quality and availability of data and digital technologies to support geoscience and mapping that will accelerate the efficient and effective development of Canadian critical minerals value chains, including by identifying critical minerals reserves and developing pathways for sustainable mineral development. 
  • Global Partnerships Program – $70 million to strengthen Canada’s global leadership role in enhancing critical minerals supply chain resiliency through international collaborations related to critical minerals. 
  • Northern Regulatory Initiative – $40 million to advance Canada’s northern and territorial critical minerals agenda by supporting regulatory dialogue, regional studies, land-use planning, impact assessments and Indigenous consultation.
  • Renewal of the Critical Minerals Centre of Excellence (CMCE) – $10.6 million so the CMCE can continue the ongoing development and implementation of the Canadian Critical Minerals Strategy.

Commentary from the mining community

Mariaan Webb wrote a March 29,2023 article about the budget and the response from the mining community for miningweekly.com, Note: Links have been removed,

The 2023 Budget, delivered by Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland on Tuesday, bolsters the ability of the Canadian mining sector to deliver for the country, recognising the industry’s central role in enabling the transition to a net-zero economy, says Mining Association of Canada (MAC) president and CEO Pierre Gratton.

“Without mining, there are no electric vehicles, no clean power from wind farms, solar panels or nuclear energy, [emphasis mine] and no transmission lines,” said Gratton.

What kind of nuclear energy?

There are two kinds of nuclear energy: fission and fusion. (Fission is the one where the atom is split and requires minerals. Fusion energy is how stars are formed. Much less polluting than fission energy, at this time it is not a commercially viable option nor is it close to being so.)

As far as I’m aware, fusion energy does not require any mined materials. So, Gratton appears to be referring to fission nuclear energy when he’s talking about the mining sector and critical minerals.

I have an October 28, 2022 posting, which provides an overview of fusion energy and the various projects designed to capitalize on it.

Smart Cities in Canada

I was happy to be updated on the Smart Cities Challenge. When I last wrote about it (a March 20, 2018 posting; scroll down to the “Smart Cities, the rest of the country, and Vancouver” subhead). I notice that the successful applicants are from Montreal, Quebec; Guelph, Ontario; communities of Nunavut; and Bridgewater, Nova Scotia. It’s about time northern communities got some attention. It’s hard not to notice that central Canada (i.e., Ontario and Quebec) again dominates.

I look forward to hearing more about the new, upcoming challenge.

The quantum crew

I first made note of what appears to be a fracture in the Canadian quantum community in a May 4, 2021 posting (scroll down to the National Quantum Strategy subhead) about the 2021 budget. I made note of it again in a July 26, 2022 posting (scroll down to the Canadian quantum scene subhead).

In my excerpts from the 3.5 Investing in Tomorrow’s Technology section of the 2023 budget, Xanadu Quantum Technologies, headquartered in Toronto, Ontario is singled out with three other companies (none of which are in the quantum computing field). Oddly, D-Wave Systems (located in British Columbia), which as far as I’m aware is the star of Canada’s quantum computing sector, has yet to be singled out in any budget I’ve seen yet. (I’m estimating I’ve reviewed about 10 budgets.)

Canadians in space

Shortly after the 2023 budget was presented, Canadian astronaut Jeremy Hansen was revealed as one of four astronauts to go on a mission to orbit the moon. From a Canadian Broadcasting (CBC) April 3, 2023 news online article by Nicole Mortillaro (Note: A link has been removed),

Jeremy Hansen is heading to the moon.

The 47-year old Canadian astronaut was announced today as one of four astronauts — along with Christina Koch, Victor Glover and Reid Wiseman — who will be part of NASA’s [US National Aeronautics and Space Administration] Artemis II mission.

Hansen was one of four active Canadian astronauts that included Jennifer Sidey-Gibbons, Joshua Kutryk and David Saint-Jacques vying for a seat on the Orion spacecraft set to orbit the moon.

Artemis II is the second step in NASA’s mission to return astronauts to the surface of the moon. 

The astronauts won’t be landing, but rather they will orbit for 10 days in the Orion spacecraft, testing key components to prepare for Artemis III that will place humans back on the moon some time in 2025 for the first time since 1972.

Canada gets a seat on Artemis II due to its contributions to Lunar Gateway, a space station that will orbit the moon. But Canada is also building a lunar rover provided by Canadensys Aerospace.

On Monday [April 3, 2023], Hansen noted there are two reasons a Canadian is going to the moon, adding that it “makes me smile when I say that.”

The first, he said, is American leadership, and the decision to curate an international team.

“The second reason is Canada’s can-do attitude,” he said proudly.

In addition to our ‘can-do attitude,” we’re also spending some big money, i.e., the Canadian government has proposed in its 2023 budget some $2.5B to various space and lunar efforts over the next several years.

Chapter 3 odds and sods

First seen in the 2022 budget, the patent box regime makes a second appearance in the 2023 budget where apparently ‘stakeholders will be engaged’ later this year. At least, they’re not rushing into this. (For the original announcement and an explanation of a patent box regime, see my April 19, 2022 budget review; scroll down to the Review of Tax Support to R&D and Intellectual Property subhead.)

I’m happy to see the Dairy Innovation and Investment Fund. I’m particularly happy to see a focus on finding uses for solids non-fat (SNF) by providing “$333 million over ten years, starting in 2023-24, … research and development of new products based on SNF [emphasis mine], market development for these products, and processing capacity for SNF-based products more broadly.”

This investment contrasts with the approach to cellulose nanocrystals (CNC) derived from wood (i.e., the forest economy), where the Canadian government invested heavily in research and even opened a production facility under the auspices of a company, CelluForce. It was a little problematic.

By 2013, the facility had a stockpile of CNC and nowhere to sell it. That’s right, no market for CNC as there had been no product development. (See my May 8, 2012 posting where that lack is mentioned, specifically there’s a quote from Tim Harper in an excerpted Globe and Mail article. My August 17, 2016 posting notes that the stockpile was diminishing. The CelluForce website makes no mention of it now in 2023.)

It’s good to see the government emphasis on research into developing products for SNFs especially after the CelluForce stockpile and in light of US President Joe Biden’s recent enthusiasm over our critical minerals.

Chapter 4: Advancing Reconciliation and Building a Canada That Works for Everyone

Chapter 4: Advancing Reconciliation and Building a Canada That Works for Everyone offers this, from https://www.budget.canada.ca/2023/report-rapport/toc-tdm-en.html,

4.3 Clean Air and Clean Water

Progress on Biodiversity

Montreal recently hosted the Fifteenth Conference of the Parties (COP15) to the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity, which led to a new Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. During COP15, Canada announced new funding for biodiversity and conservation measures at home and abroad that will support the implementation of the Global Biodiversity Framework, including $800 million to support Indigenous-led conservation within Canada through the innovative Project Finance for Permanence model.

Protecting Our Freshwater

Canada is home to 20 per cent of the world’s freshwater supply. Healthy lakes and rivers are essential to Canadians, communities, and businesses across the country. Recognizing the threat to freshwater caused by climate change and pollution, the federal government is moving forward to establish a new Canada Water Agency and make major investments in a strengthened Freshwater Action Plan.

  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $650 million over ten years, starting in 2023-24, to support monitoring, assessment, and restoration work in the Great Lakes, Lake Winnipeg, Lake of the Woods, St. Lawrence River, Fraser River, Saint John River, Mackenzie River, and Lake Simcoe. Budget 2023 also proposes to provide $22.6 million over three years, starting in 2023-24, to support better coordination of efforts to protect freshwater across Canada.
  • Budget 2023 also proposes to provide $85.1 million over five years, starting in 2023-24, with $0.4 million in remaining amortization and $21 million ongoing thereafter to support the creation of the Canada Water Agency [emphasis mine], which will be headquartered in Winnipeg. By the end of 2023, the government will introduce legislation that will fully establish the Canada Water Agency as a standalone entity.

Cleaner and Healthier Ports

Canada’s ports are at the heart of our supply chains, delivering goods to Canadians and allowing our businesses to reach global markets. As rising shipping levels enable and create economic growth and good jobs, the federal government is taking action to protect Canada’s coastal ecosystems and communities.

  • Budget 2023 proposes to provide $165.4 million over seven years, starting in 2023-24, to Transport Canada to establish a Green Shipping Corridor Program to reduce the impact of marine shipping on surrounding communities and ecosystems. The program will help spur the launch of the next generation of clean ships, invest in shore power technology, and prioritize low-emission and low-noise vessels at ports.

Water, water everywhere

I wasn’t expecting to find mention of establishing a Canada Water Agency and details are sketchy other than, It will be in Winnipeg, Manitoba and there will be government funding. Fingers crossed that this agency will do some good work (whatever that might be). Personally, I’d like to see some action with regard to droughts.

In British Columbia (BC) where I live and which most of us think of as ‘water rich’, is suffering under conditions such that our rivers and lakes are at very low levels according to an April 6, 2023 article by Glenda Luymes for the Vancouver Sun (print version, p. A4),

On the North American WaterWatch map, which codes river flows using a series of coloured dots, high flows are represented in various shades of blue while low flows are represented in red hues. On Wednesday [April 5, 2023], most of BC was speckled red, brown and orange, with the majority of the province’s rivers flowing “much below normal.”

“It does not bode well for the fish populations,” said Marvin Rosenau, a fisheries and ecosystems instructor at BCIT [British Columbia Institute of Technology]. …

Rosenau said low water last fall [2022], when much of BC was in the grip of drought, decreased salmon habitat during spawning season. …

BC has already seen small early season wildfires, including one near Merritt last weekend [April 1/2, 2023]. …

Getting back to the Canada Water Agency, there’s this March 29, 2023 CBC news online article by Bartley Kives,

The 2023 federal budget calls for a new national water agency to be based in Winnipeg, provided Justin Trudeau’s Liberal government remains in power long enough to see it established [emphasis mine] in the Manitoba capital.

The budget announced on Tuesday [March 28, 2023] calls for the creation of the Canada Water Agency, a new federal entity with a headquarters in Winnipeg.

While the federal government is still determining precisely what the new agency will do, one Winnipeg-based environmental organization expects it to become a one-stop shop for water science, water quality assessment and water management [emphasis mine].

“This is something that we don’t actually have in this country at the moment,” said Matt McCandless, a vice-president for the non-profit International Institute for Sustainable Development.

Right now, municipalities, provinces and Indigenous authorities take different approaches to managing water quality, water science, flooding and droughts, said McCandless, adding a national water agency could provide more co-ordination.

For now, it’s unknown how many employees will be based at the Canada Water Agency’s Winnipeg headquarters. According to the budget, legislation to create the agency won’t be introduced until later this year [emphasis mine].

That means the Winnipeg headquarters likely won’t materialize before 2024, one year before the Trudeau minority government faces re-election, assuming it doesn’t lose the confidence of the House of Commons beforehand [emphasis mine].

Nonetheless, several Canadian cities and provinces were vying for the Canada Water Agency’s headquarters, including Manitoba.

The budget also calls for $65 million worth of annual spending on lake science and restoration, with an unstated fraction of that cash devoted to Lake Winnipeg.

McCandless calls the spending on water science an improvement over previous budgets.

Kives seems a tad jaundiced but you get that way (confession: I have too) when covering government spending promises.

Part 2 (military spending and general comments) will be posted sometime during the week of April 24-28, 2023.