Assessing the Intestinal Permeability and Anti-Inflammatory Potential of Sesquiterpene Lactones from Chicory

For immediate release:

We are pleased to announce the recently accepted scientific publication about chicory from one of our partners, Claudia Nunes dos Santos from iBET entitled, “Assessing the Intestinal Permeability and Anti-Inflammatory Potential of Sesquiterpene Lactones from Chicory”, published in Nutrients (https://doi.org/10.3390/nu12113547).

Chicory is a main dietary source of sesquiterpene lactones (SLs), which have underexplored bioactive potential. It has recently gained popularity due to large quantities of health promoting compounds in its roots, including inulin and SLs.

In the study, researchers have assessed the capacity of SLs to permeate the intestinal barrier to become physiologically available, using in silico predictions and in vitro studies with the well-established cell model of the human intestinal mucosa (differentiated Caco-2 cells). Researchers also evaluated the potential of SLs to modulate inflammatory responses through modulation of the nuclear factor of activated T-cells (NFAT) pathway, using a yeast reporter system. The study revealed Lactucopicrin as the most permeable chicory SL in the intestinal barrier model but had low anti-inflammatory potential. Accordingly, 11β,13-dihydrolactucin SL showed with the highest anti-inflammatory potential, which inhibited up to 54% of Calcineurin-responsive zinc finger (Crz1) activation, concomitantly with the impairment of the nuclear accumulation of Crz1, the yeast orthologue of human NFAT.

To learn more about the study, please follow this link: https://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/12/11/3547

About CHIC Project

CHIC is the Chicory Innovation Consortium. Its objective is to implement New Plant Breeding Techniques (NPBTs) in chicory in order to establish it as a multipurpose crop for the production of health-related products with clear benefits for consumers, and to develop co-innovation pathways with stakeholders for game-changing technologies, such as NPBTs. CHIC will develop four different NPBTs. They will be used to steer bioprocesses in chicory and mobilize its under-explored potential to produce immunomodulatory prebiotics and medicinal terpenes. The conceptually different NPBTs will be assessed with respect to technological potential, risks, regulatory framework and their socio-economic impacts. This will be done in close consultation with a Stakeholder Advisory Group (SAG) composed of relevant stakeholders in industry and society. For more information, visit our website at chicproject.eu/

To watch the short animation about the study, please click here:

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XI International Agriculture Symposium – AGROSYM 2020

In the article „Metabolic Engineering in Chicory by CRISPR/Cas9 Editing“, presented at the XI International Agriculture Symposium “AGROSYM 2020”, held virtually on 8-9th of October 2020, a recently popular gene editing technique was used to alter chicory genes involved in the metabolism of bitter compounds that belong to the group of terpenoids. This CRISPR/Cas9 editing technique is a scientific tool that enables a very precise genome editing, the importance of which is reflected in the fact that it’s discovery earned this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. The technique was used to edit chicory genes that produce bioactive but bitter compounds, with the purpose to obtain chicory varieties with less bitter taste and varieties in which the industrial extraction of inulin, an important prebiotic fiber and sweetener, is facilitated.

Gene editing in chicory was successful and we were able to confirm and characterize three mutated plants, which will be used further to reach the goals of the CHIC project. We also improved the way we detect these mutants by using a combination of PCR methods and enzymatic cutting of mutations introduced into the DNA by CRISPR/Cas9. These improvements enable a faster and more sensitive detection of mutated plants which will be important for ongoing research on CHIC.

For more information about the project, please visit us at http://chicproject.eu/

To find out more about the event, please visit http://agrosym.ues.rs.ba/index.php/en/

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What Does Young Generation Think About Gene Editing?

Since the CHIC project’s inception 30 months ago, several essential steps and first results continue to arise and become available for the general public. More plants are being evaluated, and a variety of methods for testing safety purposes are in development, in the belief that CHIC will bring healthy and safe products to consumers. Even at the onset of regulatory changes in genome-edited plants, the project is moving forward to achieve what the scientists set out to do.

In CHIC, the use of new breeding technologies (NPBTs) is based on the CRISPR-Cas method, which is still highly controversial among the general public. In today’s society, any change in the DNA of any natural organism, such as plants, is often magnified and scrutinized. However, we often wonder what the young generation thinks of such a process. More young people are fighting to save the environment and battling climate change while pushing the narrative to listen to scientists. Though, would they believe, for example, how plant scientists are changing, or saving, our critical food value chain for a more sustainable global society?

On 27 November 2020, during European Researchers’ Night, a few young climate activists are invited to a roundtable discussion with plant scientists and researchers from the CHIC project to discuss and get insights, among the young people, about the idea of genome editing. These young people are very passionate about environmental causes, but can they accept that to achieve the goals the society needs to solve the climate crisis, alterations of some of the food’s DNA are a necessity to adjust to the changing environment?

The research in the CHIC project is progressing quite well. As the consortium develops four different methods of delivery using CRISPR tools to chicory cells, the result should produce identical genetic outcomes. Since this approach would be more acceptable by the regulators and the general public, less DNA invasiveness must be performed.  Further research has been done on inulin, dietary fiber with health-promoting characteristics. In any scientific research that could affect the population, technical, regulatory, and safety aspects of chicory plants using this technique are being assessed. However, a ruling by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) could have an adverse effect on the CHIC project, which would make any products derived by genome editing as being under the GMO label. Plant researchers and scientists are certainly against this ruling.

In other aspects of the project, the socio-economic and environmental impacts on the whole value chain are also being evaluated. Qualitative research on societal issues regarding chicory innovation will be examined, which currently has six concepts for commercializing the chicory. It focuses on the effects on GDP, growth, competitiveness, employment, water consumption, among others. Stakeholders are also continually engaged to further align technology innovation with societal needs, which includes assessing, among others, acceptance of genome-edited chicory (and derived) products for commercial development. Even with the current ECJ ruling, the legal framework for genome-edited plants in the EU could change. If such time comes, the project will adjust accordingly and find ways to commercialize the process within an accepted legal framework.

Visit this page for more information and to register!

We ask ourselves, do young people accept this new technology and allow for future research into genome editing if it solves one of many global problems that our society is facing today? Please join us in this exciting roundtable discussion and share your thoughts and opinions!


This is CHIC!

For more information about the project, please visit us at http://chicproject.eu/

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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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