Human Practices


Science, a human endeavor, unfolds to serve people and the planet. It beckons us not only to create but to venture beyond the laboratory, to connect with the wider world, and to share our discoveries. In the tapestry of science, effective communication is the thread that weaves it into the fabric of our understanding.

David Attenborough

Climate Change

The climate crisis is a threat to all humans worldwide. Food security is a main concern according to the current IPCC 2022 report (see here), extreme weather events already cause adverse effects on agricultural production and land use. Despite current efforts to mitigate them, the frequency, intensity, and duration of extreme climatic events are projected to continue to increase through the upcoming century, and with this, devastating global food production will occur. To prevent a global humanitarian catastrophe, secure food production for example through new cultivated plants or domestication of new crop plants is needed within an extremely short time.

Science is created by people for people. Therefore it is important to go beyond the process of creation and to leave the laboratory to connect and to exchange ideas with people outside. Following it is needed to overcome prejudices against new technologies and GMOs with communication, education and exchanges.


Thus, it was important for us to start an exchange with people from all over the world and include their shared impressions in our project.

For us, it was important to gain an inside view of a country that is one of the largest GM crop producers in the world. To broaden our knowledge about Agrobacterium we took up contact with Prof. João Bespalhok from the Federal University of Paraná, Brazil. The discussion led to the identification of potential plant candidates for transformation and catalyzed discussions regarding the future of green biotechnology and agriculture especially in Brazil and Germany.

Furthermore, we understood that expanding the food variety needs to come with acceptance of people and subsequent inclusion into their cultural diets. To dive deeper into these aspects we include ethnobotany which covers the interaction between humans and their usage of plants as food, medicine, and ritual causes. Thus, we discussed the topics of food and human plant usage within societies with Prof. Rainer W. Bussmann who is currently a professor at the Ilia State University, Georgia, and head of the unit botany at the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe, Germany.

Addressing concerns is important in order to raise acceptance. We therefore were going beyond researchers from the academic field we discussed with Dr. Ewen Mullins who is chair of the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) GMO-Panel and head of the crop science department at Ireland's Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc). For us, it was important to get in touch with the political dimension of our research and the GMO ban in the European Union. Thus, we were interested in taking an inside look at the science communication and consultations within the European Union.

Moreover, we included perspectives of young people who are working on solutions caused by climate change. Thus, meeting and exchanging perspectives with Soini Akomena from Windhoek, Namibia broaden our perspective. Gaining an inside view into Namibian society and seeing that there are similar problems when it comes to education and teaching about biology.


The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) is an agency of the European Union responsible for providing and evaluating scientific advice, information and coordination on emerging and existing risks associated with the food chain across Europe. EFSA's scope covers all matters relating to feed and food safety, as well as animal welfare and health, plant protection and health, and nutrition.

Dr. Ewan Mullins

EFSA's Scientific Panels, made up of experts, cover a wide range of complex issues and are responsible for the majority of the scientific assessment work. Each of the 10 Panels is dedicated to a different area. The GMO-Panels research concentrates on plants, microorganisms and animals that are genetically modified. It offers impartial scientific guidance on matters concerning the safety of food and feed, risk evaluation with respect to the environment as well as molecular characterisation and plant science.
Dr. Ewen Mullins is chair of the EFSA GMO-Panel and head of the crop science department at Ireland's Agriculture and Food Development Authority (Teagasc). His research investigates the impact of novel breeding techniques on Irish crop production and works on developing new lines of crops with heightened resistance to primary crop pathogens. This makes him a valuable contact on issues relating to GMOs in agriculture and food production in the EU.

Before a new GM plant can be approved for the market in the EU, it needs to undergo the detailed evaluation process of the GMO-panel. The applicant must submit a dossier containing all the data criteria required by EFSA's guidance document including data on performance, stability as well as sequencing and molecular data for the molecular characterisation as well as food and feed safety. An important part of the process is the Environmental Risk Assessment (ERA), where the risks to the environment are assessed for each individual GM plant. EFSA also uses methods such as ecosystem modeling to mathematically model, for example, the long-term effects of GM lines. Even after the marketing process, there will be a corresponding program in place to monitor any environmental impact. EFSA's panels receive the entire dossier, which undergoes a thorough review for completeness.

More detailed information about guidance and regulations can be found on EFSAs website GMO applications: regulations and guidance | EFSA (

We enquired about how the Panel makes sure that it obtains all the required information to assess a dossier. Dr. Mullins explained that EFSA follows specific protocols to search for literature, conducts a comprehensive assessment of the applicant"s submitted dossier and continuously updates on the latest scientific literature in the respective field. If there are any gaps in data or information, the panel will notify the applicant and request the essential documentation. After completing its evaluation, the panel provides a scientific recommendation. Risk managers can then use this recommendation to make a decision on marketing authorisation.

In the EU, currently there's only one GM crop grown which is MON810, a maize cultivar expressing genes of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) which encode the expression of proteins with insecticidal effects (Martins-Salles et al., 2017) and it therefore is resistant against insects, especially the larvae of Ostrinia nubilalis (Corn borer), a significant pest in maize production destroying about 4% of the global maize production yearly, the FAO (Food and agriculture Organisation of the United Nations) suggest.

Compared to countries like the USA, where an array of genetically modified plant cultivars are employed in the production of animal feed and food, the utilisation of this technology still requires enhancement within the EU. This can be caused by the different approaches states can have in terms of food safety.

Future of green biotechnology and agriculture in the EU

But will the situation regarding green genetic engineering in the EU change with the climate crisis accelerating as there will be growing challenges in maintaining food security in Europe? Although genetically modified foods are not the sole solution for this problem, they can contribute significantly to the transformation of agriculture and help to mitigate the consequences of global warming in Europe (Kovak et al., 2022). This is a crucial and significant task for our generation!

Europe must address the consequences of climate change that it is facing as a society. It's not just GMO, it's everything!

Dr. Ewen Mullins

In order to bring about change in the way technology is being utilised in the EU to ensure future food security, science communication is a crucial tool for conducting research in collaboration with society. The involvement of the European population is key to enabling a transformation of food production, which has been inadequately performed in the past with scientists having underestimated the importance of science communication. While there has been a small positive trend towards the acceptance of biotechnology over the past two decades, the level of acceptance towards GM products, specifically GM plants remains low in Europe (Woźniak et al., 2021).

Research into new food sources and diversification of diets is crucial for the future. However, without parallel efforts to inform consumers on the importance of diversifying diets, the context and impact of that research will not be as significant.

Dr. Ewen Mullins

Climate change will necessitate significant changes in diet. With nutrition relying on a limited selection of crops globally, diversifying the population's diet is crucial for increasing resilience to future climate change consequences such as droughts and floods (Massawe 2016). This agriculture of the future must prioritize sustainability, security, health, and fairness, with diversification of food sources as a crucial factor. These points are part of the EU's green deal, Europe's answer to climate change, with that the Farm to Fork principle was created which is the EU's ambitious strategy aiming for a future climate neutral food production in Europe. From a food security standpoint, it is imperative that we investigate the potential of tools such as green biotechnologies that can aid in climate change mitigation and comply with the objectives of Europe's green deal. This can also mean becoming creative, from cinnamon-coated locusts, plant-based meat to GM algae full of vitamin B12.

At the same time, communicating these profound changes and potential risks and advantages of new applications in agriculture to society is a decisive task of science communication. It is important that communication is accessible and comprehensible in order to create confidence in the adaptation of agriculture to climate change. Society must be enabled to form its own opinion on the basis of well-communicated objective evidence. In practice, this could entail, for instance, the implementation of clear and understandable product labelling.

We as an iGEM team want to contribute to this improvement of communication and visibility of this important issue in society. By first analysing and understanding the situation through speaking with experts in the field we want to create discussion and confront many parts of society with biotechnology in educational projects.

We think that only through good communication and consideration of all options will it be possible to move towards an agriculture that can mitigate the effects of climate change globally.

We appreciate the opportunity to discuss with Dr. Ewen Mullins the work of the EFSA GMO-Panel and to think about the future of diet and food production in Europe. Thank you very much for your time, openness and helpfulness in supporting our project!

Prof. Dr. João Bespalhok - Federal University of Paraná

João Bespalhok

João Bespalhok holds the position of full professor in "Plant Breeding" and "Plant Biotechnology" for the Agronomy program at the Federal University of Paraná (UFPR). It is the oldest university in Brazil and is located in the state of Paraná in the south of the country. Brazil currently stands as the world's second-largest producer of GM crops. It is estimated that for the 2022/23 period, Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) Brasilia has forecasted around 65 million hectares of land being cultivated with GM crops (Office of Agricultural Affairs, 2022).

His research concentrates on the genetic enhancement and biotechnology of sugarcane at the Interuniversity Network for the Development of the Sugar Energy Sector (RIDESA) of the Federal University of Paraná, within the Program for Genetic Improvement of Sugarcane (PMGCA). The research addresses important issues and questions of our time, with the objective of augmenting plants, especially sugarcane resistance to biotic and abiotic pressures caused by climate change. This makes him an excellent contact to discuss and exchange experience and issues regarding Agrobacterium-mediated transformations and identifying potential experimental plants. It was also very interesting for us to discuss the future of agriculture and green biotechnology as well as the contrast in the use of genetically modified organisms between Germany and Brazil.

Importance of biotechnology for future food security.

With increasing global warming and the accompanying extreme weather events, agriculture is facing a variety of problems for which multi-layered solutions need to be found. The implementation of green biotechnology in agriculture has the potential to make a significant contribution to mitigating the consequences of climate change (Kovak, et al. 2022). Plant traits for mitigating climate change may include drought and heat resilience, as well as a higher yield to reduce land use while maintaining output. It is important to consider these objective factors in developing effective strategies for addressing the climate crisis. Since João Bespalhok is devising ways to enhance plants' resilience to stress, we asked him for his opinion about how green biotechnology will play a future part, compared to conventional plant breeding.

With the traditional tools we have for plant breeding, we are no longer able to adapt to the changing conditions due to the rapid pace of climate change. So, biotechnology is a valuable tool in dealing with climate change, particularly in the development of crops that are more resistant to abiotic stresses. This will be essential for the future!

Prof. Dr. João Bespalhok

At the moment, the most common GM traits in Brazil are tolerances against popular herbicides and Bt-crops which are characterised by expressing genes of Bacillus thuringiensis (Bt) that encode the expression of proteins with insecticidal effects (Martins-Salles et al., 2017), Therefore, fewer insecticides need to be used to protect the plants from diseases and insects. These resistances and systems like no-tillage, which does not require disturbance of the soil through tillage for planting crops and therefore reduces soil erosion and soil CO2 emission, make GM soy, maize, corn and cotton very popular in Brazil. Cotton reaches 99% and corn 95% of total planted in Brazil (Agricultural Biotechnology Annual, 2022) as farmers can increase their crop yields while saving on pesticide costs and reducing the time spent tilling their fields.

Apart from these applications, numerous plant species and GM traits could provide potential benefits to a healthy and balanced diet and increase food security. What prevents these from being more popular?

What we have seen so far is the majority of traits that are being integrated into crops are primarily beneficial for the farmer, like herbicide or insect resistances. What I would like to see in the future is that these traits are more for the consumer, for example nutritionally enhanced food. So in the future, we might have GMOs that are more for the consumer and less for the farmers' interests.

Prof. Dr. João Bespalhok

In general there are various practical applications to consider, including extending the shelf life of food production, enhancing flavour, and reducing allergens such as gluten. Previous initiatives like the Golden Rice project have demonstrated the biotechnological potential to increase the availability of vital nutrients, vitamins, and minerals. Through this, not only can we make a valuable contribution to global food security, but we can also help to create healthier food sources for many individuals. Vitamin deficiency continues to be a pressing concern in numerous countries. Genetically modified crops have the potential to contain higher amounts of nutrients, vitamins and minerals than non-modified alternatives (Yali, 2022).

In addition to the genetic adaptation of previously used crops, it is very important to consider new plants. Diversifying staple crops is vital for increasing the food chain's resilience, sustainability, and suitability for local environments (Massawe et al., 2016). Our project's main goal is to contribute to this future as there are over 50,000 plant species that are edible, but only a meagre 300 species are available in the market (Jacques and Jacques, 2012). Biotechnology provides the opportunity of de novo domestication of these underutilised and unknown plants more quickly than traditional breeding methods by precisely modifying genes crucial for domestication. Some crops underwent thousands of years of domestication, a process we cannot afford to repeat given the urgency of climate change.

Sometimes, you lack knowledge of appropriate fertilisers, crop diseases, planting schedules, and other relevant information. Fundamental research is crucial for the successful cultivation of a new crop.

Prof. Dr. João Bespalhok

The challenges of utilising plants that have not been previously used in biotechnology are extensive. Because of the significant lack of protocols and data it is a major challenge to work with these plants. Moreover, there is a lack of fundamental knowledge regarding planting techniques, suitable fertilisers, potential diseases, and any exceptional characteristics that must be considered. These problems need to be addressed to maintain a stable food supply for humanity through diversification and to ensure its viability in the face of the climate crisis.

Prof. Bespalhok gave us helpful tips on which plants we could try as part of our project. As he works with sugarcane, he suggested trying a monocotyledonous plant in our project. This makes sense as for example wheat and rice, which are also monocots, constitute a significant part of humanity's diet. However, the transformation of monocots using Agrobacterium has presented numerous difficulties. With his suggestion in mind, we decided on using a model plant, Setaria viridis, as a first step due to the necessity for effective protocols specific to monocots prior to attempting new plant species.

Building on Prof. Bespalhok expertise, we selected plant species capable of alleviating the projected impacts of climate change, particularly those exhibiting drought tolerance and potential for enhancing future food security like Vigna subterranea (Bambara Groundnut) or Ceratonia siliqua (Carob), as well as plants that are already anchored in the diet and culture in general but whose cultivation could be problematic in the future because they are not sufficiently adapted to the changing conditions like Fragaria x ananassa.

Problems and prospects in the work with Agrobacterium

One goal of this year's iGEM project is to enhance the efficiency of Agrobacterium-mediated transformations and to introduce new and promising plant species into the iGEM context. To attain these objectives, it is necessary to examine the issues that have previously made broader application of this bacterium difficult and address them appropriately. João Bespalhok's experience with Agrobacterium allowed us to ask him specific questions, greatly contributing to the success of our project.

We asked for his perception of the primary problems when working with Agrobacterium: The main one is the genotype dependency of the transformation rate in Agrobacterium. Working with the "wrong" genotype can be frustrating as some plants are difficult to transform with certain Agrobacterium strains. This is especially true when trying to transform new plants without existing protocols. We have also experienced a difficulty where a dependency on genotype could also have played a role in our research involving cut-dip-budding plants and the ARqua1 strain. Consequently, we transitioned to using the K599 strain.

Prof. Bespalhok pointed out that the defence responses of the different plant species might interfere with the Agrobacterium transformation, which may render these recalcitrant.
One of the first line responses after pathogen recognition by the plant is the oxidative burst, where a plethora of toxic reactive oxygen species like hydrogen peroxide are rapidly released by the plant cell in order to kill invading pathogens. In fact, this strategy is really effective against Agrobacterium and results in very low or non-existent transformation rates (Pitzschke, 2013). This is also an important effect to keep in mind when trying non-model plants. In Brazil, one of these plants currently being studied is Eucalyptus, with rare and difficult transformations being observed.

So there's plenty of space for improving the applicability and efficiency of Agrobacterium-mediated transformations. João suggested, experimenting with parameters like cultivation times, temperature, media and bacteria concentration could improve the transformation efficiency significantly. Following the advice provided, we tested different concentrations of Agrobacterium and varied the incubation time in the cut-dip-budding method. This resulted in successful transformations being at a higher concentration combined with a longer incubation time. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, we could not test precisely which parameter was the deciding factor. Also, dampening the oxidative burst in plants when being infected by Agrobacterium by implementing anti-oxidative compounds that help mitigate the plants defence mechanism could increase transformation rates (Dan et al., 2015). To increase the general popularity and applicability of Agrobacterium in research, as well as for future iGEM projects, it is crucial to keep it affordable and develop effective protocols for the plants that are presently utilised in agriculture, João suggests.

Socio Economic and environmental issues in brazil regarding GMOs

We then went into more detail with Prof. Bespalhok about the situation with GMOs in relation to society and the environment. As Brazil is the second largest producer of genetically modified crops, with genetically modified cultivars of maize, soy, cotton, beans, eucalyptus and sugar cane available in the country, particularly for soybean and maize, acquiring non-genetically modified seeds may pose a challenge, Prof. Bespalhok explained. Although there is a law in Brazil allowing individuals to produce their own seeds for one generation, including GMOs, farmers rely heavily on seed companies. Agriculture is therefore very market-oriented, some would say hegemonic (Fontoura et al., 2022).

Smaller companies produce these seeds, often purchasing licences for the traits from multinational corporations. This dependency on companies could cause problems for food security when for example companies decide to remove traits from their product range. The costs for GM seeds on the other hand are not disproportionately higher than conventional cultivars according to Prof. Bespalhok. Of course, farmers have to pay royalties for GM seeds but when producing seeds on their own, farmers will pay for the production and a certificate allowing them to plant the seeds.

In general, transgenic crops popular in Brazil, especially the Bt-crops, can contribute to a more environmentally friendly agriculture as a decreased number of insecticide applications and kilograms of active ingredients per hectare applied on maize and cotton crops has to be used to protect their crops from major pests (Seixas et al., 2022). The ecological issues in Brazil arise not due to the use of GM or biotechnology in agriculture but are part of the problem of methods Prof. Bespalhok suggests. The Bt-crops should be planted only on 80 - 90% of the area and the rest conventional plants to reduce the risk of resistant insects. But farmers tend to plant 100% transgenic Bt-plants for achieving higher yield which can cause a big pressure for selection of resistance in insects.

We thank Prof. Dr. João Bespalhok for his time, effort and great helpfulness. His expertise and ideas have contributed significantly to solving problems that occurred during the year and to the success of our project.

Soini Akomena

Soini Akomena in a graduation robe

It is a fact that climate change will have more devastating consequences in the southern hemisphere than in the northern hemisphere. It was therefore important for us to also include perspectives from these countries. Besides Professor Bespalhok we had the chance to include the perspective of a young Namibian woman whose goal is to improve the ecological situation of her home country.

Soini Akomena is currently working on her master thesis in restoration ecology at the University of Namibia, Windhoek Main Campus, Department of Environmental Science, Faculty of Agriculture. In her thesis she aims to restore the green landscapes of Namibia as through climate change desertification increases. The goal is to find indigenous plants that are resilient against upcoming challenges such as droughts, floods, and low fertility.

When it comes to climate change Ms. Akomena sees Namibia as one of the hotspots, as it has been one of the driest countries in the world, in addition to an ecosystem with harsh weather and condition changes. For this ecology is the perspective for the future. (see here)

The solution to prevent or just midget the impacts of climate change is restoration or other processes that we come up with. That is why I think it is important that ecology rises up because it is very important to find solutions for the challenges we have nowadays.

Soini Akomena

Not only finding solutions is important for the future of Namibia Ms. Akomena points out the importance of education when it comes to agriculture, climate, and especially climate change and its consequences. Ms. Akomena's own impressions are that "Especially farmers and people in the villages do not have enough knowledge of what is happening.". Following that, the people, who are relying on their farming as a source of food or income, are the most severely affected by the increasing challenges of farming due to climate change.

We need advocates, young upcoming scientists, or even ecologists. We need to play a role in education to spread awareness about what is happening and what we can do about it on all education levels.

Soini Akomena

As Ms. Akomena could remember from own experiences of her school time, biology was shortly covered in the curriculum, especially the specific subdisciplines such as synthetic biology or as she could specify for her field of research ecology were rarely even mentioned. According to her, the necessity of starting to incorporate these topics not only school education but also further education was expressed.

One of Namibia's forthcoming challenges is food security. Even by today, there is a huge struggle when it comes to feeding everyone. From Ms. Akomena's observation, the main problem is money and low incomes in general. The Namibian agriculture sector is not producing enough food for their country thus, Namibia is depending on food imports and buying food to form the global market which led to price increases, especially today. "If food would get cheaper that would be a great solution to a lot of problems in Namibia", Ms. Akomena answers smiling. But when it comes to GMOs she is careful to weigh them as she says they might cause problems by solving others for example the market power big companies could gain. But still, she refers to it being a better opportunity than starving.

"I am thrilled to see that more projects go into the direction of working on a solution," was Ms. Akomena's statement about the research currently done by many young scientists all over the world as herself and as well as our team.

We are very grateful to have this inside view into Namibian society and research by Soini Akomena. It was a pleasure for us to talk to other young people from another part of the world also working on finding solutions to face climate change and work on research for the future.

Sebastian Cocioba

Sebastian Cocioba

Sebastian Cocioba is an independent biologist located in New York. He primarily focus lies on flower design and the genetic modification of plants which he shares on his social media accounts frequently. In an interview with him, he generously shared his extensive knowledge about Agrobacterium-mediated transformation. He not only enlightened us about the intricacies of this process but also extended an open invitation for us to seek feedback on our project plans.

Talking to Sebastian was a great opportunity for our wetlab team, since none of our team members worked with Agrobacterium in the past. Sebastian's insights into Agrobacterium cultivation provided us with a solid foundation for our laboratory routines.

Sebastian's research has not only inspired us but also contributed significantly to our plant laboratory’s evolution. He shared some knowledge about the Cut-dip-butt protocol and recommended the induction of transformation with Vanillin. Further he exchanged his experience in plant transformation using A. rhizogenes K599, which led the path for us to not only test our protocols with the ARqua1 strain, but also receive the K599 strain to evaluate its transformation efficiency. Our plant lab reverted to Sebastian's research not only from his sharings in this interview, but also from his social media accounts, from which we adapted the stonewool protocol, with the idea to minimize stress excised to the roots when removing plants from vermiculite to evaluate the transformation events.

During the interview, we were also able to discuss our project plans for engineering experiments that included the characterization of constitutive and inducible promoters. It was interesting to hear about his experience about how inducers can affect the expression of the virulence genes not only in a positive way.

As we wanted to characterize various inducible promoters in Agrobacterium, we were excited about what the results will bring. On top of inducing promoters with their respective substrate, we wanted to perform a crosstalk experiment where selected inducible promoters were induced by various inducers.

Our conversation extended to potential future experiments in Agrobacterium that have not been tackled in our project, but could be an interesting outlook. We expressed a keen interest in characterizing the virB promoter by measuring the output of a reporter gene regulated by it. Additionally, we discussed the initiation of a minimal plasmid containing only the essential components for a successful plant transformation, including the removal of the native Agrobacterium strain's RI-plasmid.

Overall, our dialogue with Sebastian was a rich scientific exchange, offering insights into the vast possibilities within plant synthetic biology using Agrobacterium. His valuable input during the interview, coupled with access to his publicly available research, has significantly enriched our project.

Prof. Rainer W. Bussmann

Prof. Rainer W. Bussmann

One of our goals was to find new nutrient-rich food sources such as the Bambara groundnut. The food we eat is part of our cultural identity. Our food of choice is shaped by the food we ate as children (Malachowska, 2021). Thus, the task of expanding the food variety and creating new diets is not only done with excess new food and plants but it has to be introduced into the culture in order to be accepted. Ethnobotany is the scientific field that covers the interaction between humans and their usage of plants as food, medicine, and ritual causes.

Thus, we were grateful for the opportunity to interview Prof. Rainer W. Bussmann who is a specialist in the field of ethnobotany. Originally he came from the field of vegetation ecology. Mister Bussmann worked at the University of Bayreuth, the University of Hawaii, the University of Texas, and the Missouri Botanical Garden. Currently he is a professor at the Ilia State University and head of the unit botany at the State Museum of Natural History Karlsruhe. Additionally, Bussmann was included in the founding of numerous NGOs as 'Nature and Culture International', 'Saving Knowledge' and 'Ethnomont'.

Everybody is practicing ethnobotany all the time. You wear a cotton shirt, you have a bike with rubber tires or a car, you drink coffee in the morning, this is all practicing ethnobotany. What is fascinating about it is that it is everywhere.

Rainer Bussmann

It was fascinating for us to dive into the new topic. Prof. Bussmann revealed to us the wide subject of ethnobotany: by the examples he used we were stunned by the dimension of these disciplines and the immense impact ethnobotanists can have. It can even explain political and economic scales.

The beginnings of ethnobotany lay in a colonial discipline as it originated from the descriptions of what plants natives used. As being in the field of ethnobotany for a long time, Mister Bussmann could point out significant changes within the way research is made over the time. When he started with his dissertation it was not usual to include the local workers. Their important knowledge about the local ecosystems and plants is the base for any academic research, but in the past their contribution had not been named nor were they profeeding from the research in any way. Today there is an attempt to increase the transparency of intellectual property within academic research. The Nagoya protocol is such an attempt where locals are named on the publications and every research about their habitat has to be translated into their local language thus that they can benefit from the research. This trend was accelerated, as Mister Bussmann told us, by the Covid-19 pandemic, when the researcher could not travel to the places of their research and had to work close together with the locals. But even though this is a first step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go. There are still numerous unanswered questions, as noted by Prof. Bussmann. For example the question of intellectual property when it comes to profiting from the research. Additionally, it must be ensured that the local population benefits from taking part in the research.

With increasing worries about food security in the future the ethnobotanical research field returns to Europe. The focus on the traditional knowledge about edible plants tends the way people subsisted during harsh climate periods from starvation in the past. Prof. Bussmann's current research focuses on the question of forgotten plants in southern Germany.

Besides extending the knowledge about plants, there is also the cultural note within ethnobotany. It is not enough to know about possible edible plants or create new ones, as it has to be exalted by the people to make an impact, otherwise it would be pointless to do so. To highlight this, Prof. Bussmann refers to the golden rice:

Most consumers don't like rice that looks yellow. So even if you have something that is healthy but people don’t want to eat it, you have a problem. So this is again where ethnobotany gets interdisciplinary: it is botany, it is history, it is biology, chemistry, and as law if you think of intellectual property law.

Rainer Bussmann

Even though there is skepticism against biotechnology, Professor Bussmann sees the future of ethnobotany within biotechnology:

I would definitely say yes, because we cannot just rely on finding a potentially resistant variety somewhere and then trying to get it into a breeding programme, because that is just too slow. So if we have a species that has a gene that makes it more climate-resilient, then I think it would be important to try and get that into other crops that are affected by climate change.

Rainer Bussmann

We are very thankful that Professor Bussman took the time for this interview. It gave us an incredible inside view into another specification. The outcome is more than we could have hoped for at the beginning and without their invaluable input and support to our interdisciplinary team.


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