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Synthetic Biology in Cambridge

Apply to CUTEC Sustainable Futures Challenge with your sustainable synthetic biology ideas

Are you interested collaborative problem-solving and for a more sustainable future? Use your skills and passion to work with people of various backgrounds to solve agri-tech problems and create impact.

sustainable future 2016


In line with the theme of this year’s CUTEC’s Technology Ventures Conference (TVC), this new, interactive initiative will gather the best and brightest Cambridge students, academics, staff, and alumni to tackle problems relating to the question:

“How can we enable sustainable supply and production of food and water in a sustainable fashion?”

A resource is defined as a source or supply from which a benefit/need can be obtained in order to function effectively. The UN has estimated that in 15 years we will need 30% more water, 45% more energy, and 50% more food than today. The percent of arable land in the world is estimated to be 13.31% with only 4.71% sustaining permanent crops. However, by rethinking what counts as a “resource” people are finding clever ways to produce food in inhospitable environments, for example one experiment in the desert of Qatar takes advantage of abundant sunlight and seawater to turn out 75 kg of vegetables per square meter. How can we adapt to less than ideal environments to continue to live comfortably while supporting a planet of over 7 billion humans?

We will place scientists, engineers, business students, social scientists, and artists on teams to solve one ofthree challenges: (1) Compost, (2) Soil structure, and (3) Seed distribution. Solutions will need to take into account and will be judged on efficiency, sustainability, and economy.

Teams will workshop their ideas with industry experts at four workshops over the course of eight weeks and then present their solutions on stage at the TVC in front of investors, academics, students, and incubators.





The Challenges

Compost Challenge

Studies show that compost use in arable rotations can improve yields and resilience. Tons of organic, compostable material is thrown out in cities every day. How can we create an economical way to sort and get organic waste from cities to farms?

Soil Structure Challenge

The physical structure of soil affects crop development and yields.  Detailed soil structure tests can be performed in labs, but this is time consuming and costly. Can we make better in-the-field tool(s) to let allow farmers to check soil structure and resilience?

Seed Distribution Challenge

Cover-cropping is a great way to rehabilitate soil and can provide wide ranging benefits in farming systems. The most success often comes with mixing multiple species; however, these species have seeds of different sizes and shapes which makes it difficult to spread them evenly using current technology. Can we create a way to make it practical for farmers to sow seeds of different sizes?