Green Life Science Company Visit

The ‘green’ life sciences, a quickly growing sector looking for highly educated people

Did you know that with a background in genetics, cell biology, bio-informatics or biochemistry you could have a career in the green life sciences as well? Twenty-five postdocs and last-year PhD students came together on June 23, 2011 in Enkhuizen to learn more about the activities of Enza Zaden and INCOTEC.

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The ‘green’ life sciences, a quickly growing sector looking for highly educated people.

In the past early career researchers have participated in PCDI company visits to MSD (‘Big Pharma’), Genmab (‘Biotech’), AIMM Therapeutics and Arthrogen (‘Start-ups’), and Sanquin (‘Hybrid’). All these so-called ‘red life science’ companies are dedicated to studying and treating human disorders. This time we were invited by two green life science companies, scientifically involved in plant breeding and seed technology. Since more and more highly educated people are wanted in this sector, PCDI together with Amsterdam Biomed Cluster thought it was high time to organize a 'Green Life Science Company Visit' to Enza Zaden and INCOTEC. Green and red life science companies seem to be involved in quite different fields of research; however, there are plenty of similarities as well. For instance, did you know that with a background in genetics, cell biology, bio-informatics or biochemistry you could have a career in the green life sciences as well?  Twenty-five Postdocs and last-year PhD students came together on June 23, 2011 in Enkhuizen to learn more about the activities of Enza Zaden and INCOTEC.

During lunch, Erwin Cardol, Projectmanager of Seed Valley, the overall organization of dozens of innovative green life science companies in the Enkhuizen area, explained their core businesses: Seed valley is the international centre of plant breeding and seed technology.  More and more innovative research is involved in these companies, which explains why more than 40% of the employees have an (applied) science background. The demand for highly educated people in Seed Valley companies is only increasing: almost on a weekly basis new positions are posted on their website.

Karen Posthuma (Manager Phytopathology) introduced the different departments within Enza Zaden (Marketing/Sales, Seed operations, Logistics) but mostly talked about the R&D department. She talked us through the process ‘from molecule to successful vegetable variety’, explaining how biotechnology aides the plant breeding process. Interdisciplinary research teams work together in order to obtain a successful vegetable variety. It was interesting to see how her presentation translated to work ‘in the field’ (or rather in green houses). In these green houses, for experimental purposes only, a lot of different vegetables were grown: for example to test the quality of the seeds or to see whether measures taken to prevent diseases were successful. Alberto Maurer (Manager Seed Technology) showed us around in the different departments involved in Seed technology: from seed-research labs to seed production and logistics. He talked us through the different processes such as coating, processing and packaging. These site visits gave us a good look of the daily operations inside Enza Zaden.

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At INCOTEC, we received a warm welcome at the entrance by one of the directors. Striking in the company profile by Frans Tetteroo (Sr. Research Technology Specialist) was the central role of sustainability in their mission statement. He further talked about the history and technical highlights of INCOTEC and their international expansion and collaborations on the different continents. Mariken Rebers (Sr Research Product Specialist), with a stronger research-focused presentation, introduced us to the seven INCOTEC technology groups to improve seeds: upgrading (select for best germination quality), priming (optimize germination), disinfection, encrusting & pelleting (add coating to change shape of seeds), film coating (add colored film to seeds), actives (add ingredients to protect seed and plant against diseases), and analytical quality testing. The presentation gave a good insight into the various technical backgrounds that are needed in seed technology. The subsequent tour of the premises at INCOTEC showed us the hands-on work behind these technologies.

The visit to Seed Valley gave a lot of insight into the activities of the plant breeding and seed technology sector, but the added value of a company visit is of course the opportunity for postdocs and PhD students to directly interact with the scientists and managers from Enza Zaden, INCOTEC and other Seed Valley companies. With an informal networking reception, giving everyone the opportunity to ask their final questions, the Green Life Science Company Visit came to a close.
With their multidisciplinary approach, international collaborations, a growing excellent R&D department, a relaxed and informal atmosphere and many interesting research and non-research jobs for PhDs, this is an interesting sector for PhDs with a life science background to keep track of.