True to its name, ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference 2018 kicked off Monday by showcasing some of today’s most innovative ideas, all the way from the gene level to disruptive changes to the future of food and how we produce it.
Bill Northey, under secretary at the United States Department of Agriculture, explored how government can do its part to help American agriculture adapt to a rapidly changing industry and feed the world. One critical component, he said, is for the USDA and farmers to be partners in innovation.
“We must understand our customers,” he said. “We must meet them where they are, with what they need, how they need it. Over time, customer needs change. We have to adapt.”
He also emphasized staying relevant by utilizing the latest technology, including social media, and asking important questions about regulations.
“We intend to listen, we intend to change in a way that supports you all,” said Northey.
Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou, CRISPR expert and professor at North Carolina State University, discussed the potential for the controversial gene-editing technology to revolutionize food production and agriculture.
“In my opinion, CRISPR might be the one technology that is disruptive, innovative, transformative enough to change and define the genesis of the next generation of products across the food and ag industry,” said Barrangou.
Not only is this technology changing his life as a research scientist, he said, but also as a patient and a parent. This “molecular scalpel that cuts DNA” has the potential to edit, alter and rewrite DNA with unprecedented ease and accessibility to create new gene therapies, synthetic organs and natural vaccines. It even has the potential to create programmable antibiotics that selectively kill agents responsible for disease, such as Salmonella.
“Scientifically, the CRISPR phase is unprecedented,” he said. “We went from nothing, to a paper a month, to a paper a week, to a paper a day, to an average of 10 new CRISPR studies published every day in 2018.”
Despite the recent fervor about CRISPR in the media, however, he said that with this new power comes great responsibility, and stewardship in the agriculture world is critical. He believes the real revolution is happening in the boardrooms of companies that are harnessing this technology.
“This big idea is becoming a reality,” he said. “And this big idea is going to save the planet.”
Dr. Majid Fotuhi, neurologist and neuroscientist, shared his incredible story of growing up as a young man with a thirst for knowledge while trying to escape Iran during the Iran-Iraq War. An expert in the field of memory, Alzheimer’s disease, concussion, ADHD and increasing brain vitality in later life, he detailed how his journey to Johns Hopkins University and Harvard University has empowered him to teach others how to take better care of their brains.
“You are in control,” he said. “You need to take responsibility for whether or not your brain is healthy.”
In particular, he said having a purpose-driven life and feeling passionate about your goals can lead to a healthier brain.
“Having a purpose in life can have an impact on your brain,” said Fotuhi. “If you are someone who feels passionate about your goals, if you have a purpose-driven life, your brain is healthier.”
Dr. Mark Lyons, president of Alltech, took the conversation a step further, reflecting on the value of an idea and its potential to impact the future of our businesses, lives and even the planet. To achieve such innovative change, he said, it takes leaders with the ability to see what others cannot, something both Leonardo da Vinci and Dr. Pearse Lyons, Alltech’s late founder, had in common.
“He and Dad ‘happened to things,’ as Dad put it,” he said. “And that thing was called ‘life.’ Sometimes life happens to us. These two individuals seemed to impact life as much as it impacted them.”
That is why, for the first time in the conference’s history, Alltech bestowed a double award recognizing Alltech’s founder, Dr. Pearse Lyons.
“He was constantly encouraging us to be the best we could be for those around us so that they could flourish and become the best they could be,” said Mark, reflecting on Dr. Lyons’ goal that Alltech should be built on passion, excellence and fun. “He wanted them to live with those values he had, and that excellence, something that he and my mother shared — maybe she even more so.”
The Alltech Medal of Excellence, Alltech’s highest distinction, was awarded to Dr. Lyons for his work as a visionary scientist. As an entrepreneur and a tireless innovator, Dr. Lyons utilized his scientific expertise in yeast fermentation and his acute business sense to revolutionize the animal feed industry through the introduction of natural ingredients to animal feed. In the past 10 years alone, his scientific achievements have been listed in more than 300 patents.
Additionally, he was recognized with the Alltech Humanitarian Award for having a boundless philanthropic spirit. The award is bestowed annually to someone of strong character who uses their platform to positively influence and inspire those around them. For Dr. Lyons and Mrs. Deirdre Lyons, making a difference in the world by empowering others has been an everyday reality of their personal and professional lives.
“We cannot replace Dr. Pearse Lyons, nobody can,” said Mark. “But if we start to think like him, if we can get 10 people, 100 people, 1,000 people thinking like him, imagine what we can achieve together.”
ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference runs through May 22 and is welcoming nearly 4,000 attendees from 76 countries in its 34th year.