Chic vs COVID19

In CHIC we join the fight against coronavirus and want to research whether compounds from the root of chicory can be developed into drugs against the virus. We are looking for research partners to test this activity. If you need more information, please write us through our contact form.

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Biotechnology from the Blue Flower

Artists Anna Dumitriu and Alex May are working with CHIC Consortium members to develop a new sculptural and bio-digital installation entitled “Biotechnology from the Blue Flower” and will be spending time on site with consortium members over the life of the project. In 2019 the artists attended the consortium meeting in Madrid and have been working with chicory roots in their studio, and in February 2020 they will be visiting Wageningen Plant Research, Sensus and KeyGene as part of their research with more visits to come. 

Dumitriu and May are exploring the internal and external morphology of chicory plants and well as the history and cultural impacts of the plants throughout history, for example as an ancient remedy, a natural dye, or a coffee additive in times of crisis and they aim to make links between those earlier histories and the cutting edge contemporary research being explored today by the CHIC Consortium, especially and the potential future benefits of working with new plant breeding methods techniques such as CRISPR to provide future healthcare and food security benefits. 

Chicory was one of the plants (along with the cornflower) that inspired the idea of the Blue Flower in German Romanticism – a central symbol of the movement. The romantic movement was in part a reaction to the industrial revolution and held nature and emotion in high esteem. The artists told us “we feel that we are now experiencing a biotechnological revolution and it’s fascinating again this idea of the blue flower becomes an important symbol again, but this time in a more complex position at the interface of nature and technology. Central to societal explorations of what may be acceptable in terms of synthetic biology and how ‘nature’ and ‘natural’ may be defined in the future.” 

The artists are focussing on the areas of the use of chicory for dietary fibre and its impact on human health and the human microbiome, antibiotics, and the uses of inulin and medicinal terpenes extracted from Cichorium intybus (common chicory). They are working with the plants themselves: the roots, the flowers, chicory flour and chicory inulin and terpenes, as well as other potential materials they might discover. These sculptural, physical materials will be fused with video footage from the laboratory and data visualisations derived from the research processed through 3D scanning and modelling techniques to create a final installation with outcomes being developed throughout the life of the project. The artists are especially keen to work with CRISPR, as a development to Anna Dumitriu’s earlier works with synthetic biology, such as “Make Do and Mend”, which the CRISPR Journal described as “Perhaps the First Application of CRISPR gene editing technology in BioArt” Keep up to date with the artists at www.annadumitriu.co.uk and www.alexmayarts.co.uk  

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PFR INDIGENOUS

Māori tribes, or “Iwi”, are well integrated into modern society but generally retain very strong links to their traditional land and communities. Those that have remained rural, have been very reliant on agricultural and forestry for their livelihoods. Many individuals who have migrated to the cities have maintained strong links to regional areas. Uptake of new technologies by Māori has usually been quick, except in cases where economic hardship has prevented uptake. However, as far as genetic techniques are concerned, the literature suggests there are more Māori positioned on the anti-GM end of the spectrum.  

Māori are innovative. As traditionally they were agriculturally based, being farmers and harvesters of seafood, trying new things and approaches was and is important. However, GM or gene editing challenges several culturally-specific sensitivities.  An example is a stronger sense of relatedness/genealogy (termed whakapapa) is a key concept for Māori communities. DNA, and its change, over the generations is therefore generally a more sensitive issue to Māori than European groups. Similarly, it is generally thought it is better to not change the essence (termed mauri) of a species as each species has its own unique qualities. 

Where Māori farmers are involved their agricultural practices are modern. One aspect to remember is that Māori farmers are unlikely to shift production to other places, as they are on a certain area of land long-term (due to their strong sense of belonging to the land, as well as owning the land). There is a wide range of farming practices amongst the Māori community from basic farming through to highly technological farming including organics. 

Many of the tools developed by CHIC for general audiences will transfer. More emphasis on open conversations and debate (meetings termed, “hui”); these are the practice by which Māori groups come to a consensus. However, centralized decision making (such as a Government law or policy) isn’t the best way of convincing Maori groups. Local and regional discussions are more important; catchphrase – Local issues, local solutions.  

Long-term plans are more important than short-term gains. Climate change is a major concern. Māori have a strong sense of guardianship (kaitiakitanga) over their land and resources and climate change threatens this.  

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Commercial exploitation of chicory as a multipurpose crop

The aim of WP8 is to collect and analyse the information gathered from other WPs and finally to develop two strong business cases for NPBT chicory, where the other one is related to dietary fibre and the other for bioactive terpenes. Important dietary fibre component in chicory is inulin, which for example promotes the growth of beneficial gut bacteria. Inulin is produced in varying lengths in chicory and the longer the inulin chain, the more beneficial it is and less it causes unpleasant gas formation in the intestine. Terpenes, on the other hand, are small natural compounds, which are produced in chicory to compete in the environment and which have beneficial properties for humans, too, for example as antimicrobial compounds or anti-cancer drugs.

In WP8, the NPBT chicory with improved inulin and terpene fractions are studied for they bioactivity as well as for safety. Improved inulin properties will be demonstrated by both inulin structure and chain length and in gut fermentation models, which mimic the conditions in human gut. These studies allow evaluation of the digestibility properties as well as alterations in gut microbiota after inulin intake. The terpenes possessing the most promising bioactivities, will be evaluated for their toxicity to ensure their safety. Exploitation potential of the most promising NPBT chicory variants will be further evaluated via different value chains models for business case development.

Gut fermentation and microbiological models showed that the inulin length influences to gas formation and a slight increase in beneficial Lactobacillus gut bacteria can be seen after inulin intake. Various cell models for intestinal toxicity have been implemented and studies are currently on-going. Two values chains were defined: 1) for both inulin and terpenes and 2) only terpenes. Different food grade solvents for extraction of inulin and terpenes were evaluated and a hypothetical market price was calculated for the terpenes (inulin has a known market with a known market price). For both value chains a terpene market price was calculated that was in range with typical market prices for pharma ingredients, leading to the conclusion that in this phase both value chains appear to be feasible market options.

value chain for both inulin and terpenes
value chain for only terpenes
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Vacancy: Scientist metabolic pathways

Are you interested to source the biochemical diversity of the plant kingdom as a contribution to a sustainable green economy and for the production of high value chemicals?

Our partner Wageningen University & Research is looking for an experienced scientist with a proven interest in metabolic pathways, preferably in plants. The scientist will implement new methodologies and unravel metabolic pathways leading to the production of (commercially) valuable plant compounds as well as capturing the value of this knowledge by producing such compounds in plants or microbial production hosts. You will acquire, initiate and maintain collaborative projects, through subsidy channels as well as via bi-lateral funding, with industries and/or other research organizations. You will complement a highly motivated, enthusiastic and skilled team of about six scientists and technicians to strengthen research and acquisition in this area and collaborate with University Departments within and outside Wageningen as well as with (international) industries.

This team is embedded in the cluster Applied Metabolic Systems, which is focused on gaining a better understanding at the molecular and genetic level of metabolic processes which lead to the huge biochemical diversity in plants, and the effect of plant metabolites on humans and animals. It houses state-of-the-art facilities, comprising LC/MS and GC/MS for metabolomics and proteomics, and a bionano-receptor platform. The Cluster Applied Metabolic Systems has a total of about 25 staff members, PhDs, Postdocs and guest-workers. It operates market-driven, both in (inter)national consortia as well as in bilateral partnerships with industry and has an excellent scientific track record and patent portfolio.

Explore the biochemical diversity of plants to meet the needs of society.
Applied Metabolic Systems is part of Bioscience, one of the business units of the Wageningen Research foundation of the Plant Sciences Group. Wageningen Research together with Wageningen University forms Wageningen University & Research. At Bioscience, we study at the molecular level the regulation of metabolic and developmental processes of plants to meet the needs of our growing society. We are developing tools that allow to tap on barely revealed genetic resources. Wageningen UR is an internationally renowned research institute in the fields of life sciences and sustainable production.

Qualifications

  • a PhD degree;
  • expertise in (at least several of) the areas of:
    • Metabolic engineering
    • Relationship between chemical structures and enzymatic conversions
    • Enzymology
    • Evolutionary genetics applied to metabolic pathways
    • Synthetic biology;
  • a keen interest in translating scientific knowledge into applied research;
  • excellent communication and networking skills;
  • an open and professional working attitude;
  • team player mentality with experience in working in a multidisciplinary team;
  • excellent command of English, both written and spoken.

The position

A meaningful position with for a maximum of 36 hours per week initially for a period of one year with a possible extension to obtain a permanent position. A competitive salary, depending on your relevant experience scale 11 or 12 from a minimum of € 3.255,- to a maximum of € 5.748,- based on a 36 hours working week, in accordance with the Collective Labor Agreement for the Wageningen Research.

In addition:

  • 8% holiday allowance;
  • a structural end-of-year bonus of 3%;
  • excellent training opportunities and secondary employment conditions;
  • excellent pension plan through ABP;
  • 171 vacation hours (based on full time employment);
  • a flexible model to put together part of your employment conditions yourself, such as a bicycle plan and the possibility to purchase extra and good supplementary leave schemes;
  • flexible working hours and holidays can possibly be determined in consultation so that a good balance between work and private life is possible;
  • a lively workplace where you can easily make contacts and where many activities take place on the Wageningen Campus. A place where education, research and business are represented.

Click here to respond

For more information about this function, please contact Dirk Bosch, Group leader Applied Metabolic Systems (telephone +31 317 480 933, e-mail: dirk.bosch@wur.nl).
For more information about the procedure, please contact vacaturemeldingen.psg@wur.nl.

This vacancy is open until January 20, 2020.
For this position you can only apply on line: http://www.wageningenur.nl/career

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AFTERTASTE project

Our artists Jill Scoot and Marille Hahne during 2019 have made several visits to our research partners to lay the foundations of their artistic project. 

AFTERTASTE is the name chosen for their project that  is based on the health of the human olfaction and gustatory systems and the feedback between these systems and the content is based on the primary and secondary compounds found in the chicory root. 

If you want to know more, don´t wait to read the attached documents with the report of 2019 activities and the artistic project design plan.  

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Stakeholder engagement

In accordance with the principles of Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) to which the CHIC project is committed, the overall objective of WP6 is to engage stakeholders in the innovation process in order to consider their viewpoints on the planned innovation from the very beginning of the project. The WP uses various measures to ensure stakeholder engagement, the most important of which are described below. However, it should be noted that for all these methods, the same basic rules apply, as described in the Strategy Document for Stakeholder Engagement, Communication and Transparency (STECT, available here).

A first measure to ensure stakeholder engagement in the CHIC project is establishing and engaging the Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG), led by EPSO, the European Plant Science Organisation. The initial SAG was invited to the first project meeting in February 2018. At this and the subsequent meeting in November 2018, the SAG made suggestions to make project activities more useful for farmers, industries and end-users. The ensuing discussions with the project partners helped to clarify how each of the participants could contribute to increasing the outcome and impact of CHIC.

In the meantime, the WP6 team continued to seek for additional SAG members, aiming at an SAG which is composed of 2-4 entities from each of the four subgroups representing industries, farming, academia and end-users.

The SAG already includes four industry representatives (EuroSeeds, FoodDrinkEurope, Suedzucker and Portugal Foods), two entities from farming (Association of Dutch chicory growers and CopaCogeca), 2 reseachers from academia (IGZ Grossbeeren, chairing the EPSO Working Group on Horticulture and INRA, chairing the EPSO Working Group on Agricultural technologies), and one from the end-user side (from the European Economic and Social Council).  The list of members can be found here.

New stakeholders invited include the Head of the Science Policy Programme of EMBO for academia, the Belgian farmer organisation ‘Boerenbond’, and the European Public Health Organisation (EUPHA) for end-users.

The SAG is invited to the next project meeting in March 2020 to further advice on the project and among other tasks, help preparing the stakeholder consultations for 2020 and 2021 (see below).

A second measure is the social scientific research into the factors that might have an impact—positive or negative—on the acceptability of the chicory plants and products developed within CHIC. This includes in-depth interviews with selected experts and stakeholders across the chicory value chain, a historical case study on the first attempts in the 1990s to carry out field tests of GM chicory in Europe, and various other steps. Based on this knowledge, a third important measure of stakeholder engagement in CHIC project are stakeholder consultations (SHCs). SHCs will take place at three different levels, each involving different groups of stakeholders. National SHCs will take place in each of the important chicory growing countries, i.e. in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, between May and July 2020. Focusing on business perspectives, they will bring together actors from across the value chain. The National SHCs will be followed by a Regional SHC, scheduled for autumn 2020. This regional consultation will focus on the dimension of risk. It will therefore invite stakeholders from various interest groups and NGOs (including environmental and consumer organizations) as well as agencies concerned with the regulation of GE plants. Finally, two consecutive EU-level SHCs will bring together participants of the previous consultation rounds, and also involve other perspectives as well as EU-level stakeholder representatives.

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Communication and Dissemination

WP7 is focused on the communication and dissemination of the CHIC project. Communication means any activity aimed at defining the messages, the audiences and the means to use in order to have the maximum possible impact for the project. Dissemination consists of sharing research results with potential users, in order to contribute to the advancement of science. To maximize the impact and success of the project it is necessary that both communication and dissemination are fully aligned. This implies good mechanisms for identifying results, adequate management of the protection of the IP, defining communication strategies for each result, and once it has been communicated, there is a need to measure impact in order to have a continuous improvement.   

In CHIC we have a specific communication plan per type of audience. These are: researchers, industry and farmers, policy makers, consumers. A great effort is being made to reach all these groups in terms of the type of language and the tools to be used. Consumers are a very sensitive group in CHIC. The main objective is to provide them with the right arguments so they can make informed decisions about whether or not a food produced using gene editing techniques is healthy and sustainable

To this end, partners are being very active participating in different types of events where interesting discussions on new plant breeding techniques are being held.

During the  20th and 21st of July 2019, the CRISPRcon conference was organized by  Wageningen University and Research and the Keystone Policy Centre in Wageningen, The Netherlands. The objective of the conference was to foster discussions about the future of CRISPR and related gene editing technologies across a variety of applications in agriculture, health, conservation and more. Researchers, industrial representatives, consumer organizations, organic farmers, traditional farmers, patients’ organizations, policy makers, EC representatives, environmental associations and students, took part in the conference. 

It was interesting to see that many of the topics that were discussed at CRISPRcon are addressed by CHIC such as the importance of hearing diverse voices, regulation of process or product, traits that are beneficial for consumers, large scale (staple crop farming) versus small scale local farming, access to CRISPR technology (IP and patents),  safety assessment, regulation and who decides. 

The biennial international Fascination of Plants Day (FoPD) is an event encouraging people from around the world become fascinated and enthusiastic about plants. Coordinated by the European Plant Science Organization (EPSO), it takes place globally on May 18, every uneven year since. In 2019, for it’s fifth edition, FoPD was a huge success. If you want to know more, please press on this link

Some partners have presented the CHIC project in the European Researchers Night. It was a great success because very nice experiments were made with children and their families.

Figure 1: CHIC Project in European Researchers Night in Serbia

Figure 2 and 3: CHIC project at European Researchers Night in Italy

During October 2018 CHIC was invited to participate in the Euronews Science Program “Futuris”. After two intensive days shooting and making interviews in Wageningen University, Key Gene and Sensus, the documentary and a special bonus track made to the project coordinator were on air on October 14t. Both videos have received more than 10.000 visits in our CHIC youtube channel.

Art& Science activities 

Art& and Science activities started in 2019 and it is expected that very nice pieces of artwill be developed by our outstanding artists during 2020.

Artists Anna Dumitriu and Alex May are working with CHIC Consortium members to develop a new sculptural and bio-digital installation entitled “Biotechnology from the Blue Flower” and will be spending time on site with consortium members over the life of the project. In 2019 the artists attended the consortium meeting in Madrid and have been working with chicory roots in their studio, and in February 2020 they will be visiting Wageningen Plant Research, Sensus and KeyGene as part of their research with more visits to come. If you want to know more press on the link 

Jill Scott and Marile Hahneare developing “AFTERTASTE”. It is an art and science project that aims to stimulate reflection for different public audiences. The project is based on the health of the human olfaction and gustatory systems and the feedback between these systems and the content is based on the primary and secondary compounds found in the chicory root. If you want to know more about the work being developed by Jill and Marile please go to the following article.

Training Activities

With the University Carlos III of Madrid, in concrete with the “Interactive Systems Group”,  CHICK is developing an educational and interactive game for CHIC project. During 2020 “MyCHIC Farm” is expected to be released. The plater (“the farmer”) have to consider how to improve his farm, having to decide to continue with the classic chicory crop production or to use biotechnology to improve the yield and to bring out new products that are more beneficial to society and for the economic performance of his farm. He will face numerous problems such as pests, droughts, regulations, price changes in the market… New technologies (virtual and augmented reality) will be used and will be presented at different schools and events related to education and science for and with society.

Training programmes will be launched in 2020 for young researchers (university, phd and post doc) as well as farmers and workers in the sector who may be interested in the results of the project.

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Implementation of NPBT in chicory for bioactive terpenes

Root chicory is grown for inulin, but it also produces a number of compounds in its latex. These compounds belong to the class of terpenes and the most abundant of these are sesquiterpene lactones (STLs), which have a potential as antimicrobial and anticancer bioactives. However these compounds may interfere with the extraction of inulin. Therefore in CHIC we have the following twofold objectives:

  1. To understand how these terpenes accumulate in the latex, how laticifers (the specialized cells that accumulate latex) develop and characterize the bioactivity of compounds that are present in the latex. With this knowledge at hand, chicory could be developed as a biofactory for the production of valuable sesquiterpene lactones. To reduce the impact of latex in the extraction of inulin, we aim to decrease the number of laticifer cells in the tap root.
  2. Our data shows that the early steps of STLs biosynthesis take place outside of the laticifer cells and STLs accumulate inside of laticifers by transportation mediated process. Based on this information, candidate genes for the development of laticifers and biosynthesis of STLs have been selected. Preliminary bioactivity assays indicate the presence of anti-biofilm activities.

Furthermore, candidate genes involved in the accumulation of costunolide and parthenolide have been identified to generate modified plants with higher amount of parthenolide, an anticancer compound.


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Technical- and risk- and regulatory assessment of NPBTs

In CHIC project, NPBTs are applied to improve industrial chicory for better inulin and production of health-related terpenes. As part of CHIC, different NPBT approaches to edit chicory genomes were employed. We will technically evaluate these approaches and assess, whether chicory plants generated by the different techniques pose differences on technical level such as off-target rate, efficiency or fall under different regulations. Currently, CHIC partners generate chicory plants with the different approaches. To ensure comparability between the different approaches, all partners work on same target genes.

These approaches are compared in terms of efficiency, time-frame needed and costs. Furthermore, different approaches may show differences in potential off-target activity. We identified potential off-target sites in the genome of the chicory, which could be edited by the used NPBTs. In a first approach, we tested whether identified potential off-targets sites were cleaved in vitro. First results let assume a high specificity of the tested NPBT, as none of the identified off-target sequence was cleaved so far.

Furthermore, it has been screened the current literature systematically together with the ELSA-Gea project (www.dialog-gea.de) and identified thousands of studies wherein NPBTs were successfully applied in a diverse set of more than 40 plant species all over the world. Many studies let assume, that first products are soon touching the commercial market. In many countries, the regulation lags behind this success of NPBTs. Currently, regulation of NPBT differs from country to country. In Member states of the European Union, due to a decision by the European Court of Justice in 2018, plants mutagenized using NPBTs are seen as genetically modified organisms (GMOs). NPBTs are not exempted from the strict European GMO regulation. However, there is an open-ended debate; whether this strict regulation is justified also for NPBTs. Outside Europe other regulations are represented: for several years now, USA, Canada, Argentina, Israel and Chile have a liberal position towards the use of NPBTs. Since CHIC project began in 2018, five more countries clarified the legal position of NPBTs. Among these countries are Brazil, Paraguay, Colombia, Japan and Australia. A number of other countries, e.g. Russia and China, are expected to join soon. Different to Europe, in these countries usually assesses NPBTs derived plants in a case-by-case dependent manner. Mostly they fall out of the scope of regulation, when certain prerequisites were met, e.g. when no foreign DNA was integrated into the edited genome. We are constantly monitoring changes in legislations and follow closely the debate in European Union and its neighbours.


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