Author: Jiqing Hansen

Having worked passionately for 15+ years in Medicine, I felt that I yearned to do something a little bit different, something that satisfies my curiosity and creativity, maybe something that helps to inform me and others what our world will look like in the future. That's when I took on the challenge of being the editor & expert relationship manager at Supertrends. I love the fact that I can still be in touch with my academic background when I am trying to understand and reach out to the experts in the most exciting fields. I also love the diverse and enthusiastic team at Supertrends. The best of all, I get to have a peek into the future, and I am at the position of helping many others to get the opportunity to look into the future.
thermal energy thermal energy

Three Promising Trends in Renewable Thermal Energy

For over a century, non-renewable thermal energy sources including oil, coal, and natural gas have been used to generate electricity. As the focus of energy generation moves away from fossil fuels to renewable resources, thermal energy is increasingly turning green – thanks to innovations that can convert heat into electricity from unusual resources.

Geothermal heat re-powers old oil and gas power plant

Geothermal energy, the heat within the earth, is a reliable source of clean energy because the planet continuously radiates heat from its core. However, currently, only volcanic regions or regions near the edges of tectonic plates can access this deep underground energy source. 

Quaise Energy, a spin-off startup of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, developed a novel technology called millimeter-wave drilling, which makes geothermal energy accessible anywhere . Powered by a type of microwave source, the drilling system can reach between 10 to 20 km into the earth. 

Quaise is set to start producing electricity from its geothermal system in 2026. The company plans to commercialize its technology through existing fossil energy power plants, re-powering them with geothermal energy.  

The dance club that takes advantage of human energy

“That wastes heat, why not capture it and use it? Otherwise, the heating is done by gas boilers.” – David Townsend, founder of TownRock Energy

Using humans as organic generators may sound like a radical idea, but an energy tech startup – TownRock Energy – is developing systems that do just that. The BODYHEAT system developed by TownRock Energy uses air collectors in the ceiling of a dance club to suck up the hot air produced by crowds, then put the energy into boreholes that are drilled into the earth. The thermal energy generated from body heat warms surrounding rocks that act like heat batteries, which are used to cool the club or warm the building when needed. 

The low-carbon technology can be used in places with crowds like dance clubs, venues, gyms, and offices to heat the building. It can also switch between heating and cooling swiftly. The BODYHEAT system is set to be installed at Glasgow nightclub SWG3 this year and is expected to save 70 tons of CO2 per year. 

Everything that glows can generate energy

Infrared light is a type of radiant energy that is invisible to human eyes but glows on a thermal camera. Every project that has a temperature emits infrared. For example, the Earth absorbs solar radiation and releases the energy as infrared light into the cool environment during the night. 

Inspired by infrared night-vision goggles, researchers developed a semiconductor device called a thermoradiative diode. The device works like a reverse solar cell, receiving thermal energy radiated from the Earth, or any other heat source, and turning the energy flow into electrical potential. 


“By leveraging our knowledge of how to design and optimize solar cells and borrowing materials from the existing mid-infrared photodetector community, we hope for rapid progress towards delivering the dream of solar power at night.” – Dr. Michael Nielsen, School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering, University of New South Wales


Although the device currently can only produce a very small amount of energy, researchers believe that the innovation marks an early step towards generating power from almost any energy source that glows on a thermal camera, including industrial waste and the human body. 

Implementing renewable thermal energy technology can impact our environment positively by reducing green gas emissions and pollution. The applications can also improve energy efficiency by capturing energy from resources that would otherwise be wasted. We expect to see many renewable thermal energy technology applications ready to be deployed in the next five years.

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Lightning-In-A-Bottle: New Fusion Tech Gets US$160M Funding Lightning-In-A-Bottle: New Fusion Tech Gets US$160M Funding

Lightning-In-A-Bottle: New Fusion Tech Gets US$160M Funding

Nuclear fusion start-up Zap Energy has completed a successful test on a prototype of its Z-pinch fusion technology. The company also raised US$160 million in Series C funding to further commercialize its technology.

Nuclear fusion, the energy process that powers the Sun, has the potential to provide unlimited sustainable and safe energy. Researchers have been developing fusion projects by generating high pressure and temperatures or using lasers. US-based Zap Energy is taking a different approach that has been called “lightning-in-a-bottle”.

Z-pinch technology is a type of plasma confinement system that “pinches” the plasma in a relatively short column by its own magnetic fields until it becomes hot and dense enough to produce nuclear fusion. Zap Energy reached a technical milestone by creating the first plasma in the company’s new prototype reactor named FuZE-Q. FuZE-Q is designed to surpass energy breakeven, which means the device can produce more energy than it consumes. The breakeven point could come “within a year”, according to a statement by Zap Energy.

Meanwhile, the company has also reached another milestone by closing a US$160 million Series C round. With the new funding, the company aims to bring its Z-pinch technology to market by producing garage-size small fusion reactors that could be used to power remote communities. They can also be combined to provide energy to cities.

“We can design, build and test systems at a much faster pace than other approaches, and we are working on technology in parallel that we are going to need on the other side of breakeven,” said Zap Energy President Benj Conway.

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Image: Laboratory scale Z-pinch showing glow from an expanded hydrogen plasma. Credit: Sandpiper at English Wikipedia

Food insecurity Food insecurity

Top Three Scalable Innovations to Tackle Food Insecurity

The global population is expected to exceed 8.5 billion by 2030. By then food insecurity is expected to affect almost 10 percent of the population or 840 million people. Climate change and soil degradation have already caused a decline in the availability and quality of food. The situation further deteriorated following the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. What should we do to tackle the food crisis? Here are three scalable innovations that can help to feed the world. 

Data-driven soil remediation plans

Although technology based on artificial intelligence (AI) has enhanced crop monitoring and harvesting as well as processing and marketing, the technology rarely reaches the small farmers who really need them. Of the total of 608 million farms in the world, only 38 million are served by AI solutions. The rest, mostly small farmers, have been left behind. 

Many small farms in India have severely degraded soil conditions causing reduced yields so food insecurity is an ongoing danger to them. To make technology and experts available to them, Dimitra, an AI-powered agritech company, is striving to deliver data-driven farming to small agricultural enterprises on the subcontinent. The process of Dimitra starts with evaluating crop performance with satellites and IoT soil sensors. Then machine learning is deployed to analyze the data and help farmers to make better decisions. In addition, soil samples are collected on the ground by human labor. The combined information is used to generate soil remediation plans for individual small farmers. Dimitra is aiming at serving 1.3 million Indian farms with its data-driven platform. 


“Every smallholder farmer, regardless of economic status, should be able to benefit from simple, beautiful and useful technology.” – Jon Trask, CEO, Dimitra


Mobile-based farm advisory

Farming is a complex, unpredictable, and individual business. Farmers must make decisions about “what”, “when”, and “how much” constantly. Today, digital technology helps to remove some complexity and uncertainty and allows them to make more precise decisions. One of the possible ways of supporting decision-making is via farmers’ mobile phones. 

Africa accounts for more than half of the world’s population affected by food insecurity, which was already a serious problem in Kenya prior to the COVID pandemic. The situation deteriorated after the breakout of the pandemic. Fortunately, innovative projects from nonprofit organizations and agencies have helped to reduce food insecurity in Kenya. 

One of the projects is PlantVillage, an algorithmic agriculture advice solution. PlantVillage’s algorithms are based on the integration of artificial intelligence (AI), satellite technology, and field force. Kenyan farmers only need to input three details – crop type, location, and planting date – before they receive PlantVillage’s algorithm advice on their mobile phones. The project has provided food security for 36.6 million people, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). 

In 2020, the PlantVillage project helped manage Kenya’s worst locust outbreak in 70 years. 

Tackle food insecurity by avoiding food waste

Apart from increasing food production, avoiding food waste is another important element of reducing food insecurity. According to FAO, one third of food production is either wasted or lost. Unconsumed food also contributes to an estimated eight to ten percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. 


The global volume of food wastage is estimated at 1.6 billion tonnes of “primary product equivalents”. Total food wastage for the edible part of this amounts to 1.3 billion tonnes. – Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations


Food loss can happen either early during food production and processing or later as rampant food waste at restaurants, supermarket, and households. Various smartphone apps around the world have been developed to save surplus food. 

Mobile Apps such as Too Good To Go connect customers to restaurants and stores that have unsold food surplus. 
(Image credit: Too Good To Go)

Too Good To Go is a mobile app developed in Denmark that allows customers to purchase unsold extra food at reduced prices from restaurants and stores. The app covers major cities in Europe and North America. Similar apps are developed in other parts of the world, including Yindii in Thailand, Treatsure in Singapore, and No Food Waste in India. 

There are also solutions for tackling food insecurity by reducing food waste earlier in the supply chain. Instock is a group of restaurants in the Netherlands that serve surplus food sourced from food producers and brokers. Logistics platforms such as Kenya’s Twiga Foods and Ghana’s Cheetah improve the efficiency of the supply chain by connecting farmers and vendors with food outlets and markets. 

Another category of apps uses AI to analyze and prevent waste. These AI-based solutions include Winnow, which helps commercial kitchens prevent food waste, Wasteless, which helps supermarkets and online grocery stores to reduce food waste and extend the value of food items, and nosh and Mimica Touch, which help households to track fridge and pantry contents. 

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Two New Types of Crops Benefit Farmers and the Environment

Climate change is reducing crop yields and threatening global food security. At the same time, farming is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and the climate problem. Innovations in biotechnology could help to address this dilemma by developing more productive and resilient crops that have a lower environmental impact.

Gene-editing for higher resistance

For the first time in history, man-made climate change is occurring at a faster pace than plants can adapt to, causing a reduction in both yields and seed protein content. Many scientists are betting on the technology of gene editing to improve resilience in crops.

Using gene-editing technology such as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR), biologists are able to edit DNA – the genetic code of plants – to raise yields and make them more resilient to diseases and environmental pressure such as heat, floods, droughts, and salinity. Gene editing has the added benefit of making crops healthier by removing allergy-causing elements, reducing saturated fats, and improving nutrients. 

Gene-edited crops are not the same as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs involve the insertion of DNA sequences from other plant or even animal species, while in gene-edited crops, CRISPR and other gene-editing tools allow for the fine-tuning of DNA sequences. Authorities in the US consider gene-edited crops to be “substantially equivalent” to natural crops, which means food products from gene-edited crops do not require special labeling. Since 2021, the UK and China have also relaxed their regulations for gene-edited crops. 

Plant geneticist Yi Li, a professor at the University of Connecticut and Supertrends expert, is developing gene-edited citrus trees that can resist a devastating disease called Huanglongbing (HLB), also known as citrus greeening disease. Due to the comparatively longer life cycle of citrus trees, he expects that HLB-resistant citrus trees could be developed through gene-editing by 2030. However, he pointed out that the development period could be as short as one to two years if a plant’s reproduction cycle is relatively short. 

We see a role for genome editing technologies in many other plants used in the agricultural, horticultural, and forestry industries. For example, we are creating lawn grass varieties that require less fertilizer and water.”

Professor Yi Li, plant geneticist and Supertrends expert[1]

Crops that produce their own fertilizer 

From production to usage, fertilizer contributes one third of all emissions from agriculture. Nitrogen and phosphorus from excess fertilizer can also run off the land and pollute waterways. Bioengineers are taking an innovative approach to making crops produce their own fertilizer instead of using artificial fertilizer. 

Plants like beans and peas do not require fertilizer because they receive nitrogen from a type of bacterium called rhizobia that lives in the soil. Rhizobia fix nitrogen and exchange nitrogen with carbon from beans and peas. If major crops could produce their own fertilizer like beans and peas do, the environmental benefit would be substantial. 

A research team at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) is working on a project to make this happen. The team aims to enable cereal crops, such as corn, rice, and wheat, to make the nitrogen/carbon exchange with rhizobia bacteria. The researchers plan to identify and produce the molecules that enable the exchange in beans and peas through genetic engineering. 

“Focusing on corn alone, this [the production of its own fertilizer] could reduce the production and use of nitrogen fertilizer by 160,000 tons, and it could halve the related emissions of nitrous oxide gas.”

Professor Jing-Ke Weng, plant biologists[2]

Biotechnology innovations like those mentioned above and others have been used to address many challenges in agriculture and to benefit farmers, consumers, and the environment. 

[1]  Li, Y. “These CRISPR-modified crops don’t count as GMOs”. The Conversation. 22 May 2018. https://theconversation.com/these-crispr-modified-crops-dont-count-as-gmos-96002

[2]  Meadow, M. “Using plant biology to address climate change”. MIT News. 19 April 2022. https://news.mit.edu/2022/using-plant-biology-help-address-climate-change-0419

fermented food fermented food fermented food fermented food

Fermented food: From cheese to future proteins

Precision fermentation is the process of using genetically engineered microorganisms to produce specific molecules, such as milk. You may think it will take years, if not decades, until food products made from this technology can be found in your local grocery store. The truth is, you may have been eating food produced by precision fermentation for years, in the form of cheese. 

The story of cheese

The first step in making cheese from milk is coagulation, which separates the solids from the liquids. Rennet, an important enzyme responsible for curdling milk, is added in this step. Traditionally, rennet was a byproduct taken from the fourth stomach of young calves. When the rising demand for cheese caused a serious supply shortage of rennet, scientists found a way to produce rennet through precision fermentation. The gene from the calf was inserted into a strain of bacteria, which was then cultured in a fermenter. In the end, rennet protein was obtained through isolation and purification. 

Fermented food

Today, 90 percent of cheese in the US market is made with rennet produced through precision fermentation. 

In 1990, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first genetically engineered product for human consumption. This approval marked the beginning of precision fermentation in the food industry. Now, 90 percent of cheese in the US market is made with rennet produced through precision fermentation. 

The food of the future

The same technology used to produce rennet is now being applied to make other proteins. In 2020, the company Perfect Day received approval from the FDA for the world’s first milk protein produced through precision fermentation, and launched the first ice cream made from cow-free milk. Valued at US$1.5 billion, Perfect Day is now a unicorn and preparing an IPO for 2022. 

Video Credit: Perfect Day

The livestock industry uses one-third of all habitable land and ten percent of global water resources. It is also responsible for 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Because of the huge environmental impact, many organizations and start-ups are working to develop more sustainable ways to produce protein. Alternative protein, including proteins produced through precision fermentation, is considered the food of the future and is projected to account for 11 percent of the protein market in 2035. 

Alternative protein, including proteins produced through precision fermentation, is considered the food of the future and is projected to account for 11 percent of the protein market in 2035. 

If you are intrigued by the story of cheese and how the food and agriculture industry will evolve in the future, the Supertrends Dynamic report could be a place where you can find market and technology overview, experts’ opinions, and contact database. Why not start with a free sample report that covers all aspects of fermentation from technology, market opportunities, and regulatory status to the investment landscape via the Supertrends newsletter

innovation 2022 innovation 2022 innovation 2022 innovation 2022

Innovations To Expect in 2022

Which innovations will emerge in your industry in 2022? A look at the Supertrends timeline reveals predictions such as “NASA’s space probe collides with an asteroid” in a manner similar to the popular Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up”, “Hyperimaging and AI provide humans with X-ray vision”, and “First commercial flight of a passenger air taxi”. In fact, the advances in technology may exceed your expectations in many areas. Let’s take a look at the most striking innovations that we can expect in 2022.

Healthcare industry: COVID-19, next-generation vaccines, and digitalization 

innovation - mRNA vaccine
Innovations in mRNA vaccines will continue to fight against COVID-19

January 2022 marks the start of the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although we may still not see the pandemic ending this year, we can expect new testing methods, such as a COVID-19 breathalyzer, that can test the virus rapidly and non-invasively. mRNA vaccines have been and probably will continue to be a major tool in our battle against COVID-19. Both Pfizer and Moderna are working on new mRNA vaccines targeting Omicron and other existing variants, which are likely to be available in a few months. We may also see the development of mRNA vaccines beyond COVID-19. Several mRNA influenza vaccines are already in the human trial stage. At the same time, DNA vaccines may become a good alternative for some countries, as they are easier to manufacture and store. The first DNA vaccine has received emergency use authorization in India. 

COVID-19 pandemic also accelerated the digitalization of the healthcare industry. By digitalization, we are not just talking about telemedicine, which has been a critical tool during COVID times. From early diagnosis to drug discovery, artificial intelligence (AI) is being adopted by more and more sectors in healthcare. AI and virtual clinical trial (VCT) could be a valuable tool in improving the time-consuming and expensive clinical drug development process. 

As age-related diseases, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and dementia, become more common, researchers are increasingly starting to view aging as a disease. Anti-aging technology innovation aimed at increasing our lifespan and health span has also become one of the fastest-growing fields in life science. This trend will continue in 2022. Although we won’t see aging itself being reversed (yet), some of the first milestones to be reached in this field could be in age-related diseases, such as early detection of dementia through AI tools.  

Below are some of the interesting milestones that have been predicted to come to pass in the healthcare industry in 2022. Interestingly, the first of these was reached sooner than expected:

  • The first AI-discovered drug target and molecule enters clinical trial (in December 2021)
  • The first DNA vaccine for humans is approved by the FDA
  • An artificial pancreas is routinely available in the UK via the NHS
  • Longevity investment company Juvenescence goes public

Energy, natural resources, and environmental industry: “Green” is the desired color 

innovation sustainability

The energy sector will continue to adapt to a more sustainable approach. The integration of green hydrogen into energy systems could also be boosted by renewable energy projects, such as offshore wind farms. 

Climate change continues to be high on the agenda in countries around the world. Another round of United Nations climate talks will take place in 2022. Green/sustainable technology will be adopted across industries. In December 2021, the green/sustainable tech sector got a boost in China when the country’s industry ministry unveiled a five-year plan to make industrial sectors “greener”. In Europe, as part of its general climate action plan, the European Commission (EC) has allotted significant funds to finance large-scale projects that would foster the commercialization of clean technologies. A financial aid package of around €1.3 to 1.5 billion is expected to be approved in the last quarter of 2022. We will monitor these developments closely to see which green innovations will win the EC’s support.

Efforts to preserve biodiversity will also be stepped up in 2022. Scientists have been warning for years that we are entering a mass extinction phase that could wipe out more than one million species. Increased extinction rates will threaten ecosystems and have severe consequences for the survival of humanity. The UN Convention on Biological Diversity is scheduled to take place in April 2022 in China. 

Some 28 percent of the 138,374 species assessed by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature for its survival watchlist are now at high risk of vanishing forever

The “green” trend and efforts to achieve global climate goals will impact other industries as well. In the fashion industry for example, we will see a shift towards more digital services, such as the opening of the world’s largest virtual fitting room, and environmentally-friendly products. Pandora, the world’s largest jeweler, has announced that they are shifting from mined diamonds to more sustainable lab-made diamonds this year.

Below are some of the milestones that this sector could achieve this year:

  • The world’s first offshore green hydrogen plant begins operating
  • IUCN’s Red List extended to include 160,000 species
  • Geothermal energy is generated and sold in the UK

Food and agriculture industry: Alternative protein – it’s what’s for dinner 

Cultured meat – the animal protein produced from cell cultures in bioreactors – has come a long way since the debut of the world’s first cell-cultured burger in 2013. In 2020, cultured chicken meat became the first commercialized cultured meat product. Quite a few start-ups have announced plans to bring cultured shrimp, cultured lobster, cultured foie gras, cultured fat, and cultured human milk to the market in 2022. 

Another active player in the sector of alternative protein is insect protein, which has great potential as a future food because of its high efficiency and sustainability. Demand for insect protein is currently mainly for use as animal feed and pet food ingredients. In 2021, the yellow mealworm became the first insect food approved for human consumption in the EU. 

We picked a few interesting milestones that could be realized in 2022 in the food and agriculture sector:

  • The world’s biggest insect farm is opened with a capacity of 100,000 tonnes of insect products per year
  • A cultured milk company is listed in the US stock market
  • A cultured meat product that costs less than US$10 per pound is launched

Transportation, logistics and mobility industry: self-driving cars on the roads?

The COVID pandemic has been a driving force for digitalization and automation in several industries, especially the healthcare industry. However, this is not the case in the transportation, logistics and mobility industry. Disruptions to the supply chain and quarantines have caused delays in many projects, including the development of autonomous vehicles, also known as self-driving cars. Will the development of self-driving cars catch up in 2022? According to the Supertrends radar, the UK and Germany may allow self-driving cars on their roads this year. 

Another trend to watch in this industry is the shift toward renewable energy-powered ships. Today, cargo ships contribute only two to three percent of global CO2 emissions, but that share will increase when other sectors use less fossil energy. Shipping is expected to contribute up to 17 percent of total CO2 emissions by 2050. We may witness the shipping industry turning to clean energy to replace heavy fuel oil, starting with the world’s first ammonia-powered ship in 2022. 

Below are a few 2022 milestones in this industry, and again the first predicted breakthrough occurred even sooner than anticipated: 

  • Germany allows autonomous vehicles on public roads (in December 2021)
  • The world’s first ammonia-powered ship is launched
  • First commercial flight of a passenger air taxi
  • The first commercial solar car is on the market

Other industries and sectors: Keep your imagination alive

Image Credit: NASA

Another highly active industry is space exploration. In 2022, Europe may land its first rover on Mars through a joint Russian-European mission (ExoMars), a NASA space probe is scheduled to collide with an asteroid in a testing mission, and China’s first space station Tiangong will be completed. It’s going to get crowded even on the moon this year. Other than NASA’s moon mission, India, Japan, Russia, and South Korea have all announced their own moon missions in 2022.

We are in an era of exponential innovation. Almost every sector is benefiting from new technology and creating new products, new markets, and new business models. Don’t be surprised if the innovation milestones below are achieved in 2022:

  • Elevators travel to a height of 1km
  • First flexible smartphone invented using ultra-thin chips
  • Hyperimaging and AI provide humans with X-ray vision
  • The first “augmented paper” enters circulation
  • China rolls out a state-controlled digital currency using blockchain technology
  • All products of a major fashion retailer can be viewed in augmented reality

More innovation milestones can be found on the Supertrends Pro App. You are invited to sign up for the Supertrends newsletter so you won’t miss any future updates.  

Supertrends in 2021 – breakthroughs, moving trends, and trends to keep an eye on

In 2021, a 50-year-old challenge – the protein folding problem – was solved by AI, starch was produced synthetically from air, the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge opened in Amsterdam, and one in four people in the US used cannabis. 

These are some of the many predictions on the Supertrends timeline of the future that were fulfilled this year, while some others were not. In the following, we will look at the breakthroughs, the trends that moved faster than expected, the trends being pushed backward, and the trends you should keep an eye on as 2021 draws to a close. 

The breakthroughs in 2021

AI continues to show its immense power by solving the “protein folding problem”  

In 1972, US biochemist Christian Anfinsen predicted during his Nobel Prize acceptance speech that it would be possible to determine a protein’s 3D structure based on its one-dimensional amino acid sequence. This is the famous “protein folding problem” that has challenged scientists for the past 50 years. Until the beginning of this decade, humanity had collectively discovered the three-dimensional structure of 180,000 proteins. Now, an artificial intelligence tool called AlphaFold has predicted more than 350,000 additional protein structures, and it may be able to predict more than 100 million more within months. 

3D printing applied to construction and healthcare

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A 3D-printed metal bridge being installed in central Amsterdam (Image credit: Merlin Moritz)

The practical applications of 3D printing expanded to architecture and healthcare in 2021. This year, the world’s first 3D-printed steel bridge was opened to the public in Amsterdam, the first commercial 3D-printed house went on sale in the US, and the first 3D-printed school opened in Africa. In healthcare, a three-dimensional biomaterial scaffold was shown to reverse arthritis in mice, and 3D-printed vascularized human organ tissue survived for 30 days in a lab. 

Sustainability became a trend across industries 

With the US rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement and China launching its national carbon emission trading scheme, sustainability became an important trend across industries in 2021. One example is the fast development of sustainable agriculture. After the debut of cultured beef, pork, chicken, and fish, this year saw the arrival of cell-cultured caviar, as well as chocolate developed in the lab, along with the first underground urban farm. 

Supertrends experts from Future Fields developing cultured meat

Trends that accelerated

Sometimes the speed of innovation exceeds our expectations. For some trends, faster-than-expected development brought certain milestones forward into the year 2021. 

On 6 October 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) approved the first malaria vaccine. Researchers have been working on a malaria vaccine for more than 30 years. The crowdsourced consensus on Supertrends was that a vaccine would not be approved before 2025. Based on positive (though less successful than hoped for) trial results, the protein-based malaria vaccine Mosquirix was approved for broad use in children by the WHO, marking an important step forward in the fight against one of the world’s most dangerous remaining infectious diseases. 

In November 2021, IBM announced the launch of a 127-qubit quantum computer. This set a new record in quantum computing, bringing the industry a step closer to developing devices capable of outrunning classical computers in performing specific tasks. “A quantum computer with over 100 qubits” was originally predicted on Supertrends timeline to happen in 2022. 

Also in November, the first zero-emissions container ship completed its maiden voyage in Norway. Although the ship only embarked on a short sail along the Oslo fjord, the journey nevertheless marked a new trend in sustainability that came to fruition sooner than predicted. 

Yara Birkeland, the world’s first zero emission container ship (Image credits: Knut Brevik Andersen, Wilhelmsen Ship Service)

Trends that lagged behind expectations

For reasons related to regulation, technology, and sometimes as part of the domino effect of the COVID pandemic, some trends that had been expected to manifest themselves in 2021 were delayed. 

Wall Street’s hopes for launching a bitcoin exchange-traded fund (ETF) were quashed again by the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). Despite Bitcoin’s new highs, the SEC rejected an application by US investment firm VanEck for a BTC ETF. Some experts think that this milestone could be postponed for years. 

As sales of electric vehicles (EV) boomed, the development of autonomous vehicles (AV) remained stagnant in 2021. iQ-cruise, an intelligent, fuel-efficient cruise control system for trucks developed as a precursor to fully autonomous mobility, remained a pilot program this year despite predictions of its commercialization. Perhaps Apple’s push into the EV and AV field will accelerate the development? 

Another milestone was delayed as a direct consequence of the COVID pandemic. In 2020, Sunflower Labs launched the world’s first fully autonomous residential security system that combines sensors, drones, and AI. The company was all set up to deliver their autonomous security system to customers before the COVID outbreak abruptly changed the status of the home security market and led Sunflower Labs to focus on new business applications. 

The “Bee” – a security drone designed by Sunflower Labs (Image credit: Sunflower Labs)

Benchmarks that may or may not be reached in December

The world is changing faster than ever. Although Supertrends strives to bring you news about the most impactful and disruptive innovations, no single company can cover every new technology and new trend. Therefore, we invite you to join us in predicting new trends and spotting their development. 

Help us to keep an eye on the following milestones that could still be achieved in 2021!

Self-driving cars are allowed on UK roads. The UK government has said it would change the law by the end of 2021 to define cars with certified standards of Automated Lane Keeping Systems (ALKS) as “self-driving”. This hasn’t happened yet, but we are still watching. 

The James Webb Space Telescope is launched. The James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) was jointly developed by the US, Europe, and Canada and planned as NASA’s flagship astrophysics mission. The JWST’s launch, initially planned for 2007, has suffered numerous delays. The latest delay pushed the launch date to 22 December 2021. Will the JWST make it into 2021’s list of Supertrends achieved? We certainly hope so!

James Webb Space Telescope artist conception (Image source: NASA)

If you want to always be in touch with the latest trends in innovation, get free access to the Supertrends timeline by signing up for Supertrends Pro app.

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Nanosensors Benefit Small Farmers and Reduce Pollution

Pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers pollute rivers, oceans, air, and soil. Yet small farmers rely on them to produce food. Researchers from Singapore are working on ways to improve the efficiency of these tools and reduce pollution at the same time. 

Disruptive technology for a more sustainable agriculture

In an age when sustainability is becoming a major concern, traditional agriculture faces a dilemma between preserving resources and meeting the increasing demand for food. This is where innovative technology comes into play. DiSTAP (Disruptive & Sustainable Technologies for Agricultural Precision), an interdisciplinary research group in the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART), MIT’s research enterprise in Singapore, recently developed the world’s first nanosensor that can perform rapid testing on plant hormones. 

Synthetic auxins (plant hormones) such as 1-naphthalene acetic acid (NAA) and 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4-D) are widely used as herbicides in the agriculture industry. They are also used as plant regulator sprays to prevent premature flowering and fruit dropping. However, they are not safe for human health at higher concentrations, and their residue on plants should be monitored carefully. So far, there are no non-invasive and efficient ways to monitor these chemicals. A DiSTAP research team has now developed nanosensors to monitor the chemicals in real time. 

Will the nanosensors benefit farmers as well as the environment and consumers? Supertrends interviewed DiSTAP team members Dr. Mervin Chun-Yi Ang, research scientist, and Dr. Gajendra Pratap Singh, scientific director and principal investigator, to find out more about this breakthrough discovery.

Dr. Mervin Chun-Yi Ang & Dr. Gajendra Pratap Singh – Supertrends experts and researchers at DiSTAP

A precision agriculture tool

Supertrends: The sensors have been tested in the lab and in greenhouses to monitor synthetic auxin levels in plants. Does that mean the sensors will also work in real farms?

DiSTAP: As advanced analytical tools, the sensors could be used commercially in the context of precision agriculture as they are able to inform the farmers of the optimal amount of plant regulators required for their specific crops. Furthermore, as the output is available in real time, farmers can adjust and calibrate the amount of plant regulators to suit the growth needs of the crops at every stage of their development.

DiSTAP nanosensor and camera instrument setup

Economic and social benefits

Supertrends: How will farmers and consumers benefit from using the sensors?

DiSTAP: These novel sensing tools help farmers economically by preventing wasteful and ineffective deployment of herbicides, thereby improving cost efficiencies in herbicide usage.

There is also a mounting body of scientific evidence proving that the synthetic auxin herbicide poses a hazard to both human health and the environment. Given its widespread usage in agriculture, it is frequently detected in water from agricultural runoffs. Hence, besides the economic benefits to farmers, there are also health and environmental benefits that could be reaped from these nanosensors because the nanosensors allow for precise calibration of herbicide dosage in order to minimize usage. 

Challenges and future development

Supertrends: What are the major challenges in making the sensors into practical products?

DiSTAP: The environment is complex and changing constantly in the open fields. We are using a sentinel plant model to evaluate the technological robustness of our nanosensors under varying conditions of weather, plant development stage, soil types, etc. It may take one to two years for our nanosensor tools to be available on the market. 

For future development, we are looking into integrating machine learning and artificial intelligence algorithms into the nanosensor imaging platforms to simplify the data and make the information more useful to farmers. 

Do you want to know more about supertrends in agritech? Keep an eye on our page of sustainability publications for some awesome content on this topic coming soon.

sepsis sepsis sepsis sepsis

One Step Closer to an Innovative Therapy for Sepsis

Not many people know how dangerous sepsis is. Even fewer people know that there is no specific therapy available to treat sepsis. Sepsis, a disorder that is developed from infections, can lead to limb amputations and deaths in a matter of days. For decades, it has remained one of the deadliest and costliest medical conditions. Now a startup is getting one step closer to finding an innovative therapy.

Finding an innovative approach

Computer illustration of a cutaway view of the human cell membrane. The yellow channels are aquaporins.

Aquaporin is a channel protein found in plants, animals, and humans. The discovery of aquaporin won Dr. Peter Agre a Nobel Prize in 2003. However, despite having a profound physiological impact, aquaporins have so far not been transformed into practical applications. Could aquaporins offer an innovative therapy for sepsis? Supertrends has been following the development of ApoGlyx, a start-up dedicated to creating aquaporin-based therapies. This year, ApoGlyx has seen promising achievements after more than a decade of hard work. 

In April, ApoGlyx won the NLSInvest Rising Star Award on the first Nordic Life Science Investment Day. The award provided the opportunity for ApoGlyx to highlight its innovative therapy in front of investors. 

Attracting new investors

For the last few years, ApoGlyx has been busy working on two preclinical studies with Professor Giuseppe Calamita of Bari University in Italy, Professor Angela Tesse Ragot, University of Nantes, and Prof. Christoph Thiemermann at the William Harvey Research Institute in London. Both studies have delivered promising results. “The results proved that a modulated aquaporin might offer a new approach for sepsis management,” Calamita told Supertrends in an interview. Thiemermann went one step further in describing the result as “striking”.  


“We have never seen a drug that is administered after three hours after the onset of sepsis and is still effective.” – Professor Christoph Thiemermann, Director of the Centre for Translational Medicine and Therapeutics at the William Harvey Research Institute, and Supertrends expert


With sound scientific evidence to back up its claims, no wonder ApoGlyx stood out in the NLSInvest event. Following the event, Aploglyx successfully completed a US$700,000 (six million Swedish kronor) financing round. Among the new investors is the Swedish fund Almi Invest, a venture capital fund that supports early-stage start-ups with high growth potential and a scalable business plan. 

Entering “Medicon Village” 

To support its further development, ApoGlyx is entering the SmiLe incubator located in Medicon Village, in Lund, Sweden. Seated around the Öresund bridge between Sweden and Denmark in the thriving life-science region nick-named “Medicon Valley”, SmiLe is a prestigious life science incubator that has already produced 16 IPOs and demonstrated a success rate of 86 percent. 

In its new home at SmiLe, ApoGlyx will further analyze valuable biomarkers with its already completed experiment and carry out further studies to provide more evidence for its aquaporin-based therapy. 

“ApoGlyx is transforming from research into scaling and commercialization,” said Kristina Nyzell, an early investor who has witnessed the transformation of the start-up. 

Contributing to sepsis awareness education

Sepsis, one of the earliest medical syndromes to be described in the history of medicine, remains one of the most dangerous and costly medical conditions even today. Nevertheless, public awareness of sepsis is poor across the globe. Surveys showed that only 7 to 50 percent of respondents were familiar with the term, including many who had an incorrect understanding of the condition.

To help the public understand sepsis better, ApoGlyx, in collaboration with Disruptiveplay, has developed a minicourse about what sepsis is, how to identify the condition, and how to manage it. The course is part of the Educate All initiative led by the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (unitar) and micro-learning platform EdApp. The Sepsis Awareness course can be accessed for free on EdApp.

Preparing for clinical trials


Preclinical models that are often used for regulatory safety studies involve a rodent and a non-rodent species and must be relevant for the drug’s mode of action and expected off-target effects. Once sufficient safety information is obtained, dosage and treatment schedules are determined for Phase I trials in humans. I see no major obstacles for ApoGlyx’s next stage of clinical trials.” – Dr. Frank Staedtler, biologist, and Supertrends expert


Before the drug candidate is tested on humans, ApoGlyx must gain a better understanding of potential risks that their aquaporin-based therapy might have. The company will start a preclinical toxicology program in early 2022. After the toxicology data is analyzed, ApoGlyx will officially start its regulatory process for clinical trials. 

The company plans to start its discussion with the European Medicine Agency (EMA) in 2022. If all goes well in Europe, ApoGlyx will then start the process in the US with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA).  

It will certainly be a lengthy and uneasy journey to bring a new drug into clinical practice. The challenge will be even bigger when dealing with a condition like sepsis, which has previously defeated numerous attempts at therapeutic intervention. Today, factors such as emerging viral infections, antibiotic resistance crisis, and an aging population have caused sepsis to be an even bigger threat. More than ever, we need a successful therapy against sepsis. Aquaporin-based therapy provides an innovative approach to this challenge. Our report on Supertrends in Aquaporin and Sepsis describes how the future of aquaporin could be intertwined with the future management of sepsis. 

palm tree farmers palm tree farmers palm tree farmers palm tree farmers

AI-Powered Ear Helps Small Farmers to Detect a Dangerous Pest

How can farmers, especially small farmers, benefit from a modern technology like AI? With this question in mind, Supertrends interviewed Zeid Sinokrot, the founder and CEO of Palmear, who is developing an AI-powered tool to help small palm tree farmers detect a dangerous pest. 

The red palm weevil: A global threat that is hard to detect

“The red palm weevil has become a global threat and demands a global strategy to eradicate it.”

– Jose Graziano da Silva, Head of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Originally endemic to South Asia, the Red Palm Weevil (RPW) attacks 40 different types of palm trees, with the Coconut, Palm oil and Date palms being the most affected. Most of the damage is caused by the larvae, the wormlike form in the early stage of an RPW’s life cycle. RPW larvae spend their whole life inside the trunk, destroying the trees from inside. 

With few natural enemies, the RPW has spread to more than 60 countries, affecting the livelihoods of nearly 50 million farmers. In 2017, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization identified the RPW as a global threat. Home to 90 percent of the world’s date palm trees, the Near East and North Africa (NENA) region has been hit particularly hard by this malicious pest. 

The key to RPW is early detection to stop the RPW from growing into adult form and spreading to other trees. That’s where Sinokrot thinks AI can lend a helping ear. 

AI-powered ear to help small palm tree farmers

Palm tree park in Spain

Having studied engineering and owned palm tree farms himself, Sinokrot believes that the combination of AI, big data, and audio engineering can provide an innovative solution for detecting the RPW. RPW larvae produce a distinctive sound when chewing and crawling inside palm trees. Although the sound cannot be heard by human ears, it can be detected by acoustic sensors. 

Before setting up the company Palmear, a company based out of Abu Dhabi, Sinokrot spent a year collecting data that will be used to train algorithms to recognise the precise sounds produced by RPW larvae.  In 2019, Palmear produced the world’s first AI-powered system for early RPW detection. By inserting a small needle that is only 3cm in length and 3mm in diameter into the trunk of a palm tree, farmers can detect the presence of RPW larvae within seconds. 

Many palm tree farmers are not exactly tech-savvy. Palmear offers a user-friendly mobile app that farmers can use to test their trees in real time. The app can also track nearby and countrywide RPW infections. 

Contributing to sustainability

To prevent their trees from being infected by the RPW, palm tree farmers often use a lot of pesticides. Several times a year, they inject insecticides into the trunks of the trees, which causes serious environmental damage. In a paper published in 2019, researchers in the UAE found carcinogenic and toxic pesticide residues from dates that grown on palm trees. 

If farmers can detect which trees are infected by the RPW at an early stage, they can then use pesticides only on the trees that were found to be infected. “Working with precision agriculture, farmers can reduce the usage of chemicals, as well as get higher value from their fruits,” Sinokrot told Supertrends.

An AI-Powered acoustic sensor protecting a palm tree park in Dubai

Through its R&D, Palmear is also looking at possibilities for working with other crops. Sinokrot mentioned crops such as oil palm and avocado, all of which are affected by wood-boring insects.

A question of ambition


“I want to provide protection for 50 percent of all the palm trees in the world.” – Zeid Sinokrot, Supertrends expert, founder and CEO of Palmear


When asked how many trees will benefit from Palmear, Sinokrot told Supertrends that he wants to provide protection for 50 million date palm trees in the next five years, which amounts to approximately half of all the date palm trees in the world. “Do you think I am too ambitious?” he asked. Only the future can show how realistic this plan really is.

At Supertrends, we believe that innovations grow at exponential speed. Do you think a young start-up can be a game-changer in the palm tree business? Share your prediction on the Supertrends Pro App by searching for “Agritech, Palm trees”. 

Sheep farming Sheep farming Sheep farming Sheep farming

Sheep Farming – The Last Frontier in the Chinese Livestock Industry

Gao Yuhong, an agriculture professor at the College of Animal Science and Technology, Hebei Agriculture University in China, has been working almost exclusively on sheep farming for the last few years. Why sheep farming? “Sheep farming is the last frontier in the Chinese livestock industry,” Gao told Supertrends in an interview.

Growing production and demand

A sheep farm Gao has visited

Mutton and lamb meat hold a special place in the Chinese culinary culture. They are not only delicacies but are also considered to be especially nutritious in traditional Chinese medicine. In line with China’s economic development, the country’s meat production and consumption have been growing rapidly. In 2019, 320 million sheep and goats were raised domestically, which is 11 times the production in 1978. But demand has been growing even faster. The Chinese consumed 4.92 million tonnes of mutton and lamb meat in 2020, some of which came from imported meat. 

To reduce dependence on imported mutton and lamb meat, the Chinese government plans to increase domestic supply to 85 percent of total consumption by 2025, which means producing 5 million tons of mutton and lamb meat. But the plan to increase production faces a serious challenge.

The challenge in sheep farming

Unlike cows and pigs, sheep are rarely raised through intensive farming. In China, most sheep came from small-scale farming. According to statistics, in 2017 only 3.1 percent of the sheep farms in the country had a flock of 100 or more. Even though small-scale sheep farms will still be a major player in the foreseeable future, Gao thinks that the answer to a more sustainable sheep industry is the development of efficient farming at an appropriate scale.

“China is at a transformational stage to better regulated sheep farming at an appropriate scale.”

– Gao Yuhong, Professor in Animal Science and Technology & Supertrends Expert

As pioneers in this field, Gao and her colleges encountered quite a few challenges. They have to develop an optimal feed composition, reasonable design for sheep barn, and appropriate way to manage waste. “The farmers want to have profit, but it has to be done in a sustainable way. The government has strict regulations on the livestock industry,” Gao told Supertrends.

A sheep Farm in China

Alternative protein

Noting that alternative proteins, like plant-based meat and cultured meat, have made headlines in the West, Supertrends asked Gao whether she believes these novel foods can play a role in helping China to meet its demand for meat – a question she seemed to find surprising: “I think Chinese people prefer the ‘real’ meat, with the right taste and texture. It may take many years for Chinese people to accept alternative protein,” said Gao

According to a survey done by Supertrends, consumers around the world may not yet view alternative protein as “real” meat. The answer from Gao also reflected this opinion. The question of how to meet the increasing demand for meat is a critical issue for China as well as the world. It is essential to work on diversified solutions. However, for now, Gao is convinced that well-regulated sheep farming at an appropriate scale is a practical solution in the real world.

Artificial Intelligence becomes an essential part of future healthcare

In many developed countries, healthcare has become an unsustainable business in recent years, partly due to the aging population and prevalence of chronic diseases. In the US, healthcare spending grew 4.6 percent in 2019 alone, amounting to US$3.8 trillion, or 18 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). However, this increase in spending did not translate into better patient care, nor has it reduced resource scarcity and imbalance in the healthcare industry. How can we transform the healthcare sector to make it more efficient and sustainable? Artificial intelligence (AI) will play a critical role in the future of healthcare.  

The Seven Revolutions in Healthcare That Will Impact Your Life – Part 7

(Missed the previous one? You can read Part 6 here – Robots Become Reliable Assistants for Healthcare Professionals and Patients)

From fee-for-service to fee-for-value

In the current healthcare system, doctors and other healthcare providers are paid for the number of patients seen or procedures performed. This fee-for-service model means that healthcare providers are rewarded for volume rather than for value.

What is the biggest barrier to practicing medicine today?


“‘Production pressure’ – the requirement to see more patients in less time because of the misconception that the value of a physician is determined by the number of patients he/she sees”– Lucian Leape, physician and professor at Harvard School of Public Health, leader of patient safety movement.1


Value-based healthcare rewards healthcare providers based on the quality of care they provided. The implementation of AI can greatly improve the value of healthcare providers by making sense of medical data, automating routine procedures, and improving efficiency and effectiveness.

AI will reshape radiology

Machine learning is great at recognizing patterns, which has translated into fast progress in analyzing medical images.

While AI played no role at all in radiology as recently as 2015, 30 percent of radiologists had adopted the technology by 2020, according to a study by the American College of Radiology.2

One of the diseases where machine learning has proven its value in early diagnosis and prognosis is dementia, the leading cause of disability and dependency among the elderly. Diagnosing dementia in an early phase is a challenge due to the lack of symptoms and visible changes in brain images at the preclinical stage. By studying patterns in thousands of brain scans from dementia patients, scientists in the UK have developed an algorithm that can detect early signs of dementia in brain scans that are not visible even to radiologists. The algorithm has reduced the diagnosis procedure from several scans and tests across several weeks to just one single scan. 

Data experts believe that AI, rather than replacing radiologists Altogether, will automate redundancies, prevent mistakes, and optimize how radiologists practice, which will ultimately lead to better patient outcomes.3

AI and big data are advancing precision medicine

All humans are different from one another due to genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors. But in conventional medicine, patients with the same disease are typically given the same standard treatment. This is often the reason for unreliable outcomes. In precision medicine, medical decisions are tailored to a subgroup of patients. Multidimensional datasets are used to train algorithms to identify subgroup patients with similar biological and other characteristics. Precision medicine offers clinicians the opportunity to prepare tailor-made preventative or therapeutic interventions. It has already led to promising results in AI-powered prognosis for cancer and cardiovascular disease.4

In 2018, Chiba University set up the first AI center in a medical school in Japan. The center uses AI to analyze genomic and clinic data such as gene expression, metabolism, gut microbiome, environmental exposures, and lifestyle factors. By doing so, researchers are able to predict the efficacy of treatments and future outcomes. In one of their studies, researchers used machine learning to identify a group of early-stage ovarian cancer patients who would respond poorly to a particular treatment beforehand. This finding gave the clinicians the opportunity to design a new treatment approach for the subgroup of patients.


“Predictive algorithms can help identify disease groups that haven’t been recognized by clinicians, as well as guide the selection of personalized treatment options for these patients.” – Eiryo Kawakami, professor of artificial intelligence medicine at Chiba University.5


Translate AI from labs to real-life patient care

To laypeople, the notion of an AI healthcare solution may sound like a complex one. But Professor Sebastien Ourselin, Head of the School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences at King’s College London, says the new approach will make his work easier. Ourselin and a team of data scientists and clinicians at AI Centre for Value-Based Healthcare are working together with The National Health Service (NHS) and other partners to deploy AI solutions into real hospitals in the UK.

“AI is just a way to make sense of all of those data by training models which will hopefully be able to save us time in making the diagnosis, prognosis and be able as well to increase the effectiveness of the treatment.” – Professor Sebastien Ourselin, Head of School of Biomedical Engineering & Imaging Sciences at King’s College London6

The transformation of AI solutions from labs to real patient care is not an easy task. Medical data in the real world is often unstructured, comprehensive, and filled with various terms, abbreviations, and misspellings. The strategy of the AI Centre for Value Based Healthcare is to first convert static snapshots of clinical data into real-time, actionable analytics, then build an infrastructure to link data together and train the algorithm. Eventually, with the help of AI, actionable models are formulated that can be deployed in real hospitals. The NHS plans to deploy the first prototype in ten hospitals later this year. The full deployment of AI solutions will be carried out in the next two years.

Do you think we will see AI-powered healthcare solutions in real hospitals soon? Search “Future of healthcare” on the Supertrends Pro app and tell us about your thoughts on AI healthcare solutions:

This blog concludes our series on the future of healthcare. Thank you for following our ideas on what will happen in the future of healthcare and what it may mean to your life. Take advantage of the Supertrends Pro app’s free trial to make your voice heard on the “future of healthcare”. The final timeline will be revealed in November. Scroll down to the bottom of this page and sign up for our newsletter so you won’t miss it!


[1] Pittman D., 10 Questions: Lucian Leape, MD. MedPage Today. 12 January 2014. https://www.medpagetoday.com/PublicHealthPolicy/GeneralProfessionalIssues/43757

[2] Siwicki B., Mass General Brigham and the future of AI in radiology. Healthcare IT News. 10 May 2021. https://www.healthcareitnews.com/news/mass-general-brigham-and-future-ai-radiology

[3] Siwicki B., Mass General Brigham and the future of AI in radiology. Healthcare IT News. 2021.

[4] Uddin, M., Wang, Y. and Woodbury-Smith, M. Artificial intelligence for precision medicine in neurodevelopmental disorders. npj Digit. Med. 2, 112 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41746-019-0191-0

[5] Nature research custom media, Chiba University. Advancing precision medicine using AI and big data. Nature portfolio. Accessed on 27 August 2021. https://www.nature.com/articles/d42473-020-00349-9

[6] Ourselin S., The future of healthcare with artificial intelligence. 26 June 2021, Future of Healthcare (Webinar). NewScientistLive. https://app.konf.co/event/sJ0Vy6Kn/session/4499

Aquaporins Aquaporins Aquaporins Aquaporins

Aquaporins: Purifying Water with Nature’s Own Filter

While many human activities affect the environment in negative ways, nature’s solutions often are more efficient and sustainable. How do plants and animals purify water? What can we learn from them about filtration? With these questions in mind, Supertrends talked to two executives from Aquaporin, a water tech company delivering innovative technology based on nature’s own water filter.   

Aquaporins: the truly natural water filters

The cells in Aquaporins are channel proteins that facilitate the transport of water across cells. Through aquaporins, cells in plants, animals, and humans can filter pure water from other molecules very quickly and efficiently. The discovery of aquaporins in 1992 won Dr. Peter Agre a Nobel Prize in 2003 and laid the groundwork for practical applications in a number of industries.    

Inspired by nature’s own water filtration method, Danish company Aquaporin developed the Aquaporin Inside® technology, a biomimetic membrane that serves as a natural, sustainable water treatment solution. The company offers innovative products such as a water filtration system that does not need electricity, a natural concentration process that can achieve high concentration levels without loss of natural flavor in food and beverages; and a sustainable and efficient wastewater treatment process involving lower energy consumption and less wastewater discharge. 

Water treatment goals in the textile industry

Accounting for 20 percent of global wastewater discharge, the textile industry is one of the largest polluters and consumers of water. To make matters worse, many textile factories are located in water-stressed regions, such as India and Bangladesh. “With Aquaporin’s technology, textile factories could reuse up to 95 percent of their wastewater and ultimately achieve zero liquid discharge,” said Søren Robenhagen, the sales director for industrial water at Aquaporin.  

Have worked for quite a few years in a diplomatic position in South Asia and the Middle East, Robenhagen is no stranger to the environmental damages caused by industrial wastewater.

“India is a global manufacturing hub, with textile industry alone accounting for 12 percent of the country’s export earnings. Mass production comes with the challenges of water pollution, contributing to water scarcity, and increased regulations to manage it. Aquaporin technologies enable the industry to be greener, cleaner, and more water- and carbon-conscious.”
Søren Robenhagen, Sales Director, Industrial Water at Aquaporin & Supertrends Expert

Robenhagen told Supertrends that his ambition is to bring Aquaporin’s sustainable water tech to major textile exporters such as India and Turkey. “We are expecting our first commercial installation of wastewater treatment unit in India in the first half of 2022,” he said.

Consumers are part of the sustainability solution

Water is a costly resource in Europe. European companies usually can benefit from direct cost savings in reduced water consumption by adopting the sustainable water treatment solution developed by the company Aquaporin. However, in developing countries like Bangladesh, water is exacted from the ground almost free of charge. What are the incentives for textile factories there to spend on sustainable water treatment equipment?

Robenhagen believes that such incentives depend on the choices made by individual end users. “Consumers like you and me are demanding more sustainable products from fashion brands. Fashion brands will then work with the factories to make them greener by forming long-term partnerships.” Aquaporin has been chosen by Fashion for Good, a platform dedicated to sustainable fashion innovation, for a pilot project at textile factories in South Asia, where the technology will be presented as a blue stamping that features the Aquaporin Inside® technology.

The paradox of freshwater

Global warming causes increased drought in many places. In 2025, two-thirds of the world’s population could face a fresh water shortage. More and more regions have to rely on the treatment of salty water for freshwater supply. However, brackish water (water that is saltier than freshwater, but not as salty as seawater) treatment and seawater desalination require vast amounts of energy, which are provided by fossil fuels in many places. Some experts have expressed their concerns about creating a feedback loop where seawater desalination worsens global warming, and in turn leads to a greater shortage of freshwater. 

As a more energy-efficient and sustainable solution, an aquaporin-based membrane could help to save energy and increase efficiency in the treatment process for brackish water and seawater. The company Aquaporin is launching a reverse osmosis system with Aquaporin Inside® technology as a more energy-efficient method of treating brackish water. The company is also working actively with partners to develop aquaporin-based membranes that can improve energy efficiency in the seawater desalination process.

“Desalination uses a lot of energy. It is not only expensive, but could also have a high carbon footprint if the energy comes from fossil fuels. An aquaporin-based membrane that is highly efficient, but uses lower energy is very beneficial. It can translate into lower cost of operation and lower carbon footprint.”
Matt Boczkowski, deputy CEO of Aquaporin and  Supertrends expert.

To have enough water for agriculture, industry, and daily life, we must achieve sustainable water management. Nature is the best teacher. Aquaporin – nature’s own water filter – could help us to ensure that our water supply continues to be sourced sustainably and using natural processes. 

Find out more about innovative water tech from Supertrends’ free report – Sustainable Wastewater Management.

Sepsis patients Sepsis patients Sepsis patients Sepsis patients

Four Supertrends Experts Share Their Insights on Sepsis

On 13 September 2021, World Sepsis Day will be observed for the tenth time. Sepsis, a disorder that is caused by infections, can lead to limb amputations and deaths in a matter of days. The condition kills at least 11 million people every year globally. However, the condition is still not well known, with only from 7 to 50 percent of respondents being familiar with the term, and many having an incorrect understanding of the condition. Supertrends asked four experts to comment on current sepsis-related trends and challenges. 

COVID-19 and viral sepsis

Traditionally, bacterial infections had been regarded as a leading cause of sepsis. The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed viral sepsis to be one of the characteristics of modern-day sepsis syndrome. Studies found that sepsis was the most frequently observed complication of COVID-19. The elevation of cytokine levels, an indicator of dysregulated immune response to the virus infection, was linked to viral sepsis and critically ill COVID-19 patients. 

Dr. Masab Moumneh, who has been an ICU physician in Abu Dhabi for the past ten years, still cannot believe how many lives COVID-19 took during the peak days of the pandemic. He told Supertrends that almost all COVID-19 patients are killed by the dysregulated immune response rather than the virus itself.

“I have never seen anything as bad as this. Patients typically develop a high fever, their Interleukin 6 (a type of cytokine) is high. If we can get them to pass the two-week mark, they will survive.”

– Masab Moumneh, MD, ICU physician, and Supertrends expert

Sepsis in contemporary healthcare 

Dr. Mads Koch Hansen, an intensive care specialist and hospital administrator, believes that we are facing a greater challenge from sepsis today due to shortened post-surgery hospital stay, emerging viral infections, antibiotic resistance crisis, and an aging population.

“Today, there are more elderly patients and more patients with chronic conditions. Another factor we should pay attention to is that we do more surgeries on elderly people, with fewer post-surgery staying days in the hospital. This means we will not be able to detect these patients early if they develop sepsis.”

– Mads Koch Hansen, MD, intensive care specialist, hospital administrator, and Supertrends expert

Currently, there is still no drug specifically targeting sepsis. Hansen felt that doctor’s hands were quite tied when it came to treating sepsis patients. 

A promising new approach

Aquaporin (AQP) is a channel protein found in plants, animals, and humans. The discovery of aquaporin won Dr. Peter Agre a Nobel Prize in 2013. However, despite having a profound physiological impact, aquaporin has not been transformed into practical applications. Dr. Michael Rutzler, CEO and founder of start-up Apoglyx, told Supertrends that aquaporin could be a potential treatment for sepsis. 

“We found strong evidence that the inhibition of AQP9 demonstrated a protective effect from sepsis in rodent models, especially on heart function. We are hoping to get similar results in humans.”

– Michael Rutzler, CEO and founder of Apoglyx, Supertrends expert

Rutzler has been collaborating with Professor Giuseppe Calamita of Bari University in Italy. Calamina’s team was the first in the world to study aquaporin’s involvement in sepsis in a living animal model. 

“We got a very promising result with more than 25 percent of the mice surviving sepsis […] The results proved that modulated AQP might offer a new approach for sepsis management.”

– Giuseppe Calamina, professor in biosciences and Supertrends expert

A new era for sepsis management

Advances in the field of biology and computer science are changing the way we prevent, diagnose, and treat diseases. Innovations in medicine mean we can understand and manage many health issues better than before. 

Aquaporin-based therapy or other innovative approaches one day will help clinicians to overcome the challenge of sepsis. Our report on Supertrends in Aquaporin and Sepsis describes how the future of aquaporin could be intertwined with the future management of sepsis. 

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