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Meet the researcher: the fascinating philosophy of sustainable proteins with Luca Lo Sapio

 

A ‘new allegiance’ between science and philosophy will be necessary to enable sustainable proteins to reach their full potential, according to Dr Luca Lo Sapio.

Dr Luca Lo Sapio
Name: Luca Lo Sapio
Job title: Assistant Professor of Moral Philosophy and Bioethics
Organisation: University of Turin
Sustainable protein specialism: Cultivated meat

A ‘new allegiance’ between science and philosophy will be necessary to enable sustainable proteins to reach their full potential, according to Dr Luca Lo Sapio.

The academic is forming a network of researchers based around the University of Turin with an interest in cultivated meat and seafood, building a team that includes those involved in the humanities alongside experts in biotechnology.

And, in a separate role as adjunct professor of bioethics at the University of Naples, he includes information about sustainable proteins in his lectures to undergraduates in the chemical science department.

This fusion of science and philosophy is at the heart Luca’s thinking – particularly around the challenges involved in a transition towards a more sustainable global food system.

After graduating in philosophy and completing a PhD in bioethics at the University of Naples, he began to research moral philosophy – which led to his fascination with sustainable proteins.

“I began to reflect on the big issues,” he said. “I began to think about the future of the planet and mass extinction. Business as usual is not an option, and sustainable proteins could be a very useful way of tackling a lot of the problems we face – from climate change to the impoverishment of soil and water.”

I think therefore I don’t eat ham

He is particularly interested in cultivated meat’s potential to feed millions of people who want to continue eating their favourite steaks, but in a more environmentally friendly way.

And, he argues, just as scientists will be essential in dealing with technical challenges needed to bring down the cost of this new food and scale up production, philosophers also have a vital role to play.

“There are ethical, social and communication problems to tackle – typically dealt with by scholars of the humanities,” he said. “There are a lot of moral arguments and we have to be ready to give sound answers – that’s where philosophers can make an important contribution.

“One argument that some people make is around naturalness, but this argument relies on a misunderstanding. There are a lot of things that are natural but not good, and there are a lot of things that are unnatural but are good, such as medicines, antibiotics and insulin.”

Although humanities scholars will be vital to creating powerful arguments to persuade sceptical members of the public about the benefits of cultivated meat, Luca believes this needs to be done in close collaboration with the scientific community.

Bringing scholars into the field

“We are living in difficult times, so we need a new allegiance between humanities and sciences,” he said. “We have a huge challenge ahead of us and it’s not sufficient to approach this problem from just one angle – we need a multidisciplinary approach using all the experts we have to hand.”

Luca says despite the ‘divorce’ between science and philosophy at the end of the 18th century, the idea of such an allegiance goes back to the days of Galileo and Newton. Philosophy played an important role in 20th century science, steering the development of quantum mechanics and shaping the ethical conversation around new medical advances.

Up until now, the vast majority of academics entering the sustainable protein space have come from the sciences, but Luca believes that will change – and needs to do so – as the field develops and new opportunities emerge.

He says: “Scholars of humanities should be in love with science and should go beyond the divorce. They should be concerned about the situation of our planet, and if they want to make a contribution they should get involved in sustainable proteins, which I think is one of the most stimulating areas of research at the moment.

“In Italy at least there are very few opportunities at the moment, but my ambition is to fill this gap and create ways in which students can engage in this field.”