Insightful Conversations: What Dr. Dorit Avni thinks about the future of bio-compounds, research and the transition to a more sustainable industry

We recently had the privilege to talk to Dr. Dori Avni, coordinator of project Algae4IBD, which is being developed under the European program HORIZON2020. Dr. Avni is Head of the Sphingolipids, Phytochemicals and Immune Modulation Lab at MIGAL (Galilee Research Center, Israel).

Dr. Avni is a seasoned biochemist and immunologist with more than 25 years of experience in the immune system and how to rebalance it. MIGAL was established almost six years ago, with the focus to investigate novel approaches in the field, such as sustainable natural sources that we explore to see which if they can be bioactive as novel food ingredients. Algae4IBD is one of the four projects that are part of the AIMS Cluster, in which SECRETed is also a member. We spoke to Dr. Avni to know her point of view regarding the importance of bio-compounds in the transition to a more sustainable industry and other important topics. Here are some of her key insights:

There is a need for change in chemical usage and transition to sustainable sources, and Dr. Avni thinks this should be achieved as soon as possible: “In the long run, if we keep using classical chemicals for these purposes, we will see that it’s harming the land, our health, etc. It’s not contributing in any way. This concept needs to be changed immediately, because each year that we continue to use the same approach, we will continue doing harm and damage.

Regarding the use of biosurfactants and siderophores to produce novel solutions, Dr. Avni warns: Nature also has its own chemicals that could harm. So, we need to look at that and sort it out in the way that we will take the good out of that. And we will know how to make the process. Also, the process comes because it has its own risks. Let’s call it side effects. Then, it depends how we are going to use these natural sources in the most non-harmful way, because it’s a huge untapped potential to promote”. However, she then highlights the opportunity society has by transitioning to these solutions: “looking to bio-based compounds is the only solution for our near and far future. But the way we are going to do that, we need to be more creative”.

When asked, how can we reach these industries and make them use these alternatives or what’s the best way of encouraging them to do it, Dr Avni says: “First, with projects like those we have under AIMS. We’re getting the budget to make the progress. When you’re working with a lot of experts in the field, you are expediting the procedures, you are expediting the results, the potential. And once we are doing it in a very transparent way; communicating it, disseminating it, indicating which kind of products or potential applications are validated already, we are doing it right. And this, this may be the real inconvenient part because only to get a paper or an article out there is not as convincing as when you are showing a case and showing a product or showing proof to the industry and consumers. Because we need to engage them to put some pressure on the industry and the farmers. I think this is the way, and I think all of us are doing that”.

We also spoke about making an impact in the reformulation of laws regarding the transition to more sustainable sources, like bio-surfactants and siderophores, and Dr. Avni stated: “I believe that the European Commission wants the knowledge. It wants us to provide them with the knowledge to see what’s next, how to look into the future and how they can use it, and not just talk about it. Climate change is a big word, but what actions are needed? It’s the evidence we are providing and the white paper that we are supposed to make, that I truly believe could have an impact”.

Finally, we asked Dr. Avni about the role of stakeholders’ engagement in encouraging the use of the substitutes and what kind of approaches will work well in this regard, and she told us: “This is the most challenging part in a way, because I think the European Commission would not need to fund such projects if the industry and public were all already engaged and all into it, and would understand the full impact of bio-based compounds or whatever we are doing in the project. I think there is a gap between what people would like to see and what people know or understand, not only the end user, but the consumers, the public, the food industry, the cosmetic, the health industry, etc. This is a huge gap that we need to minimize somehow. As researchers, as scientists, we have our platform: it’s in the papers, articles, conferences that we can talk with our audience, but this is for a minority; for the majority, we need to standardize it and make it simple, because the younger generation doesn’t have a lot of patience, so we really need to make it simple”.

In conclusion, our conversation with Dr. Avni was focused on the opportunities and challenges our work presents, and how a transition from unsustainable to sustainable sources in the industry could be achieved more expeditiously. Projects like SECRETed, ALGAE4IBD and the others in the AIMS cluster have a decisive impact on how this goal is achieved and may be key to delivering a more sustainable future for the industry. Finally, we would like to thank Dr. Dorit Avni for her time, patience, expertise and collaboration, and for really caring about the future of society and the transition we all must make to secure a better tomorrow for us all.

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