10 June 2024

Groundbreaking risk assessment framework for the future

Risk assessment

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded a Challenge Programme grant of DKK 60 million to Professor Søren Sørensen for assessing the safety of bio-solutions.

New crop well underway.

It is becoming increasingly urgent to facilitate a green transition both in agriculture and environmental management. While bio-based solutions show great potential in addressing some of our current global challenges, it is essential that that we can properly evaluate their potential risks before use.

Over the last decade, great effort has been taken to enhance sustainability by developing microbes and microbial consortia for environmentally friendly applications such as biofertilizers, biopesticides, bioremediation or bioprotection agents. However, these initiatives are currently hampered by a dearth of appropriate risk assessment methods that are easy to perform, and sufficient.

A novel multidisciplinary research consortium, led by Søren Sørensen, Professor at the Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, just received a Challenge programme grant of DKK 60 million from the Novo Nordisk Foundation to help address the need for improved risk assessment of novel biological agents.

“During the 6-year project, our goal is to provide a knowledge base and to develop tools for quantifying the impact of the organisms used in bio-based solutions - thus facilitating rapid assessment methods for industry and regulators. Regulatory challenges, especially in Europe, have slowed down the applicability of bio-based solutions, but recently the European Parliament published a resolution emphasising the need to expedite the approval process for low-risk biological alternatives i.a. to conventional pesticides,” Søren Sørensen explains.

Researchers from the University of Copenhagen, Aarhus University, Statens Serum Institut and Aalborg University will provide expertise ranging from microbial interactions, genomics, bioinformatics, plant biology, bioremediation, environmental risk analysis, regulatory affairs, microbial pathogenicity, to virulence and antimicrobial resistance associated with disease to uncover these risks.

“With affordable high throughput DNA sequencing, we can now unlock the secrets of complex environmental samples like soil. Hence, we will employ advanced environmental DNA sequencing techniques in combination with bioinformatics and AI tools to evaluate health and environmental risks that may result from field application of biologicals,” Søren Sørensen finalizes.

Ultimately, the insights gained from this project should not only provide a comprehensive risk assessment framework for the future but also enhance the fundamental understanding of soil biodiversity and important ecosystem services.

Every year, the Novo Nordisk Foundation addresses three major societal and planetary challenges through the Challenge Programme. This project, EMBARQ: Evaluating Microbiome Based Applications for Risk Quantification, lies within the theme: “Integrating safety and environmental sustainability impacts of bio-based solutions”.


Professor Søren Sørensen
Section of Microbiology, Department of Biology
Tel: +45 5182 7007
Mail: sjs@bio.ku.dk

Sidsel Kretschmer Henriksen
Communication & administration, Department of Biology
Tel: +45 3533 4147
Mail: sidsel.henriksen@bio.ku.dk