A philosophical debate with the gentleman of Biochemical Engineering

Born in Jamaica, educated in The United Kingdom and Canada, having worked as a visiting professor at universities all over the world, and currently living in Canada and working at University of Waterloo, professor Murray Moo-Young´s life has been very colorful. He has devoted his professional career to chemical and biochemical engineering and the vast field of biotechnology. To date, his research has produced 13 books, 10 patents and over 355 papers, and he is the executive editor of the journal Biotechnology Advances (Impact Factor 9,599).

Prof. Moo-Young was invited to present a lecture at the Centre of the Region Haná on June 10, 2014. His talk mainly focused on energy security and the possibility of producing cleaner energy by replacing oil refineries with biomass refineries. However, during his hour-long lecture he touched upon rather philosophical issues such as geopolitics, national versus global interests, government subsidies for using clean fuels, and how the universal dream of an eco-utopia could be achieved.

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What do you think is the role of biotechnology in the 21st century?

MMY: Well, it is becoming more and more important. Renewable resources, a product of biotechnology, have a global significance especially in agriculture. Biotechnology, however, is very diverse, and the individual fields increase their independence.

What do you see as the biggest challenge for humankind on the way to cleaner environment?

MMY: The problem is in our lifestyle. Ideally, we should give up our cars and use public transportation or bikes more often. But people seem to be very self-destructive in the way they live. By industrial manufacturing and driving and flying very frequently people themselves are increasing the pollution. The pollution from fossil fuels and petroleum generates a lot of toxicity, hence causes medical problems. We are then trying to find solutions to cure cancer, but if we used more biofuels there would not be so many medical problems to solve. It is a kind of a vicious circle.

Is that why devoted your career to research, trying to contribute to saving the planet?

MMY: Well, I have been working in scientific research in order to create knowledge which I find extremely important. I still work in the academia, even though I am semi-retired, I still have 3 Ph.D. students whom I am supervising. But it is not only about the knowledge. The engineer in me is always seeking for solutions to problems, and finding ways to benefit humans. Scientists tend to get carried away with research itself and sometimes forget about the end users. Application of knowledge into every day lives of people is also important.

What have you recently been working on?

MMY: Recently I have been working on developing biopharmaceuticals, specifically one called “CD83” which is beneficial for autoimmune system and minimizes the organ transplant rejection. It has been patented and bought by one US company.

How different is scientific research in Europe, North America, or Asia?

MMY: Scientific research is more or less international, therefore pretty similar worldwide. However, it is safe to say that in the USA scientific research is generally more advanced.

You visited C. R. Haná 3 years ago, do you see any changes?

MMY: Of course, I am very impressed what you have achieved. I was here in 2011 for the first Green for Good conference. Since then there has been a great development especially in terms of infrastructure and laboratory equipment. In some areas like reading the wheat chromosome, I think your Centre is more advanced than anywhere I have seen. So, I would like to wish you good luck in the future.