Ep. 2 #Bioimpact Silicon Valley: Clean Meat, Curiosity & Impact w/ Prof Thomas Herget
In March 2020, covid started to spread all around the world. Despite the immense damage, it brought to our society, it also positively raised the awareness of science and technology. I personally studied chemistry for 6,5 years across four different countries, and I will never regret this because our entire life is surrounded by chemical products such as shampoo, water treatment processes up to nanomaterials that keep our walls white all year long.
One of the biggest misconceptions about scientists is that we think about someone in the lab – like he/she is in a prison. However, in some cases, science can lead to freedom. Studying one topic can lead to many industries. For instance, artificial muscle (a polymer made of silicon), can lead to tons of applications; from medicine with heart valves to entertainment with gloves, we use for VR games. Therefore, you are never stuck in one particular industry. You could potentially change your field every 5 years and focus on different topics. Plus; with a scientific background, you can do any other job in society such as being president (Angela Merkel) or a businessman; investor, communicator. But we all know it, society doesn’t have enough scientists to solve and understand the world’s biggest problems. This is why I decided myself — along with scientific communicators all around the world — to also go on a journey and share the beauty of science. How? By interviewing experts in the field. I started with a Silicon Valley serie about #biompact. Understand the big WHY of biotechnology and why we need them to change the world.
Kamila and I had the pleasure to have Thomas Herget, Professor at TU Darmstadt, Germany, head of the innovation Hub Silicon Valley at Milipore Sigma / Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany (Clean Meat ) , is e.g. member of the Board of Directors TDC, UCLA.
Question 1: what motivated you to pursue science and / or biotechnology?
Prof. Herget mentioned that you have to be connected to a topic or something in the world you really care about: for him, it was nature. He actually grew up with pets, trying to find insects and butterflies with a lens. He was exploring. This combination of events in his early years of life made him want to pursue science. It was all about curiosity, he wanted to expand his understanding of what is happening in this black box, called a “cell”. Thomas mentioned what drives scientists is actually not to know already but to discover and understand new pathways. Doing so is what keeps him motivated.
Because entrepreneurship and innovation starts with the desire to solve a problem, I asked all my guest the following question:
Question 2 What is the problem you are trying to solve with the innovation hub? I have heard you are working on clean meat, can you tell us a bit more about this?
Thomas is looking for the “ Business of the future ” Using the power of the Silicon Valley ecosystem to build new partnerships and advance the early-stage innovation field, called clean meat. Did you know? “ Many drugs like vaccines and therapeutics antibodies are produced in a bioreactor, by cells. In this case, what the cells produce is the product. In the case of the clean meat, what interests us is the cell itself. “ He finds that this is so fascinating because two very different products are almost made the same way. The problem in the technology atm is the price of the synthesis: the culture media (amino acid, protein, salts – so the sell can grow). Problem: upscaling. When the bioreactor is 10 000 L – we still don’t how to produce so many cells at that scale. Merck is currently trying to make this technology scalable and feasible. In the space, 4 years ago; there were only 4 companies! As of mid-2020, there are around 60 startups, > 300 million capital ventures. Investors like to invest in this area.
The company Milipore Sigma is already doing big scale synthesis for stem cells, vaccines, or antibodies. Therefore, going into this new field of clean meat is not a complete reinvention.
Question n*3: What is a big problem in society today that biotechnology can solve?
In Society at the moment, one of the biggest problems is sustainability. In fact, there will be 2 more billion people by 2015 and the production of meat will likely be 2x. In 30 years, there will not be enough water, land and most people will actually not have access to quality protein. On the other hand, biotechnology can solve the plastic problem, and we create bioplastic, so they don’t stay in the ocean. Here 3 examples, clean meat, biofuels, and bioplastic.
Question n*4 What should we say to people in general so people trust the science?
The discussion has to be transparent. Actually, for every change, people are afraid. We need more fact-based discussion. There is so much fake news. The fake news are harmful to scientists. For instance, GMOs in Europe, if we want to sustainably support the food – we need the GMO. The lobbyists in Europe are so strongly opinionated. They control the social media and it’s very hard to have a discussion. With clean meat, for instance, we try to educate the customers already know – what it is, how to use it.
Question n*5 : Why was the world so unprepared? How do you see the healthcare system going forward?
In the US – terrible reaction but the reaction was much better in Asia. Behavior was the key factor, wearing masks etc. Asian countries had some pandemic in the previous 20 years as well. One of the biggest problems in the US – you pay what you get for. People are not paying for who cannot pay. In contrast to Germany, everyone is contributing to the healthcare cost. Production will be less centralized – more decentralized. Really – to fight pandemics in the future “ it is a topic of everyone, everybody has to take care of this “. We need to do more research – investing more and for this; we need to have the willingness to spend.
Question n*6: What is your advice to young people, where to start to solve a big problem?
The professor mentioned that it really starts with curiosity. Following your curiosity, taking a topic you truly care about e.g clean meat, plastic, epidemics, research, digital, IT.. “ It’s amazing, even looking at electronics, we are trying to activate the nerve system to cure diseases ”. The world is full of fascinating topics and you have to find them for yourself, you look at the stone, under the stone and identify more topics. When you learn more, discover more – this is how you can go big.
I personally really liked the 6 steps he introduced in this interview:
Open your eyes
Learn and read a lot
Jump on it
Work on it
And my favorite quote is:
“ Love it or leave it “
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