PlantLink Day: record attendance, diverse program and much more!

The eleventh PlantLink Day was held on the 5th of October at SLU in Alnarp. The topic “New Plant Products” attracted a record number of participants! Finally, after two years of Covid restrictions, Crafoord hall welcomed a full audience again.

More than 130 participants signed up for the event, and more than 100 showed up physically, with a few listening remotely. The diverse program consisted of both topics from the field of plant and food science. The event aimed at a complex view of plant products “from farm to fork”, from producers/scientists to consumers. The program offered a broad spectrum of keynote speakers, from plant breeders to food technologists, consumer behaviour specialists and industry representatives.  

The program started with a Plant Protein Factory tour. Bill Newson and Anna-Lovisa Nynäs explained how to utilize neglected green plant material such as tops from beets and carrots, kale, parts of broccoli and clover by extracting proteins and other nutrients.

After the tour, an all-vegan lunch was ready for the registered participants in Crafoord Hall and finally, the event proceeded to the official opening. New PlantLink director Federico Gómez together with assistant director Erik Alexandersson and new coordinator Anna Maňourová presented the most important PlantLink events from the last year, showed social media updates and a hint about a new direction PlantLink is taking.

Plant Protein Factory tour.

The first speaker, Robert Brummer from Örebro University, presented insights from the PAN Sweden concept; inter-disciplinary research focused on the relationship between processing, structure, bioavailability, digestion and fermentation of proteins, and their health effects. To have a complex view, sensory aspects and consumer behaviour concerning plant-based proteins are studied too. See his presentation here: Robert Brummer

Explaining why the protein shift in our diets is inevitable, Eslam Salah presented his food-tech start-up company which uses lupin, a native European crop, to create tasty meat alternatives. As the motto of Lupinta says, “delicious without compromise”, the company’s products show a great example of how to use plant-based proteins in a smart, local and attractive way. See his presentation here: Eslam Salah

Right before the coffee break, associate professor at SLU Mariette Andersson, also representing the company SolEdits, shifted the spectators’ attention from food products to plant breeding. Presenting four different potato traits developed using the CRISPR-Cas9 genome editing method, Mariette described how a research innovation can become a commercially used breeding tool. See her presentation here: Mariette Andersson

After the refreshments, the program went straight into the topic of cellular agriculture as the next leap in food production. Heiko Rischer from VTT Finland explained how plant cell cultures can produce food and flavours and pointed out three potential future scenarios – home bioreactors, decentralised local production and industrial-scale production. See his presentation here: Heiko Rischer 

Some of the PlantLink Day speakers (from upper left corner): Federico Gómez, Robert Brümmer, Mariette Andersson, Heiko Rischer.

A completely different perspective on a plant-based diet was brought by Alice Grønhøj from Aarhus University. Presenting insights from the PlantPro project, Alice showed interesting and sometimes shocking data, on consumers’ self-perception and behaviour. Highlighting common beliefs and disbeliefs related to meat consumption, the effect of meat reduction on human health seems to be the biggest issue. See her presentation here: Alice Grønhøj

Sorghum, as an innovative crop not only for the Nordic region, was introduced by Walter de Milliano, who works on the crop’s breeding since the beginning of this millennium. Presenting experiences from Africa, Netherlands and Denmark, Walter explained how to obtain sorghum adapted to temperate zone climate and the strengths and benefits of the plant compared to conventional European grain crops. See his presentation here: Walter de Milliano

Kristian Holst Laursen from the University of Copenhagen revealed the importance of the relationship between plant nutrients and food quality. Presenting a Danish perspective on novel crops, Kristian pointed out that healthy crops are not equivalent to nutritious foods and yield versus food quality parameters should always be considered. See his presentation here: Kristian Holst Laursen

Last but not least, Katarzyna Dymek from OptiCept Technologies illustrated potential ways in which plant-based food and material processing may contribute to a sustainable plant industry. Using vacuum infusion and pulsed electric field devices, OptiCept is improving the quality and shelf-life of different products while reducing waste and transportation costs. See her presentation here: Katarzyna Dymek

Another novelty of this year’s PlantLink Day was a mingle prepared for the participants right after the last speech. Refreshments, ice breaker games and a golden opportunity to ask keynote speakers curious questions in a less formal and more friendly way. Despite their busy schedules, most of the speakers remained by the Crafoord hall, and the positive research vibe was felt all over!

All the presenters highlighted the need for a change in our diets and behaviour. Many interesting ways to reduce the land needed for crop cultivation, lower waste and make food production healthy and sustainable were presented and discussed.

We kindly thank all the participants for making this event unique and we look forward to the next year’s continuation!  

Afternoon mingle and audience getting seated in the Crafoord hall.