Bio-engineering: unlocking nature’s treasures

Author:Catherine Jewell
Position:Publications Division, WIPO
SUMMARY

For Professor Oded Shoseyov, a pioneering materials engineer, serial inventor and entrepreneur, nature is a source of inspiration. He discusses some of his most significant inventions and how IP rights help ensure they are widely accessible to society.

 
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For Oded Shoseyov, a pioneering materials engineer, serial inventor and entrepreneur, nature is a source of inspiration. For the past 30 years, he has been unlocking nature’s secrets to come up with exciting new plant-based materials that offer significant advantages over petroleum-based synthetic materials, particularly in terms of their sustainability. Professor Shoseyov discusses some of his most significant inventions and highlights the importance of intellectual property (IP) rights in ensuring that their benefits are widely accessible to society.

Pioneering materials engineer, Professor Oded Shoseyov holds 62 patents and is the scientific founder of 14 companies, “I believe universities have a responsibility that goes beyond teaching and educating engineers and scientists. With our scientific discoveries we have an opportunity to affect the lives of so many people,” he says. (Photo: Courtesy of Oded Shoseyov)

How did you get into plant nanotech?

I was born into farming and have always been interested in agriculture. My family has been managing vineyards for more than 130 years. I started out studying chemistry and then moved into agriculture and the bio-engineering of proteins. In 1990, I joined the Faculty of Agriculture at Hebrew University as Professor of Plant Molecular Biology, where I now run a relatively big laboratory with many students working on protein engineering and nano-biotechnology.

Plants have always been my focus, but my research also extends to industrial and medical areas. For example, for many years now, I have been developing ways to use genes sourced from humans to produce human collagen in plants. I don’t confine my work to plants but always find myself going back to them to produce proteins, or make composites with plant-derived materials. Plants are very efficient; they produce everything for us including oxygen and are very resourceful.

For the past 30 years, Professor Shoseyov has been unlocking nature’s secrets to come up with exciting new plant-based materials that offer significant advantages over petroleum-based synthetic materials, particularly in terms of their sustainability. For example, by genetically modifying tobacco plants, he has found a way to produce plant-based collagen. (Photo: Courtesy of Oded Shoseyov)

As a serial inventor, with 62 patents to your name, how did you first encounter patents?

It’s a long story and it didn’t come naturally. As a young scientist, when I started out my primary focus was to publish scientific papers and secure my tenure. But shortly after joining the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, over a serendipitous lunch with the co-founder of a company I was consulting for, I found myself deferring publication of my scientific paper until a patent application covering my research findings had been filed. I was also offered a handsome research grant to find an application for my research and a promise from the co-founder that if I found a useful application, he would establish a company and give me 4 percent equity in it and a fair share of licensing royalties. Needless to say, I did find a useful application for the research, which led to us setting up Futuragene, which was later acquired by Suzano, one of Brazil’s largest paper companies, for USD 100 million. It was a great success, but it made me realize that I could do more with my research; it didn’t need to end in a scientific paper. That was my first exposure to patents and their importance in driving economies.

More about Oded Shoseyov

Professor Shoseyov has authored or co-authored more than 200...

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