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Spotlight: Wageningen UR

Jelle Maas and Professor Remko Boom describe the multidisciplinary research approach at Wageningen University & Research centre, where over 200 researchers work in the field of Food & Nutrition combining the strengths of academia with those of specialised research institutes.

Our world is changing. The population is growing fast and prosperity is increasing in many regions. Around the world, land use for food production is reaching its limits. The climate is visibly changing while fossil fuels are becoming ever scarcer. Meanwhile, people are becoming more aware of the importance of healthy, safe and sufficient food. The Netherlands is a major global player when it comes to food. As much as 7.5% of all global agricultural exports go through the Netherlands, which makes it the second largest agricultural exporter in the world. Dutch knowledge of trade and logistics is crucial for this.

Wageningen UR (University & Research centre) is addressing this changing world by focusing on production of good quality, safe food, food security and a healthy living environment. Wageningen UR is a research institute that not only develops knowledge but also helps to apply it. Our mission is: ‘To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’. This is achieved in partnership with industry, governments and research institutions around the world. The combination of research, education and value creation has given Wageningen UR a high success rate in attracting EU funds for research; we also score highly in international rankings and citation indices. Wageningen was ranked second in the QS World University Effect on food structure on food intake Rankings (Agriculture and Forestry); first in the National Taiwan University Ranking (World Universities 2012, Agriculture); second in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings (2012-2013, Life Sciences) and 78th in the CWTS Leiden Ranking of World Universities. The combined strengths of researchers at Wageningen University and its associated specialised research institutes and the connections between our scientific, technological and social disciplines demonstrate the Wageningen approach. Wageningen UR cooperates extensively in publicprivate partnerships, as well as conducting confidential contract research.

Wageningen Campus

Wageningen Campus is an inspiring place where most research and educational activities take place. The 5,000 scientists and 10,000 students have access to excellent facilities, including high-tech scientific laboratories and modern lecture halls, in the CAT AgroFood centre. These facilities are spread over several buildings, with the Forum being one of the landmarks. This building, which some say resembles a contemporary castle, hosts Wageningen UR’s extensive library. Another landmark building on the Wageningen campus is Orion. This remarkable, pentagonal education building, has facades of metal-coated glass and is the most energy-efficient building on the campus.

The Wageningen campus is a hub for innovation as more and more businesses in related industries open branches locally including FrieslandCampina, one of the five largest dairy manufacturers in the world, the Chinese Yili Industrial group, Kikkoman and other international companies. In addition, several research institutes are located at or around the Campus: the Netherlands institute of Ecology (Part of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences), the Institute for Quality in Agriculture and Foods (RIKILT), which also houses part of the national Food Safety Authority, the Institute for Food and Biobased Research (FBR), the Institute for Plant research (PRI), the NIZO Food Research institute and Stoas University of Applied Sciences.

Orion

The research

Wageningen UR conducts scientific research in many areas of healthy food and living environment, ranging from fundamental to applied research. It is divided into five departments:
• Agrotechnology & Food Sciences
• Animal Sciences
• Environmental Sciences
• Plant Sciences
• Social Sciences

Fundamental research is primarily carried out by our university scientists and, due to the nature of our work, is often highly practical. Wageningen UR has 86 chair groups divided across five departments. Funding usually comes from the government or scientific research organisations. Field-based research is primarily the domain of ten independent research institutes at Wageningen. It is deployed to answer specific practical questions, allowing our scientists to find solutions in areas, such as crop production, livestock farming, animal welfare and the environment, based on practical knowledge and insights. Our research has led to the introduction of new farming systems.

The research institutes address application-oriented research. This focuses in part on the development of expertise for practical applications. It includes, for instance, the development of biobased products as an alternative to petroleum-based products; new, sustainable production systems and processes; innovations that improve the functioning of agricultural chains and applications that respond to climate change.

The education

Students can choose from 20 BSc and 31 MSc Programmes. The international dimension is visible in the student population with 113 nationalities studying at Wageningen UR. The University has grown considerably recently – the number of students has more than doubled in the past five years. With almost 300 new MSc students in Food Technology and related studies and around 140 new MSc students in Nutritional Sciences enrolling every year, it is one of the largest educational hubs in the field. Approximately half of all students in the MSc programmes are international coming from all continents.

The University is innovative in its approach to education: it has recently created several on-line MSc educational programmes, in which students study over the internet, but come to Wageningen for a number of months for practical classes and interdisciplinary projects. There is a new, joint BSc programme for talented students in Food Technology with Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, which enhances interactions with global academic partners and extends collaboration into new disciplines. The PhD programme is extensive, with 273 graduations in 2013 (of which 60% were international). In the field of Food Science, Nutrition, Biomolecular Life Sciences, Agro-biotechnology and Health, more than 400 students are pursuing a PhD degree, a number that is growing every year.Image

Food Technology and Nutrition Sciences

While the whole university is involved in various aspects of food production, from plant and crop breeding, animal nutrition and livestock research, rural planning and landscape architecture to ecological, social and economic studies related to food production, the research on food and nutrition itself is concentrated in 12 university groups and several research institutes. The Chairs in Nutritional Sciences work closely together. Nutrition is studied at the level of the cell, the individual and the population. Moreover, studies address the full causal chain from determinants of food choice, to intake of foods and nutrients which affect nutritional status and body function, and subsequently health and disease. This unique setting stimulates breakthrough research at the crossroads to the different disciplines. Over several years this has resulted in an internationally leading position in both research and education. About 180 people work in Nutritional Sciences, including 25 scientific staff, 20 postdocs, 80 (inter)national PhD candidates and 40 technical and administrative staff members.Effect on food structure on food intake

The chairs on Food Sciences and Technology jointly cover all disciplines in this field, and share their infrastructure and expertise. With approximately 95 active PhD students (January 2014) and more than 1300 academic publications over the last five years, this department represents a major centre for food sciences worldwide. Research is typically performed in close collaboration with societal partners, which include all major food producers in Europe. In public-private partnerships, long-term research collaboration and research programmes with industries and other partners are established. Major research themes are resource use efficiency (sustainability) in food production and food products for improved health; we envisage a future in which food and bio-based production is organised so that raw materials are fully utilised in a safe manner, without production of waste and with minimal use of resources (energy, water, chemicals). For improved health, we strive to understand how the composition and structure of foods interrelate with the body’s oral processing-, sensory perception- and digestive systems, while breaking down the food and releasing flavour molecules and  nutrients.

The research institutes complement the academic research with studies that are tailored for  industrial partners or by carrying out regulatory services, for example for the Food Safety Authority to ensure the authenticity of foods. In addition to their core activities, they are active in sponsoring and coordinating academic research in their fields, which expands their expertise and strengthens the bond between the academic groups and the Dry processing for better sustainability and better healthresearch institutes.

 

Precise food product assembly for better health

Wageningen UR: the centre of FoodValley

Wageningen UR is at the heart of FoodValley, an area of several square kilometres in which many multinationals have set up their research headquarters and where a range of smaller companies work together as a community specialised in food and food production. It is unique for The Netherlands and far beyond. The culture of strong and cordial collaboration attracts many to the region and together we aspire to help shape a sustainable future with good and healthy food for us all.

 

References

1 Dieuwerke P. Bolhuis , Ciaran G. Forde, Yuejiao Cheng, Haohuan Xu, Nathalie Martin, and Cees de Graaf. "Slow food: sustained impact of harder foods on the reduction in energy intake over the course of the day." PloS one 9, no. 4 (2014).

2 Francisco J. Rossier-Miranda and pH response of fibril-reinforced microcapsules prepared by layer-by-layer adsorption." Langmuir 26.24 (2010): 19106-19113

3 Pascalle JM Pelgrom, Remko M Boom, and Maarten AI Schutyser. "Functional analysis of mildly refined fractions from yellow pea." Food Hydrocolloids 44 (2015): 12-22.

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