Blog icon

By  James Chesters 6 May 2024 3 min read

Key points

  • As a Principal Research Scientist in our Cereal Quality group, JP is part of our Future Protein mission.
  • We need to increase our food production by 71 per cent by 2050. Part of this challenge is meeting the growing global demand for protein.
  • JP believes collaboration is an important part of science, and necessary to meet the mission’s challenge.

Jean-Philippe Ral – JP to you and me – is comfortable with change.

As a young man, JP dreamt of being a medical doctor. Life, however, seemed to have other plans. He was studying at the University of Science and Technology in Lille, France, when personal challenges redirected his focus. JP switched to a master’s degree in Genetics and Molecular Biology and followed that with a PhD in Genetics and Biochemistry.

JP stood at a crossroads. He was still in Lille, a city awarded European Capital of Culture. Should he stay there, working in academia, or seek opportunities with a broader impact?

“CSIRO's reputation for impactful science and translating research into real-world benefits caught my attention,” he says.

JP was particularly interested in how our groundbreaking research on low glycaemic index (GI) and resistant starches had produced innovations including BARLEYmax and high-amylose wheat.

So, JP and his wife packed their bags and moved to Australia. They intended it to be a three-year stint.

“Nineteen years later, we’re still here. I'm doing my best to continue contributing to the field,” JP says. 

Fast forward another two decades and JP is now a Team Leader and Principal Research Scientist in our Agriculture & Food cereal quality group. He’s part of our Future Protein mission that aims to produce more protein more sustainably.

JP is on a mission to help feed a global population projected to reach 9.5 billion people by 2050.

Ambitious solutions for future protein challenges

“The beauty of this job is its unpredictability,” JP says. 

“There's no such thing as a typical day, which keeps the excitement alive. Being part of our Future Protein mission means constantly being on the edge of discovery and tackling enormous challenges.”

One challenge is how to feed a global population projected to reach 9.5 billion by 2050.

“It's been calculated that we need to increase our food production by 71 per cent and we must do so sustainably. This means without expanding into new agricultural lands,” JP says.

Achieving this requires a swift transformation across our entire production system and value chain. JP believes it will call for a mammoth, unified effort. Everyone from policymakers, innovators, producers, to individuals must be willing to adopt new lifestyles and dietary changes.

Despite the scale of the challenge, JP remains optimistic.

"The horizon is bright with emerging technologies that promise to boost productivity, transform and valorise by-products, reduce carbon emissions, and minimise waste,” he says.

JP's optimism has its basis in science. One of the projects JP and his team are engaged in involves blending traditional analysis of a pulse's composition and nutrition with advanced AI predictive analytics. In plain English, this means beginning with the desired product specifications and then reverse-engineering the crop to meet those goals.

Meanwhile, interacting with an incredibly diverse group of people is the most rewarding aspect of JP's role.

"I can extend my knowledge far beyond my initial expertise, gaining insights into the entire value chain," he says.

“From growers to the CEOs of food companies, genetic scientists, and the food scientists designing products for supermarket shelves. I'm exposed to experts developing cutting-edge sensory systems and AI specialists breaking new ground. The breadth of knowledge to be absorbed is vast.”

Using traditional plant breeding techniques, CSIRO scientists developed BARLEYmax™, a new type of barley with significant health benefits. BARLEYmax™ has a unique starch profile, giving it nutritional properties quite different to other grains.

BARLEYmax™ can be used to produce foods with a low glycaemic index (GI), which could be useful in managing diabetes. Human trials found that a BARLEYmax™ breakfast cereal had a GI of 50, compared to a conventional barley cereal GI of 77. BARLEYmax™ has high levels of β-Glucan, a soluble fibre with cholesterol lowering properties. The grain is also high in insoluble dietary fibre and resistant starch, which have important roles in maintaining bowel health. Resistant starch takes longer to digest, helps regulate blood sugar and promotes healthy digestive bacteria.

Groundbreaking research by our scientists created Barleymax and inspired JP to join our team.

JP admits that keeping pace with such varied fields is challenging. Still, he finds the experts' enthusiasm and passion contagious.

Unlocking AI's potential through collaboration

JP also has faith in something important: collaboration.

“Collaboration is such an important part of science. With the massive challenge ahead of us, it's clear we won't achieve success individually.

"Collaboration fuels exponential success,” he says. 

Data has become the new currency in our current landscape, where artificial intelligence (AI) unlocks unprecedented possibilities. JP thinks AI's power in science relies on its access to vast datasets.

“Without the open sharing of data, it's difficult to develop efficient models and systems. This highlights the importance of collaboration.

"Scientists pooling data and resources accelerate the pace of innovation, making strides in research that would be impossible in isolation,” he says. 

And collaboration thrives on diversity. JP recognises how essential diversity is in every aspect of life, professionally and personally.

As a soccer enthusiast, JP turns to the beautiful game for an analogy:

“Winning a World Cup is impossible with a team comprised solely of 11 Ronaldos or 11 Messis. The essence of a successful team lies in its diversity; a blend of skills, cultural backgrounds, and experiences.

"Each role, no matter its perceived significance, contributes to the collective success. The synergy of these diverse elements forges a winning team.”

Contact us

Find out how we can help you and your business. Get in touch using the form below and our experts will get in contact soon!

CSIRO will handle your personal information in accordance with the Privacy Act 1988 (Cth) and our Privacy Policy.

First name must be filled in

Surname must be filled in

I am representing *

Please choose an option

Please provide a subject for the enquriy

0 / 100

We'll need to know what you want to contact us about so we can give you an answer

0 / 1900

You shouldn't be able to see this field. Please try again and leave the field blank.