When science becomes this important, industry leads the way...

This piece authored by Dr Brett Glencross, was first published in the July 2024 edition of International Aquafeed

I recently had the good fortune to attend the 21st International Symposium on Fish Nutrition and Feeding (ISFNF), held in Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific coast of Mexico. It was an event attended by over 300 of the world’s fish nutrition academics and industry professionals from across the world, with notable contingents attending from Europe, north and south America, and Australasia. Over the four days of the event, we heard from more than 60 speakers and there were over 100 posters exhibited. And most importantly it was a chance to catch up with friends and colleagues, old and new to discuss what everyone had been up to.

One of the great things about this event is the mix of industry people and academics. It provides a clear foundation for the interaction between the two parts of the science (the applied and strategic), which has been so critical to advancing the science. Historically it has been a place where the latest findings, methods and standards would be presented by academia and industry would then postulate questions on how to adopt things, or the relevance of findings to the various parts of the industrial process. It was a process of science leading industry. However, one of the observations that I have noted in recent times was the growing involvement of industry in presenting their own studies on the science podium. Indeed, there was also a growing ascendancy of industry to lead the way both in the adoption AND the standard of science. Indeed, many of the better questions asked from the audience were coming from industry players too, something they used to hold back on. Notably in many of the industry presentations, the detail of the studies, the scale involved and importantly the direct relevance of the work all playing a part in this growing ascendancy. Part of this is clearly being driven by the fact that when science becomes so critical to the business, then the business begins to place science front-and-centre to the operations and has been doing so in an increasing presence.

The other part of the equation relates to what we refer to as “Moores Law”, that is when the sector is evolving so fast that the timeframe involved for things like university degrees and university-based projects simply cannot keep up with the relevance. In effect what someone learns during the beginning of their PhD becomes obsolete by the end of it because the science has simply moved on. While some of the better academics were keeping in touch with progress by maintaining strong involvement with the industrial process, others were clearly getting left behind by getting distracted by the latest technical toy, methodology or not focusing on the relevance of what they were doing. Some scientists were doing silly things like replacing ingredients, but then forgetting to balance their diets, which were unfortunately among some of the common mistakes seen throughout the presentations. In seems in the rush to play with the latest toy, that many had forgotten the basics of good experimental design, and that you need a solid foundation on which to build a good house, or no amount of novelty can fix things with fundamental flaws. Clearly there was a case for stronger involvement of industry in many projects and so it should be, because when the science is so critical to business, then industry clearly leads the way in that science.