Q&A  | 

Nicole Pradas: genomics to maximize food productivity

Tags: 'Innovación pública' 'Tecnología'


Reading Time: 11 minutes

Nicole Pradas is a predoctoral fellow at the Centre for Research in Agricultural Genomics (CRAG). With a degree in Genetics and a master’s degree in Plant Sciences, she is passionate about plants and improving crops. Nicole shares with The Collider how genetics can help the global food supply and her experience as a scientific entrepreneur.

What is the role of CRAG and what are your duties?

CRAG is an independent research centre formed by the consortium of public research centres: CSIC, IRTA, UAB and UB. CRAG develops basic and applied research in genetics and genomics of plant and animal species. There are 24 research groups at present. I form part of the Rosaceae Genetics and Genomics research group. We study the genetics of fruit trees, relevant characteristics such as the quality of the fruit or the resistance to diseases, and we develop tools for their genetic improvement. In my case, I focus on the apple tree and the peach tree, and I also take part in collaborative projects such as SOLs4GENEs. 

What does the SOLs4GENEs project entail and what progress has it made?

There is an increasing need for agriculture of a greater quality and productivity. The researchers, in collaboration with or providing support to companies, work on finding genes, variations and mutations that generate specific characteristics, such as resistance to diseases or greater yield during periods of drought. To identify them more quickly and efficiently, molecular genomics-based tools are used.  


SOLs4GENEs has developed a tool to assist researchers and companies with a cross-cutting service that streamlines the identification of genes, mutations or variations in complex regions of the DNA. And it strives to do so at a more affordable price. SOLs4GENEs is currently being valued and automated to ensure it is economically viable. 

As a scientist, what motivated you to get into entrepreneurship with SOLs4GENEs?

Being aware that a lot of scientific research is never applied in the market because of the gap between the science and business realms. Bridges must be built between both areas of knowledge. On developing SOLs4GENEs, we realised its applicability in the market and decided to delve further into its possibilities as a service 

In 2021, you took part in The Collider On Campus program. What was the experience like and what did it offer you personally and SOLs4GENEs?

It was a very enriching and useful experience. I learned from scratch about theoretical concepts regarding entrepreneurship, as well as how to cope in interviews, how to speak to a potential future consumer for the first time, how to overcome the fear of stepping into the unknown… I became aware of the difficulties of creating a startup and the need to be extremely familiar with the market and the strengths of your project, and to work towards meshing them together.  


Taking part in The Collider On Campus provided SOLs4GENEs with an insight of the true potential of the project. We understood our specific market for the first time, and made initial contact with research groups and companies that we ultimately validated as future sectors of consumption. We developed our first business model and validated and ruled out many initial hypotheses. 

How has the collaboration with companies and experts from the business world helped SOLs4GENEs?

It has been key. Having a mentor who specialises in the business environment helped us target the project in the market and understand the right steps to take and the most common mistakes made at the start. 

What would you highlight of the LeanLaunch Pad method used in On Campus and how has it helped SOLs4GENEs?

I would highlight the holding of interviews with potential consumers worldwide. Despite being a complicated task initially, we obtained a lot of information on the points of interest of the project and on the needs of the different market sectors 

What do you think are the obstacles for scientific entrepreneurship?

Only very few researchers have the enthusiasm to start a business or decide to create businesses from their research. What is more, these researchers do not often have the necessary training to enter this worldIf both fields were closer together, there would be more researchers interested in creating companies or services. 

Can science and technology provide solutions to guarantee global food supply?

Yes, definitely. Science and technology have been working and innovating for years on increasing food production and quality. We are currently at the critical point for ensuring the higher production, yield and resistance of food, and more and more solutions will be provided thanks to the major advances in genomics, biotechnology, and genetic improvement. But any scientific advance must include solutions to guarantee the correct distribution of this food worldwide. 

What is the state of the research into agricultural genomics in Barcelona, Spain and Europe?

Barcelona is a relatively ground-breaking city in terms of agricultural genomics research. CRAG is an example of this, as it generates significant biological and technical research and advances. Spain is also a major centre of innovation in Europe, as it is a very large agricultural hub in which many companiesboth national and internationalinvest to grow vegetables and fruit. And in Europe, major advances are being made in all the fields of genomics and plant improvement. In general, especially in Spain, greater investment would improve its position worldwide. 

What advice would you give to any scientists wanting to start a business?

What is most important is to surround yourself with the support of people with drive and humility, people who are qualified, and to be extremely familiar with the scientific project they want to undertake, with enthusiasm to learn and to exceed themselves. It is also important to prepare yourself to have a good grounding in entrepreneurship. Having all the tools possible will help a great deal in making the process more manageable.