Female #FoodHeroes

Elke Duwenig

Elke is a senior expert in biotechnology at BASF. She is globally active in regulatory, public and government affairs for white (industrial) biotech innovations for nutrition and health; including food, feed, flavors, enzymes and pharma. As well as working on research and development projects, Elke is also engaged in product approvals as well as legislation, guidance and authority activities with several associations including the EU Specialty Food Ingredients association, FEFANA, and EuropaBio.


Why do you love your job?

  • I love convincing people and doing something that matters! Caring for a license to operate for innovative biotech products in highly regulated and politically charged environments.
  • I love making a difference and having impact! Achieving product approvals and fulfilling both authority requirements and customer expectations.
  • I love networking and managing a broad range of issues, topics and activities! Enjoying interacting with people with different backgrounds, experience, diversity and challenges. Working with passion and the freedom to act.


How did you get here?

I studied biology and chemistry at the University of Münster, Germany and Stanford University, USA, with an internship in the Department of Genetics at the University of Cambridge in the UK. I graduated and completed my doctorate in molecular plant physiology at the Institute for Gene-Biological Research IGF, Berlin in 1997 and completed two postdocs at the Max-Planck Institute in Golm and the University of Freiburg, Germany. Then in 1999, I joined BASF.


During the twenty years I have worked here, I have had a variety of roles and responsibilities. Some of my achievements include:

  • Working with an excellent team of experts to support R&D projects like PUFA (polyunsaturated fatty acids) in rapeseed, high yielding rice, herbicide resistant soybean and fungal-resistant potato;
  • performing cutting edge enabling technologies like multi-gene stacking, new molecular enabling tools, high throughput plant transformation of linseed, rapeseed, wheat and others, including the respective molecular analyses and greenhouse work;
  • overseeing a global network of talented and highly passionate team members in political work and bioscience advocacy for Europe and Asia.

What is your advice for young women wanting to contribute to sustainable food and farming?

Never, never, never give up! There is no alternative to sustainable food and farming. Great, if you do not believe too much in ideologies and easy solutions a la chemistry and biotech are bad, nature and natural plant protection agents like copper are good. The reality is more complex, and it helps to know the facts, not only the slogans of campaigns. Keep thinking and searching for the best solution for the challenges at hand. And go for it!

How does agriculture need to change to be fit for the future?

Getting broad global acceptance for (plant) biotech and innovations in food and agriculture is of key importance for the future. To achieve this, everyone (farmers, scientists, industry, politicians) must get up on their feet, align on the messages and join forces, globally. More solutions, less ideology is needed. Now!


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What’s one challenge you face as a woman in agriculture and what do you think needs to be done to overcome this?

The expectations of you and your role as a woman (and mother) in agriculture and industry, may be very different to how you feel, and what you want to do in your life. Be brave, be smart, be energetic. Don´t hold back! And look for role models and mentors to inspire you during tough times. Networks help. And taking breaks to recharge your batteries.


Campaigns like this one are great as it’s really inspiring to read the different portraits. Thank you!


Elke is just one of many inspirational women working in agriculture. Visit our Female #FoodHeroes page to hear from other women working to improve plant science and nutrition.