NZBIO, Wellington

NZBIO 2015, held in the ‘southernmost capital city in the world’, Wellington, New Zealand recently, was an excellent conference this year. A change of city, a great venue (our national Museum, Te Papa) and an up-tick on attendances compared to recent years all created a great vibe.

And it was excellent for BioPacific too since I had been asked to deliver a plenary paper, Margot Bethell delivered a panel session on managing innovation, and Tim McCready delivered a paper on investing – three BioPacific presentations in the one conference! It’s good to know that our long-term support for the sector has built recognition in the biotech community down here.

As you might expect of a national BIO conference in a small country like New Zealand, NZBIO is quite eclectic – the term “life science” really applies here, with food, health and agriculture all getting somewhat equal shares of the limelight. And in a similar way the highlights were a mixture of our strong suits – food & agriculture – with some great cutting-edge medical biotech.

I think my personal favourite was the creation of plants with more efficient respiration and the growth advantages this can bring under high temperature and CO2 levels. This involved a combination of one natural and one synthetic gene which improves the normally inefficient energy cycle. I think it epitomises the high science that is going to be needed to cope with global warming and I’m really proud that it comes from our little corner of the world.

I know it’s a long way to come from the big population centres of the world, but I would commend NZBIO to anyone as a fascinating and fun conference.

ABIC, Melbourne

The AgBiotech International Conference, held in Melbourne recently, is a truly international gathering, and one of my favourites. It’s not easy for us ‘down-under’ folks to get to them but, as testament to the strength of our ag sector, this is the second time ABIC has been held down here in the last 9 years. And that leads to a delightful local take on many of the global issues.

For example, the social & regulatory acceptance, or otherwise, of gene editing was a question that ran through the conference, reflecting that Australia has internal discord on this issue, with some States banning GM and others accepting it.

The conference also had a strong thread on communication, with some fascinatingly diverse speakers covering how to communicate science, and risk in particular, and how to track what is being communicated.

Precision agriculture was another major theme, with some really mind-blowing future scenarios being painted about when big data gets easier and easier to collect, to manage and to use. Outside of consumer science, I reckon agriculture will be the second early adopter of big data.

In a very Australian ending to the conference, a presentation was given by Dr Gerard Davis, General Manager Innovation & Technology for Australia’s largest cattle ranch, the Australian Agricultural Company. This corporate farm has land about the same size as Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg combined, or similar to the State of South Carolina. There are numerous challenges with producing high quality beef across such a large holding and Dr Davis showed many ways in which modern agritech is making that easier and more sustainable.

As usual, the crowd was very friendly and the conversations vigorous, helped by being a small enough conference that pretty much everyone can catch-up with everyone else. I commend this conference to anyone interested in the business of agbiotech – the next one is being held in Fargo, North Dakota – how’s that for a change from Australia!


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