Long Night of Science 2017
The 'Smartest night of the year' drew an international and local audience to the atrium of the Leibniz Association in Berlin to discover the project 'Protein Paradoxes' of the Leibniz Research Alliance 'Food and Nutrition'. Visitors could still their appetite with insect snacks and their curiosity during the 'Protein Pairing-Game'. Similar to the classic game of Memory, petri dishes containing different protein sources were to be matched to their respective images glued to cardboard. The game provided food for thought as participants engaged in stimulating dialogue about protein supply strategies for the future.
The dramatic growth of the world population, coupled with scarce water resources and a decrease of land fit for agriculture, demands urgent answers to questions regarding healthy and sustainable protein production and supply. Looking into a not so distant future: Will we find mealworm cookies and insect burgers on our plates, heedless of (current) reservations? How can we preserve traditional forms of food and nutrition, despite a globalised economy? What other considerations are relevant in regard to insects - for instance: could toxins from organic substrates which are harmless to bugs pose risks to humans?
Furthermore, concerns regarding insects as feed for fish, chicken and pigs are significant. If we follow our instincts, feeding select livestock insects appears a natural choice. However, to fully comprehend the advantages or disadvantages research must first catch up to fill the current knowledge gaps.
What about the various other sources of protein? The Leibniz Institute for Agricultural Engineering and Bioeconomy (ATB) deals with questions regarding animal welfare in stables. Modern sensor technologies allow the monitoring of vital parameters of cows, such as cardiac and respiratory rates, in order to match the climate of the stable to the optimum temperature of the animals. While herds grazing in pastures may seem like idyllic conditions to city dwellers, summer months spent outdoors can become stressful for cows as they prefer low temperatures of approximately 10°C.
Throughout the Long Night, the water footprint demonstration of the ATB stunned many visitors. People were continually surprised to find out that the production of 200 grams of beef requires 3,000 litres of water, and that up to 95% of the water use is due to the production of animal feed. In areas with sufficient rainfall, this beef production would warrant little concern. However, the situation is different when the so-called 'Blue Water' is used to irrigate fields. The ATB is currently working together with an expert commission of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to include these considerations into the calculation standards of virtual water footprint.
The role of plant-based protein sources was another hot topic during the event. Leguminous plants, such as peas, beans and lupines, are being rediscovered and steadily gaining popularity as a healthy alternative protein source. While the overall protein content may be lower than animal-based sources, such as meat or even insects, the inclusion of plant-based proteins into a balanced and varied diet holds many benefits. Furthermore, research about the impacts of meat reduction and increased legume consumption in order to promote healthy ageing is a focal point of research from the German Institute of Human Nutrition (DIfE).
Another partner of the LRA, the Leibniz Institute for Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) presented their 'Tomato Fish' project. This unique aquaponics system produces both tomatoes and fish with the minimal addition of feed, energy and water. The system is especially useful for arid regions of the earth, where the supply of fresh vegetables and sustainably produced proteins is critical.
Equipped with new facts and information, as well as a sachet of legume seeds to plant a personal protein supply, visitors ended their night at the Leibniz Association all the wiser.