Robert Downey Jr. Backs Open-Sourced Science Funding For The Planet With A Focus On CellAg & Indigenous Knowledge
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Ironman actor Robert Downey Jr. and David Lang have co-authored an essay published in Fast Company. In it, they discuss the flagrant shortcomings of scientific funding models and explain how “risky explorations” can be progressed, with public support. The underlying motivation is to fund research that matters, without waiting for academic funding partnerships. It’s a drastically different approach but one that Downey Jr. and Lang think is worth pursuing, and one that looks to support a range of categories including indigenous knowledge and cellular agriculture.
The essay opens with the story of Katalin Karikó and how her research was all but unsupported for decades. Fast forward to today and the work she continued to undertake led to the creation of Covid-19 vaccines. Her story is not unique but it is pertinent and exposes what the authors call a “blind spot in current scientific institutions”.
Instigating systemic change
Using a working paper entitled Funding Risky Business as a jumping-off point, Downey Jr. has co-founded a new hub. The FootPrint Coalition Science Engine has been designed to empower science professionals who would struggle to overcome traditional funding red tape. Honing in on environmental research, the hub provides access to “loose-play funding”. This allows data to start being collated without essential ties to educational establishments in place. The funding source is what makes the entire endeavour so groundbreaking.
The Experiment platform, of which Lang is the head, is being used to secure investment for scientists. Anybody can crowdfund potential new breakthroughs, getting in on the ground floor. Five research areas are currently being funded and overseen by experts within each field. Indigenous knowledge, pollution effects on BIPOC communities, biotechnology, cellular agriculture and AI are the starting categories.
Downey Jr. and Lang highlight the founding of Fast Grants as the turning point for the creation of the new hub. As Covid-19 took hold, the startup allocated funding to ongoing relevant clinical research. It eliminated all red tape in the hope of a fast resolution and less loss of life. In total, $50 million was raised from philanthropist donations and subsequently distributed. 260 grants were given to labs throughout the world. The same benefits could now be experienced by teams looking to reverse climate change damage, via the FootPrint Coalition.
The essay concludes with a call to action. If fast responses to the pandemic could be engineered and successful, what’s stopping us all from contributing to the same, for the planet? Scientists are encouraged to leverage the power of the hub to gain crowdfunded financial investment. Individuals are asked to donate and make a difference. According to Downey Jr. and Lang, we all have a role to play in open-sourced scientific breakthroughs.
Those who can, do
The FootPrint Coalition has been investing in future-friendly initiatives and businesses. It was announced earlier this year that the hub joined a Series B round for California’s Nobell Foods that pulled in $75 million in total. The plant-based cheese company programs soybeans to replicate casein. The process creates cheese, just without cows.
The FootPrint Coalition participated in a funding round for New York-based Atlast Food Co early in 2021. It directly contributed to the scooping of $40 million to build large mycelium bacon production facilities in the U.S. The investment was personal for the Iron Man actor, as he has pet pigs at his Malibu estate.
Lead image courtesy of Unsplash.