Soy science takes off

COMMON GOALS MAKE TRENT BIOMATERIALS RESEARCH PROGRAM A REALITY

ONTARIO SOYBEAN GROWERS have reason to celebrate as the Biomaterials Research Laboratory is officially opened at Trent University. The centre, which will focus on utilization of the natural oils found in oilseed crops like soybeans, will be a crown jewel in Trent’s Centre of Knowledge in the Environment.

As a founding partner, Ontario soybean growers should be proud their leadership and support has helped to establish a lipid utilization program that will be one of only a few around the globe. 

Researchers in the new Trent lab will be investigating new ways to use natural oils (lipids) sourced from oilseed crops to engineer healthful new food products and to replace materials, chemicals and products currently manufactured from petrochemical feedstock.  They will focus on the research and development of new environmentally beneficial materials, bio-products and bio-chemicals which utilize soybean oils as the feedstock.

Phase one of the 1,500 square foot Trent Biomaterials Laboratory has been completed.  Plans are in progress for Phase two expansion; another 1,500 square feet will be added in 2010. 

To make the laboratory work, Trent has recruited Dr. Suresh Narine and a team of seven scientists from the University of Alberta.  With a total of nine researchers, Narine will continue his work as a global pioneer and leading scientist in the area of lipid utilization in the development of new food, industrial and commercial applications. 

“Ontario Soybean Growers’ (OSG) interest in the Trent program sprang from our strategic direction to develop new commercial uses for Ontario-grown soybeans,” notes Dale Petrie, OSG General Manager, and Director of Strategic Development for Grain Farmers of Ontario.  “OSG’s $500,000 commitment over five years helped to bring on board other key funding partners.”  

Other funding and support partners include the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; Elevance Renewable Sciences Inc.; a Trent University philanthropist who established the Biomaterials Innovation Fund; and The Greater Peterborough Innovation Cluster, with financial support from Industry Canada’s Community Adjustment Fund. 

“The OSG Board is particularly impressed with Dr. Narine’s oilseed utilization work,” says Leo Guilbeault, Essex County soybean grower and OSG Chair.  “Our funding support, which will be carried forward by  Grain Farmers of Ontario, is contingent on the Trent research having an Ontario value chain focus, with product development utilizing oils produced from IP specific trait soybeans,” he adds. 

Narine agrees with the focus on an Ontario value chain. “Ontario’s soybean farmers have developed a global competence in the area of managing Identity Preserved soybeans. This competence in the growing and traceability of specialized soybean varieties will support our research in matching distinct soybean oils with specialized new applications in the food, consumer personal care and pharmaceutical products markets,”  explains Narine.

In addition, Narine is confident the research from the new lab will be utilized throughout the industry. “Given the proven ability of Ontario’s soybean farmers to innovate, it is expected that research results from our laboratory will drive the development of entirely new varieties by our partners at the farming end of the chain.”
 
With Ontario soybean growers’ investment, the project has assured not only the usage of IP trait-specific Ontario-sourced soybeans but also two seats on the advisory board overseeing research direction. These seats will be filled with members from the farm and agribusiness community, appointed by the Grain Farmers of Ontario (GFO).

The partnership also allows full disclosure between funding partners and a flow-back of a percentage of intellectual property revenues toward new soybean-based research. Finally, Ontario soybean growers and subsequently GFO will be taking a leadership role in biomaterials research. The goal of this role is to maximize “made-in-Ontario” biomaterials opportunities.

“We are delighted that the soybean farmers of Ontario are a founding partner in our biomaterials research initiative,” concludes Narine. “The immense potential of the bioeconomy cannot be realized without all links in the value-added chain being engaged as stakeholders.  The farming community represents the fundamental fulcrum in the bioeconomy, and so having primary producers help make decisions on the future of research is immensely important.” •