Maximising food-research impact through industry partnerships

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The University of Adelaide is embracing external collaboration to ensure its food-related investigations meet real world needs and deliver a smooth, lab-to-plate transition of benefits.

As you would expect from a member of Australia’s prestigious Group of 8 research-intensive universities, there’s a great deal of food-related inquiry and innovation taking place at the University of Adelaide. Over 260 Adelaide academics currently contribute their expertise to dozens of innovative projects, spanning all five University faculties. Yet University researchers are keenly aware their work’s full value can only be realised through external consultation, collaboration and, ultimately, application.

Reflecting this, in addition to working closely with key food industry groups and government, the University invests considerable time and resources in focused research partnerships with more than 30 major companies and not-for-profit organisations. These range from international giants, such as Pfizer, Nestle and Unilever, to national leaders, including Woolworths, Elders, Coles and Westpac, and local icons, like Haighs, Coopers Brewery and Thomas Foods.

Adelaide also recently took the step of appointing environmental scientist Professor Andy Lowe to the new position of Director of Food Innovation to oversee the establishment and maintenance of these valuable relationships. Acknowledging the importance of the role, Professor Lowe says he considers it “absolutely critical” the University bridges any and all gaps between research-generated innovation and food producers’ ability to apply it.

“A well-coordinated approach to connecting our researchers with external partners—who can utilise and benefit from our expertise—will ultimately lead to growth and new jobs in the South Australian and national food sector.”

According to Professor Lowe, the University’s durum wheat breeding partnership with Adelaide-based San Remo Macaroni perfectly illustrates the approach. As a result of ongoing discussion of industry needs with the pasta manufacturer in the mid-2000s, the University initiated development of a new durum variety called DBA-Aurora. It was launched commercially in 2014 with immediate success.

“Relative to leading existing varieties, DBM-Aurora was bred specifically to be used in pasta products, and focussed on taste and texture. The variety also has improved disease resistance, larger grain size, earlier vigour and better weed competiveness,” he says. “and consistently shows impressive yield potential.

“Consequently, it attracted instant demand—not just locally, from San Remo and others, but internationally, from pasta giants like Barilla. That represents big opportunities for Australian growers and exporters.”

Similarly, the University is acting to boost the emerging Australian native food industry through partnerships with the Orana Foundation and Spring Gully Foods.

University researchers are working with the Orana Foundation, established by founder and chef of Adelaide restaurant Orana, Jock Zonfrillo, to research and cultivate native Australian ingredients for the benefit of remote Indigenous communities; while the collaboration with South Australian food manufacturer Spring Gully will specifically investigate potential sources of food colourings among Australian native plants.

These and multiple other examples, adds Professor Lowe, continue a “proud legacy” of national and international contribution.

“Researchers at the University of Adelaide Centre for Global Food and Resources are working closely with industry, scientists and governments in more than a dozen countries to address all kinds of issues—economic, regulatory, industrial and social—affecting global food systems.

“Our FOODplus Research Centre, based at the Waite campus, is partnering with the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute to link health researchers with plant and animal scientists, growers and producers to develop food with real health benefits, such as eggs with more omega 3.

“We’ve also established many strong international partnerhsips. The Australia-China Joint Research Centre of Grains for Health has been launched with Shanghai Jiao Tong University and China Agricultural University; and the Davies Research Centre, located at our Roseworthy campus, leads several international research and development programs in ruminant science, including in the US, Brazil, UK, Italy, China and Indonesia.

“But we’re always looking to do more.”

Related links:
Food Innovation
Building a native food industry in Australia
Professor Andy Lowe’s profile