Interview with Dr. Bernard Dumas, winner of the Innovation Awards first edition in 2001
In 2001, the first Innovation Awards event, formerly the Plant Engineering Prize, rewarded two research laboratories for their scientific projects. We wanted to have a talk with Dr. Bernard Dumas, head of the winning team from the University of Toulouse.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and what your laboratory does?
I’m the Director of the Plant Science Research Laboratory (LRSV) which is located in Toulouse, on the INRA campus [National Institute for Agricultural Research], where around hundred scientists work (professor-researchers, researchers, engineers, technicians, students, etc.). The laboratory is part of a Research Federation (FR AIB) which brings together other laboratories working in the field of plant research and ecological and environmental sciences.
The LRSV is located on a campus with top technology platforms and extensive expertise in genomics, metabolomics and proteomics, as well as a high-throughput phenotyping platform for studying plant and microorganism interactions (TPMP platform -Toulouse Plant Microbe Phenotyping).
The LRSV is composed of seven research teams: half of them work on interactions between symbiotic microorganisms and plants, such as endomycorrhizal fungi or pathogens. The other half focus on studying the plant cell wall for its role in plant development and wood formation, particularly in eucalyptus. A team has recently been put together to study the peptides involved in various aspects of plant life (growth, stress tolerance, etc.).
The LRSV is also in close collaboration with various private companies in the context of developing alternative solutions for crop protection, biocontrol and biostimulation, like the collaboration with Groupe Roullier which started after the project was given an award in 2001.
What are the ties between your laboratory and Groupe Roullier?
Xavier Briand, the current Director of Development at the Centre Mondial de l’Innovation Roullier got in touch with Professor Marie-Thérèse Esquerré-Tugayé, the head of our research team at the time, which led to the development of a thesis on the substances derived from green algae which can stimulate plants’ natural defences. This thesis was also the basis for the winning project of the 2001 Plant Engineering contest.
At the end of the year of research, courtesy of the Innovation Prize, the work continued with a post-doctoral fellowship and another thesis which made it possible to identify certain compounds stimulating the protection of plants and to characterise their biological activities through approaches on monitoring gene expression on a large scale.
This Innovation Prize gave us the opportunity to have 10 years of fruitful collaboration with Groupe Roullier, where the outcome has been very positive for both organisations: 2 theses conducted at the University of Toulouse, 2 patents and 4 scientific publications. We are very proud to have been able to carry out our project with the help of Groupe Roullier.
In your opinion, what are the advantages of collaborations between private companies, such as Groupe Roullier, and research laboratories, such as LRSV?
There are many advantages. Firstly, it helps scientists from research laboratories to enhance their knowledge and apply it in the industrial sector, encouraging the emergence of new markets and products for end clients, namely farmers, and responding to societal needs, such as the decrease in use of pesticides that are toxic to consumers. Secondly, these interactions help scientists to fully understand the industry’s needs and therefore guide their future research, such as the themes currently being worked on in the search for environmentally-friendly and sustainable fertilisation solutions.
More generally, collaborations between a company and a laboratory further understanding of the needs of the industry, farmers and consumers so that research can respond to them as well as possible.
In your opinion, what are the criteria for a good collaboration between a laboratory and a private company?
This type of collaboration has to be mutually beneficial, it can’t simply be the mere provision of a service to the industry. Above all, there must be a common goal and the will to move forward together in order to achieve it. In order to establish a lasting collaboration between the two parties, a balance must be maintained between them. Furthermore, from the very beginning of the collaboration, they should make sure they clarify issues specific to each of them. This is what made the collaboration with Groupe Roullier such a positive one.
I would like to add that interpersonal relationships played a significant role in the success of this collaboration. We couldn’t have achieved such results without the determination, risk-taking and passion for scientific research shown by Groupe Roullier, and especially Xavier Briand.
You were the winners of this contest, what advice do you have for future Innovation Awards candidates?
The originality of the project is paramount: candidates have to take the members of the jury by surprise and not be afraid to take risks. The candidates will also have to be daring, propose new things and be creative while remaining in line with the industrial objectives of a company such as Groupe Roullier. Finally, they will have to think about the applicability of their project. They will have to ensure that it fits in with the issues of the plant nutrition of tomorrow, and take into account the environmental and societal dimensions that are very present in the field of agriculture.
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