UK university develops free agri-food course to inspire the next generation of scientists

British researchers have developed a new, free online agri-food course aimed to inspire 16 to 19-year-olds across Europe to study science so they can help to create the sustainable food of the future.

Improving Food Production with Agricultural Technology and Plant Biotechnology is funded by EIT Food, Europe’s leading food innovation initiative, which works to make the food system more sustainable, healthy and trusted.

The development of the course is led by the Gatsby Plant Science Education Programme (GPSEP) based at the University of Cambridge, which promotes plant science education among students of all ages across the UK.

Dan Jenkins, head of GPSEP, said: “The course we’ve made will engage and inform our scientists of tomorrow about the exciting technologies and science to help feed the future population. By showcasing a number of next-generation solutions to real-world challenges we want to enthuse young people with ideas for future studies and career possibilities, to help keep science and technology feeding the world.”

Titled ‘Improving Food Production with Agricultural Technology and Plant Biotechnology’, the course features real-life examples of how science and technology are revolutionising every stage of the food production process, from growing crops to harvesting and processing them.

Syllabus

The course covers three main topics:

Plant biotechnology

How can genetics protect crops from pests and diseases? What about the alternatives, like using other insects to kill pests?

The module features Cambridge University’s Prof. Cristobal Uauy, who has discovered how to remove the genetic ‘brakes’ that stop wheat grains from growing.

Agricultural technology

What high-tech machines are currently being used in fields, and what will future farms look like? This section features a weeding machine that uses AI to recognise weeds, and cutting-edge research into autonomous farm robots.

Dr. Thomas Engel from agricultural machinery company John Deere gives his view on how long it will be before we see robots working in our fields.

Food science

What processes do crops go through before they reach the supermarket? Is processing always bad, or can it make food more nutritious and safer?

Around one-third of food produced for human consumption is wasted – how can science help us to re-use this waste?

This section also includes a case study of how useful compounds, such as antioxidants, can be extracted from food waste.

How to sign up

The course will be hosted on social learning website FutureLearn, and feature videos, quizzes, discussion boards and an interactive timeline to make learning about the latest cutting-edge science enjoyable and exciting.

The course goes live on September 30, 2019, and mentors will be online to interact with learners and answer questions for the first three weeks.

The course will be available to join until November 11, 2019. Future runs are planned for 2020. Sign up for Food of the Future.