As a researcher, Dr. Armin Spök of TU Graz in Austria thinks that majority of the countries will facilitate market access type of NPBTs in the future, which will depend on how each country accepts this kind of technology as the pace of policy development and changes vary from each jurisdiction. He also believes that once the technique has been widely accepted in dealing with present challenges such as climate change and food security, the public’s perception of the technology should change in dramatic ways.
Armin joined the project at a very early stage during the proposal stage with a small group of partners, which included people from other EU-funded projects. Along with Dr. Karin Metzlaff of EPSO, Armin leads the Stakeholder Agreement work package. The work package focuses on research tasks into possible facilitating and hindering factors for further innovation and product development from genome-edited root chicory.
What is it like being part of the project? According to Armin, working together with scientists, social scientists, and stakeholders at science-policy interface events is still very exciting to him. However, excitement often comes with challenges. Results of scientific research are often difficult to predict, according to Armin, and unexpected hurdles can occur at any given time that might influence the original research plans. He says that in applied research, the type of commercial applications targeted can change while, at the same time, a policy context can change, e.g. due to important political decisions, novel legislation, or court rulings, as almost all of them did occur in the CHIC project. The Covid restrictions limited mobility for partners, which forced almost all workshops, consultations, and interviews to an online format. These challenges require enormous flexibility in adapting to these unforeseen developments while making sure that the goals are achieved.
During his time being a part of the project, one of his many favourite memories of the project so far is when all the results from various branches in the project come together. He enjoys seeing all the hard work that every member of the consortium does when they share their results. More importantly, the opportunity to meet fellow CHIC colleagues and stakeholders face-to-face again after the pandemic is an added value.
As the project approaches the end, Armin will certainly miss getting to know (or to know better) several bright, dedicated, and creative mind scientists and researchers. He will miss the collaboration with his colleagues. However, what I am not going to miss is the chicory beer! The beer didn’t leave a taste in his mouth.
Armin’s background dates back a few years when he studied molecular genetics at the University of Graz and Science and Technology Policy at the University of Sussex. After a period of lab research in molecular genetics, he started to move gradually into the interdisciplinary fields of technology assessment and governance while keeping the focus on emerging applications of molecular genetics. It is still his main field of research at the Science, Technology, and Society Unit at Graz Technical University. With the exciting developments in Research & Development, his interest and focus in these areas have never wavered over the last 20 years. During that period, he also served as an advisor at the national, EU, and OECD levels.
Work Package Leader
Dr. Armin Spök, WP6 Coordinator
“It is very interesting to collaborate in this project with the different project partners working in completely different fields, contributing with their expertise to a common goal, and work together in an interesting, fruitful project,” said Maria Hingsamer, WP5 Coordinator of the CHIC project.
As the leader of the “Socio-economic and environmental impacts on the whole value chain” work package, together with her team, they are evaluating socio-economic and environmental impacts on the whole value chain of new chicory variants. Therefore, a socio-economic impact assessment and an environmental assessment of New Plant Breeding Techniques (NPBTs) and the whole value chain are performed. For their assessments, they need information from all other project partners, a good collaboration is therefore very important for them. In addition, they also quantitative assessments, which is qualitative research on societal issues hindering or facilitating chicory innovation.
According to Hingsamer, she thinks that it is worth it to work on NPBTs now and in the future. However, it also needs efforts to show and evaluate the different impacts of the NPBTs, to gain confidence from the public, and to ensure that NPBTs will not harm the environment or the general public.
Wageningen University Research (WUR) invited her and her team to join the project due to their expertise. Her team from Joanneum Research (JR) regularly collaborates with WUR for several years now and they have collaborated on several other interesting European projects in the past.
Her favorite memory so far of her time working on the CHIC project, besides a good collaboration and the power of the project team, was the tasting of the very special chicory roots and the different products derived from the chicory root at a project meeting in Wageningen. For her, it was very interesting to get to know this special plant at the beginning of the project and get more about the plant over the years. And as the project is drawing to a close, she will miss the contact, collaboration, and exchanges with other project partners. She hopes that they can work on future projects together again.
Maria Hingsamer holds a diploma in Environmental System Sciences with a special field in Geography from the University of Graz. Since 2010, she has been working as a scientist and project leader at Joanneum Research in the Institute for Climate, Energy, and Society. Her main research areas are environmental assessment based on life cycle assessment (LCA) with a focus on biofuels, biomaterials, biorefineries, and integration of new technologies in existing infrastructure.
Work Package Leader
Maria Hingsamer, WP5 Coordinator
Socio-economic and Environmental Impacts on the Whole Value Chain
New plant breeding techniques (NPBTs) have a great future, according to Dr. Paul Buddock, Senior Scientist at Keygen, a biotechnology company located in Wageningen, The Netherlands. He believes that “the technologies are being applied more and more in both fundamental and applied research and over time will become commonplace.”
Dr. Buddock leads one of the work packages, Development of Four Conceptually Different NPBTs. This work package specifically focuses on the development of genome editing techniques in chicory, which they established as part of the project. They have been able to create a large number of very interesting chicory lines for other partners. Dr. Buddock says that this work package also includes a “group of researchers and scientists working on self-incompatibility in chicory, which when solved will remove a significant barrier in chicory breeding.”
Keygen was invited to participate by the project’s main coordinator, Dr. Dirk Bosch, and they were happy to be part of the consortium. The chance to collaborate with academic partners, especially the chance to work on a new crop, is something that Dr. Buddock certainly enjoyed. He has enjoyed working with researchers with such a wide range of expertise, from the practical lab to the social scientists studying the acceptance of genome-edited chicory by consumers. Of course, he applauds the great work done by the artists, which gives the project a whole new dimension.
Dr. Buddock will miss the consortium itself and his regular interactions with his colleagues from the project. His favorite memory so far was when they were able to publish their joint results, together with Wageningen University, on the reduction of terpene compounds in the chicory root using genome editing techniques. Being in a company, he says that they don’t often publish results so this was a nice activity for them. He hopes that they can continue to work together on other projects in the future.
Keygene was set up in the late eighties by a number of Dutch vegetable breeding companies with an interest in biotechnology. The company remains a very important customer up until the present day. For a number of years, Buddock’s specialty has been the use of genome editing to improve crop plants for the future.
Work Package Leader
Dr. Paul Bundock, WP1 Coordinator
Development of Four Conceptually Different NPBTs (New Plant Breeding Techniques)
Dr. Ingrid van der Meer obtained her Ph.D. in Regulation of Plant Gene Expression at the Free University in Amsterdam and has subsequently gained over 25 years of research experience, including 18 years of project/group management experience. She has guided research projects on genetic regulation and modification of plant primary and secondary pathways such as phenylpropanoid-, fructan-, amino acid- and organic acid biosynthesis, and has over 980 publications. Dr. van der Meer is currently heading the Bioscience department at Wageningen University & Research (WUR). Her department is focused on gaining a better understanding of plant genetic, metabolic, and physiological processes. Her work is especially focused on the biosynthesis of plant metabolites and proteins for food and nutrition with extensive use of state-of-the-art tools in the fields of genomics, proteomics, metabolomics, and bioinformatics.
She is an inventor of eight independent patents and patent applications. Besides her work in the CHIC project, she coordinates the EU-funded project, DRIVE4EU, which focuses on inulin and rubber biosynthesis in Russian dandelion. She has also been the project leader of several research projects with a focus on the biosynthesis, regulation, and analysis of biobased compounds from plants.
Dr. van der Meer, including the team at WR, use her knowledge and expertise from the EU-FAIR project on chicory and inulin synthesis and subsequent inulin research projects, including from the current DRIVE4EU project on inulin biosynthesis genes and regulation in chicory. Furthermore, she has also been involved for over 20 years in terpene biosynthesis modification and analysis. WR continues to contribute to the testing of the new RGENs in Work Package 1 (which is called Development of Four Conceptually Different NPBTs), due to their experience in chicory propagation, protoplast regeneration, and transformation. WR has extensive expertise and state-of-the-art facilities for plant component analysis (sugar analysis, metabolomics and proteomics) and DNA sequencing, supported by a large bioinformatics group.
She is the Work Package 2 coordinator for the CHIC project and actively contributes to Work Package 6 (Stakeholder Engagement) and to Work Package 7 (Exploitation, Dissemination and Communication).
Work Package Leader
Dr. Ingrid M. van der Meer, WP2 Coordinator
Implementation of NPBT for Dietary Inulin
“I am fascinated by the enormous diversity of bioactive molecules that plants produce,” according to Dr. Dirk Bosch, a scientist with ca 30 years of research experience. His primary research activities have been centered on unraveling biosynthetic pathways in plants that lead to the immense biodiversity of molecules found in plants. He applies this knowledge via metabolic engineering of plants and microbes to bring innovation to the agro-food and health sectors.
He believes that New Plant Breeding Techniques (NPBTs) are here to stay and have already been implemented in many crops in many different countries. According to Dr. Bosch, due to the technology’s generic nature, “its speed and relatively low costs, NPBTs will continue to provide solutions so that traits can be implemented that contribute to challenges such as those related to nature and our environment, our health, and our food supply.”
Bosch is the coordinator of the European Union (EU) funded CHIC project. He helps connect different activities within the project, organise meetings, and manage reporting deadlines. He finds it highly stimulating, and a lot of fun, and he learns a lot being a part of the project! They initiated the project in response to a call for proposals from the EU collectively with his colleagues at Wageningen. They needed to assemble a multidisciplinary consortium so they built a small core team of several partners from different countries with complementary expertise overarching the needs of the project and utilising each other’s network.
During this 4-year program, what Dr. Bosch will miss the most, among others, about the project when it ends this year is the opportunity to work and collaborate with the project partners. The interactions with other colleagues and the diversity of disciplines the partners possess have been his favourite memories of being a part of this project. The positive attitude that all Partners share to work on their common goal is exciting as well. He is also very proud that the CHIC project, within five years, established a wealth of knowledge and progressed the state-of-the-art technologies related to chicory tremendously.
Dr. Bosch is currently the Team Leader of Applied Metabolic Systems at Wageningen University and Research. Throughout his professional career, he has initiated numerous EU and other national and international subsidies as well as contract research projects. He has over 100 peer-reviewed scientific publications and invented 19 independent patents and patent applications. He studied chemistry at the University of Leiden, obtained his Ph.D. at the University of Utrecht’s Microbiology Department, and subsequently worked as a PostDoc at Plant Genetic Systems in Ghent in Belgium.
CHIC Project Leader
Dr. Dirk Bosch, Project Coordinator
For Senior Scientist and Project manager at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, Suvi Häkkinen believes that NPBTs (new plant breeding techniques) will definitely be used in the future as their power has already been proven in many applications. She thinks and hopes that “Europe will eventually get on board with countries which allow the NPBT usage in more rational and scientific basis.”
Suvi is the leader of the Commercial exploitation of chicory as a multipurpose crop work package (WP8). This work package aims to develop the technology behind its research for business purposes. Her VTT team is also involved in other WPs in the CHIC project and they mainly study chicory-derived terpenes and their bioactivity potential, how inulin from modified chicory behaves in the gastrointestinal model, and they also screen the NPBT chicory products for their potential toxicity. Researchers are developing an exploitation strategy that’s built on two strong business cases for NPBT chicory-based dietary fibre and bioactive terpenes. Based on the research information, business cases related to inulin and terpenes are being built, together with industrial partners of the project.
As part of this project, she has certainly enjoyed collaborating with skillful scientists towards a very interesting and important research target. She joined the project when project coordinators, with whom she had a fruitful collaboration in the past, invited her and her team. New plant breeding techniques are a highly controversial topic both in the scientific sense and from European and global regulatory perspectives. The CHIC project also focuses on research dissemination in a very special way. It involves incredible artists in a fascinating arts and science platform.
As the project approaches the end, Suvi will miss the consortium, the excellent partners, and the great project spirit. One of her favourite memories of being a part of this project is getting involved in the Arts & Science project, working with different resident artists in laboratories, and making videos related to CHIC in various ways. However, as a scientist herself, it has been very nice to read high-value scientific publications written and published by CHIC partners already at this stage.
At VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, she works in Industrial Biotechnology and Food research area. Her expertise is in plant biotechnology, especially plant metabolic engineering and natural product research. She did her Ph.D. at Helsinki University of Technology (currently Aalto University) related to functional genomics of medicinal plants. She is also a curator of the VTT Plant Culture Collection and plants GMO responsible at VTT.
Work Package Leader
Dr. Suvi Häkkinen, WP8 Coordinator
Commercial Exploitation of Chicory as a Multipurpose Crop