The purpose of the NNF Challenge Programme is to make substantial contribution to the development of the Danish research environment, within ambitious research aimed to solve major challenges in health and the sustainability of society and the planet. The aim is to give leading researchers the opportunity to assemble a strong team that can collaborate in a centre-like structure with a unifying vision and mission to develop solutions to major challenges. The Programme provides long-term funding to enable scientific depth and focus and facilitate synergy between the research partners.
Research Theme 2024
The programme is a strategic effort targeting specific challenges within annually selected research themes. For the 2024 application call, the Challenge Programme is seeking to support the following research theme:
- Integrating safety and environmental sustainability impacts of bio-based solutions
The challenge is to develop reliable, validated tools, methodologies, standards, and approaches that increase knowledge about how to quantitatively measure, predict, and integrate human health and/or environmental safety risks and environmental sustainability effects of bio-based solutions. The programme is aimed at fundamental research with ambition to provide knowledge-based tools for risk-benefit assessment and decision-making support that improve the efficiency and efficacy of EU regulatory approval processes for bio-based solutions. Research outcomes should provide decision-making support that can be broadly applied, form the basis for simple and inexpensive tools for biological, toxicological, or allergenicity assessment, and facilitate industry-authority dialogue to adopt new solutions.
The call defines ‘bio-based solutions’ as biotechnology-anchored products including whole organisms or biologically based compounds such as proteins, peptides, nucleic acids, lipids, or naturally derived chemical mixtures that 1) are end-products or ingredients/components for other manufacturing processes, 2) have known or potential bioactivity, and 3) enable society’s green transition through reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, pesticide or fertiliser use, and/or biodiversity loss. Materials contained during production processes such as microbial production host strains are not in scope.
Within scope are bio-based solutions for:
- Agriculture including plant biologicals for protecting or stimulating crops such as microbe-based biopesticides or biostimulants; plants or bioinoculants for improving sustainable agriculture management practices; and crops produced from advanced plant breeding technologies or new genomic techniques (NGTs).
- Food and nutrition including alternative proteins and other fermentation-based food and ingredients; and preservation technologies for reducing food loss.
- Environmental remediation that removes pollutants from soil or water in the open environment.
The research must be interdisciplinary in nature. A knowledge base is required in 1) biotechnology, 2) quantitative methods for balancing risks, uncertainties, and benefits, 3) current validated and accepted risk assessment principles of the EU, and 4) current barriers to improving EU approval processes or regulations of bio-based solutions. Research must provide an actionable knowledge foundation that quantitatively assesses safety and provides measures for reducing perceived uncertainty and decision bias. Research must aim to investigate risks to human health and/or the environment, and overall environmental sustainability performance or benefits. Approaches must aim at compatibility with the current EU regulatory system. Integrated benchmarking of environmental sustainability performance against current chemically, animal-derived, or fossil fuel-based counterparts or other relevant ecotoxicological assessments should be considered. Decision support should ensure that beneficial effects are aligned with increased sustainability. Research focusing on a single solution, and not applicable to a broad group, will be considered too narrow.
Any research methodology or discipline can be included, but a clear element of ‘wet lab’ experimentation is required, e.g., in a lab, bioreactor, tank, or field, which could be framed as a case study developing new analytical methods and/or generating modelling data. NNF is particularly keen to support data science research interfacing biotechnology and – with data modelling being a key technique – strongly recommends a clear data science component in the research. In addition to the science, a strong element of results dissemination must be included. Socio- or techno-economics, behavioural change, communications, law, or livestock commodities cannot be the focus, although may be touched upon. The programme includes development of assessment tools as end-products but not specific bio-based products.
Supported research may include, but is not limited to:
- Development of datasets and parameters for strengthening quantification of biodiversity and soil health to model biocontrol. Development of tools for experimental testing and assessment of future product areas such as AI-predicted peptide biopesticides.
- Development of computational modelling approaches, process simulations, or AI tools such as quantitative structure–activity relationships for predicting safety issues using empirical or open, real-time data, e.g., at landscape level or in a scaled bioreactor.
- Development of methods to harmonise and standardise assessment metrics and interpret results for optimised decision support, e.g., scores for efficacy assessment, or to assess unintended effects on bystander organisms. Approaches for predicting organismal strain behaviour using ‘read-across’ data from approved strain groupings, e.g., of plant biologicals.
- Approaches for investigating the safety and potential health benefits of food processing technologies, novel plant- and microbial-derived foods, and products using NGTs in food.