Research that provides sustainable and nutritional benefits

Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter finds out from Christian Wolfrum, Vice Pr
Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter finds out from Christian Wolfrum, Vice President for Research at ETH Zurich, the business ideas behind the spin-offs at the Start-up Tower. (Photograph: smith-art / ETH Zurich)
ETH Zurich is present at the Olma trade fair in St Gallen. Using spin-offs and games, the ETH booth illustrates how research can contribute to making Swiss food and agriculture sustainable.

Yesterday, Federal Councillor Karin Keller-Sutter opened the 80th Olma trade fair. In her original and at times self-ironic speech, the Finance Minister made a literary digression into the importance of the pig and spun a narrative ranging from the supportive role played by the Olma piglet and the pig that plays a major role in her job as Finance Minister - the piggy bank - to the savings cuts earmarked for federal finances, from which even the agricultural budget is not to escape unscathed. She went on to state: "It is getting more crowded at the feeding trough."

But what does that mean for agriculture?

"Swiss agriculture has every reason to be confident," the Federal Councillor went on in an encouraging tone to the guests present. "I am convinced that its innovative capacity will enable it to seize future opportunities."

Innovations for food and agriculture

What the Federal Councillor meant by this was revealed during the traditional opening tour. On her walk through the exhibition halls, she also made a stop at the ETH Zurich booth. Its exhibit is entitled "Where the future begins - research for sustainable agriculture" and focusses on start-ups that are making Swiss food and agriculture more sustainable.

"Research and innovation play an important role in future agriculture", Keller-Sutter stated. "ETH Zurich is making an important contribution in this respect."

Christian Wolfrum, Vice President for Research at ETH Zurich since the beginning of the year, welcomed the Federal Councillor to the ETH booth and showed her the Start-up Tower at the centre of the exhibition.

From research to business idea

Five spin-offs and start-ups from the university are presenting their ideas at the circular ETH booth. They focus on food made from alternative proteins and on digital techniques that reduce the use of pesticides and fertilisers.

Their business fields extend from the field to the plate:

external page Caterra call_made demonstrates a weeding robot that uses artificial intelligence (AI) and laser light.

"Olma offers ETH Zurich a key opportunity to show an interested audience how our research in food and agricultural sciences is producing real innovations and products that are of direct benefit to Swiss business and society," stressed the ETH Vice President.

Keller-Sutter noted approvingly: "In this way, ETH spin-offs not only create highly qualified jobs but also make major contributions to food security in Switzerland and worldwide."

Highlight: Microalgae - a food of the future

One attraction is the algae reactor, which researchers are using to investigate the cultivation and production of microalgae as food.

Microalgae have great potential: they are rich in high-quality proteins, unsaturated fatty acids, minerals and vitamins. They also need little space, grow quickly and can utilise leftovers from food production.

"Despite these qualities, microalgae are still relatively little established in the food industry, partly due to the lack of suitable processes," says Wolfrum.

Finding access through play

Three interactive games also await visitors at the family-friendly ETH booth - the "Ruminant Simulator", "Agricultural Policy Jenga" and "Morph Tales - Discovering Artificial Intelligence (AI)".

The first two introduce fundamental research questions for animal nutrition and agricultural sciences - Jenga even makes agricultural policy fun for children. Morph Tales conveys to teenagers and adults the potential of AI and robotics for modern agriculture and other applications.
Michael Keller