How Art and Science are Helping Chicory: An Inside Look at the New CHIC Project

Posted on February 21st, 2019 by Marcel Bruins

Among the various projects which are supported through the EU Horizon 2020 funding programme is the CHIC research and innovation project. It plans to establish a responsible innovation pathway for developing and using New Plant Breeding Techniques (NPBTs) for chicory as a multipurpose crop for the production of inulin and terpenes.

Root chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) is an under-utilized crop. It is currently used for the commercial production of inulin, which is added to many food products as a dietary fibre and sweetener. The CHIC project aims to develop chicory varieties that can be used to produce dietary fibre with enhanced prebiotic effects to promote gut health. At the same time, given its biosynthetic capacity, high yields and low agronomic requirements, chicory has significant potential as a versatile production host in molecular farming for the production of many additional health-related products with benefits for consumers. CHIC also aims to harness this potential for the extraction of other types of health-related compounds such as terpenes as potential lead molecules for drug development. To achieve this, new chicory varieties must be developed. However, chicory breeding is currently exceptionally time-consuming. Since it is an obligatory outcrossing species, no true varieties can be obtained, and germplasm is maintained by in vitro propagation. European Seed sat down with project coordinator Macarena Sanz, CHIC Dissemination and Communication Manager.

European Seed (ES): Macarena, can you tell me a bit more about the CHIC project?

Macarena Sanz (MS): CHIC aims at developing chicory varieties as a crop to increase the diversity and sustainability of agricultural production while serving consumer needs. These varieties will require less agrochemical and shall produce improved dietary fibres and medical compounds. CHIC also aims to facilitate a transparent discussion and create awareness about new plant breeding techniques (NPBT) such as CRISPR. We will compare their efficacy, potential risk, evaluate socio-economic consequences and develop business plans for commercialization.

ES: Why was chicory chosen for this project over other crops?

MS: The idea of the European Commission was to address minor utilised non-food crops that produce interesting compounds and have potential for molecular farming. Chicory is just like that – it is a crop that grows in the north of Europe, predominantly in France, The Netherlands and Belgium. It is already used for the commercial production of inulin and the processing pipeline is in place. Chicory can become a multipurpose crop, since it also produces interesting terpenes.

ES: The project plans on using new plant breeding techniques. However, the ECJ recently ruled that such techniques should be regulated as GMO’s. Isn’t that a drawback for the project?

MS: This shows the importance of projects like this, and perhaps they are needed now more than ever. By using NPBT, CHIC will develop chicory plants with consumer benefits. We will assess the products as well as the methods used, their safety and their possible socio- and economic impact. We will do this by enhancing interactions and open communication with stakeholders, including the public. In doing so, we aim to boost awareness and take into consideration all the needs and concerns we will detect during the whole length and development of the project.

ES: Will the CHIC project be using mainly techniques based on CRISPR-Cas, or also using other techniques?

MS: Yes, CRISPR is the main technique that will be used. We will use different variants and see which ones best fit chicory.

ES: How are you planning to raise awareness and improve the interaction with the public?

MS: In our project we will reach out to the public by engaging them with several activities. We will develop and implement a solid publication strategy which will allow us to disseminate publishable data to researchers by using traditional channels (such as symposia, journals, presentations at conferences etc.) and to engage with key stakeholders. Communication with stakeholders and the general public will be crucial, since our objective is to increase public awareness and appreciation of NPBTs to generate valuable natural products – this is particularly relevant in case of potential consumers and new products. Training activities aimed at school children and households will be organised allowing researchers and interested stakeholders to gain knowledge and skills in the NPBTs relevant to the project. To this purpose, we will organise four CHIC days in different European schools for teenagers (age 14 – 16) to educate them about “hot topics” such as new plant breeding techniques. Moreover, the educational material will be designed for teenagers and disseminated through smartphones/tablet application. This will include demos and games to explain in an education, visual and interactive way the relevance of these topics, such as the positive impact of NPBTs, GMOs on human health and increasing food demands. In addition to this, we will guarantee an active presence on social media channels and organise initiatives to involve artists, since art is an effective ´language´ when it comes to transmit knowledge, values and stronger connection with the audience.

ES: You plan on using artists to better convey the relevant messages. What will be the additional benefits of using artists?

MS: Because art and science are more closely related than we think. Both science and art are human attempts to understand and describe the world around us. Art can not only provide the audience with information, but also elicit visceral, emotional responses and engage the imagination in ways that prompt action and a positive attitude towards such complex topics that could be hard to explain with words and scientific notions. For these reasons, involving artists in the project could attract a broader audience, such as people that would otherwise not be interested in science developments, since it´s a more evocative and effective way of communicating.

ES: How do you plan to assess the impact on the sustainability of the CHIC project?

MS: Within the CHIC project a socio-economic and an environmental assessment will be done. Regarding socio-economic impacts, we will assess how different NPBTs will influence economic and social indicators such as GDP (Gross Domestic Product), production volume, growth, competitiveness, and employment as well as the distribution of wealth and income between different sectors and regions within the EU.

The assessment of environmental issues will be done with the methodology of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) which is an established method of environmental assessment providing information about environmental aspects over the whole life cycle. The LCA will be performed on the NPBTs and based on the whole value chain from breeding, cultivation, harvesting, processing to the final products (inulin and terpenes). The most relevant environmental aspects and parameters (e.g. GHG emissions, primary energy consumption, land use aspects, water issues) with their influencing factors will be identified and compared to a conventional reference system.

ES: In certain fields there is a feeling of growing opposition against innovation, including in agriculture and the seed sector. How can we overcome this opposition?

MS: I am not sure there is growing opposition against innovation. There are many innovation projects going on in the food and agriculture fields, and we need at all costs to better interact with the target we want to reach, if we want to be successful.

ES: How will the private sector be involved in the CHIC project?

MS: The private sector are partners in the project. Stakeholders from the private sector will be involved throughout the project (e.g. farmers, processors, food companies etc).

ES: Do you expect that the outcome can be translated to other crops?

MS: Yes, we do. Both the technologies and the ways to interact with society.





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CHIC scientists and artists meeting at Keygene

Scientists and artists meet at KeyGene (Wageningen) this week.

CHIC project aimed at implementing New PlantBreeding Techniques in chicory, in order to establish it as a multipurpose crop for sustainable molecular farming of products with consumer benefits. Chicory contains many healthy substances which can, for example, slow down the growth of fungi and bacteria. The crop is very difficult to breed using the current technologies, breeding and selection, and it is also hard to increase production of the healthy components.

New breeding techniques such as CRISPR-Cas can be used to develop new chicory varieties, which contain more fibres and components suitable for medicinal applications. Learn more:


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Postdoctoral position available

A postdoctoral position is available in the group Evolutionary genomics of plant mating systems of the Evolution, Ecology, and Paleontology laboratory of the Lille University, directed by Prof Dr Xavier Vekemans.

Within the group, the Asteraceae self-incompatibility team, headed by Prof Dr Theo Hendriks and Dr Marie-Christine Quillet, studies the molecular-genetic mechanism underlying sporophytic self-incompatibility (SSI) in Asteraceae, using chicory (Cichorium intybus L.) as a model. In SSI pollen tube germination of pollen from the same plant is inhibited as the result of the recognition of self-pollen by the stigma. In chicory, SSI is under genetic control of a single multi-allelic locus, the S-locus, harboring genes encoding the stigma and pollen determinants involved in the recognition. Genetic, genomic, transcriptomic, and population genetic analyses have allowed the identification of an S-locus candidate gene for the stigma determinant, and similar approaches to identify a candidate gene for the pollen determinant are in progress.

The major task of the successful applicant is to validate the role of S-locus candidate genes in chicory by complementation and knock-out strategies.

The project is part of a work-package in the EU H2020 project CHIC (2018-2023) that aims to develop chicory as a multipurpose crop for dietary fibre and medicinal terpenes using new plant breeding techniques and in which the development of self-compatible chicory is an important step.

The successful applicant will be member of a multi-disciplinary team consisting of molecular and population geneticists and evolutionary biologists.

What we ask for

– A PhD in molecular biology or molecular genetics
– Experience and practical skills in plant in vitro culture techniques
– Experience in the application of a range of molecular biology methods, ideally including genetic transformation techniques in non-model plants
– Ability to work both independently and as part of a team.
– Ability to communicate effectively with team members and collaborators (French and English)

What we offer

– A fixed-term position for two years, with the possibility of a one year extension.
– Salary will commensurate with experience and includes full social benefits.
– Excellent laboratory and greenhouse facilities
– Stimulating scientific environment with colleagues having longstanding experience in SSI in Brassiceae and other mating systems (androdioecy, gynodioecy)

Interested candidates should send a CV, a cover letter describing research experience and interests, and contact information for at least two references to:

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CHIC project at the European Researchers’ Night in Belgrade

The Institute for Biological Research “Siniša Stanković” has presented the CHIC project at European Researchers’ Night 2018, held in Belgrade, september 28th – 29th.

The Institute for Biological Research “Siniša Stanković” team members, dr Jovana Petrović and Marija Smiljković, presented the beneficial effects of chicory plants and chicory products on human health, available at local markets (coffee substitute etc.). And dr Milica Bogdanović and dr Milan Dragićević, presented chicory plants grown in vitro, chicory root cultures and explained the visitors the main goals of the Project.

The presentation was set at “European Corner”.

The European Researchers’ Night is an event dedicated to popular science and fun learning. The Researchers’ Night is a unique opportunity to meet researchers, talk to them, and find out what they really do for society, in interactive and engaging ways such as hands-on experiments, science shows, learning activities for children, guided visits of research labs, science quizzes, games, or competitions with researchers.

The European Researchers’ Night takes place every year all over Europe and in neighbouring countries the last Friday of September. This year, the Night will take place on Friday 29 September in over 300 cities. The events are supported by the European Commission as part of the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, which is an EU funding programme to boost the careers of researchers.

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CHIC project at European Researchers’ Night in Madrid

The European Researchers’ Night is a Marie Sklodowska Curie (MSCA) action, under the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation Horizon 2020. It consists of a pan-European event taking place on the last Friday night of September.

In this edition, Macarena Sanz, General Director of IDConsortium, was presenting our project at Fundación Giner de los Ríos, together with another european project Newcotiana and Lluis Montoliu from SEBBM – Sociedad Española de Bioquímica y Biología Molecular.

The European Researchers’ Night Madrid is managed by Fundación para el Conocimiento madri+d. Education, Youth and Sports Regional Department of Regional Government of Madrid.


• Bring the researchers closer to the general public.
• Increase awareness of the research and innovation activities with a view to supporting the public recognition of researchers.
• Create an understanding of the impact of researchers’ work on daily life.
• Encourage young people to embark on scientific careers.

Great Night!

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What is CRISPR?

CRISPR stands for Clustered Regularly Interspaces Short Palindrome Repeats. The gene editing tool makes it easier for scientists to edit DNA strands that are cancerous or malignant.

CRISPR has been developed over the past 30 years. The tool has already produced revolutionary breakthroughs in the treatment of genetic diseases and in the future, it could change agriculture forever.

CRISPR introduces new traits into a plant by simply rewriting its genetic code. Genome editing techniques, such as Crispr can be used to generate plant varieties that are better adapted to our changing climate or that can contribute to improve our environment such as robust crops that require less or no agrochemicals or nutrients. Also, European consumers could benefit from e.g. genome edited healthier or better tasting vegetables.

On a global scale, genome edited plants would be a powerful tool to help increasing our food production by 70% which is the forecasted need by 2050. For developing countries the necessary increase will be even about 200% in order to prevent further food shortages along with their socio-economic consequences and even famine.

CHIC project: Chicory as a multipurpose crop for dietary fibre and medicinal terpenes

CHIC is an innovation project aimed at implementing New Plant Breeding Techniques in chicory, in order to establish it as a multipurpose crop for sustainable molecular farming of products with consumer benefits.

Chicory contains many healthy substances which can, for example, slow down the growth of fungi and bacteria. The crop is very difficult to breed using the current technologies, breeding and selection, and it is also hard to increase production of the healthy components.

New breeding techniques such as Crispr-Cas can be used to develop new chicory varieties, which contain more fibres and components suitable for medicinal applications.



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FDA confirms dietary fiber status of inulin

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recognizes inulin-type fructans derived from chicory root as dietary fiber for the new nutrition facts label. The recognition consolidates the fiber status of chicory root fiber in the US and supports further opportunities for healthy food applications in the US.

The announcement follows a joint citizen petition requesting the addition of chicory root fiber to the list of dietary fibers accepted in the US as well as a comprehensive response to the FDAs scientific review of inulin-type-fructans and data request. In 2015, the FDA issued new Nutrition Facts labeling regulations for food and supplements to be implemented by January 1st, 2020. In the new regulation, dietary fibers are defined as naturally occurring fibers that are intrinsic and intact in plants, or as isolated or synthetic fibers that have demonstrated a beneficial physiological effect.

Carl Volz, President Sensus America, states: “inulin/oligofructose has been clearly shown to support physiological health benefits as assessed by the FDA’s strict criteria”. He adds: “The FDA’s inclusion of chicory root fiber as a dietary fiber in its new food labeling regulations allows our customers to continue marketing their products as sources of dietary fiber and to continue to use chicory root fiber as a tool to reduce calories and added sugar.”

CHIC project aims to develop chicory varieties that can be used to produce dietary fiber with enhanced prebiotic effects to promote gut health.




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Food 2030 Conference: Research & Innovation for Food and Nutrition Security – Transforming our food systems.

CHIC project will be at Food 2030 Conference, June 14-15 in Plovdiv (Bulgaria).

During this event the European Commission will present an update of the FOOD 2030 process and vision towards shaping tomorrow’s food and nutrition systems. The event will aim at answering how the drivers of sustainability, resilience, responsibility, diversity, competitiveness and inclusiveness, can deliver on the FOOD 2030 priorities and Sustainable Development Goals.

Live streaming

The event will be streamed live: Conference Day 1 will begin at 09:00 and will end at 18:00 (local time, UTC +3) on 14 June 2018. Conference Day 2 will start at 08:30 and will end at 13:00 (local time, UTC +3) on 15 June 2018:

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3rd International Society of Plant Molecular Farming Conference (ISPMF)

The 3rd International Society of Plant Molecular Farming Conference (ISPMF) took place in Helsinki, Finland, from June 11-13, hosted by VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.

150 experts from 22 countries discussing new solutions for global challenges. Dirk Bosch from Wageningen University & Research, introduced CHIC project.

Main photo: Empiresali by Timo Kauppila.

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Cichorei als basis voor voeding en medicijn

Photo: Twan Wiermans
Onno Beijers

‘Cichorei is een gewas met veel potentie. Het zou mooi zijn als we op beide fronten – als bron van voedingsvezels en medicinale stoffen – slagen kunnen maken. Dat is de doelstelling van het CHIC-programma’, zegt onderzoeksleider Dirk Bosch van Wageningen University & Research.

Dirk Bosch, DLO Groepshoofd Applied Metabolic Systems bij Wageningen University & Research, is in zijn nopjes dat het CHIC-project (zie tekst onderaan artikel) de financiële EU-injectie definitief kreeg toegekend. ‘We hebben er veel werk ingestoken om al die laboratoria en bedrijven uit twaalf landen op één lijn te krijgen. Formeel zijn we in januari al begonnen, op 6 februari was de officiële kick-off in Brussel.’

CHIC is vooral een veredelingsproject. ‘Cichorei is nu moeilijk te veredelen, moeilijk kruisbaar. Tegelijkertijd is het een gewas met veel potentie. We isoleren nu inuline uit de wortel van de cichorei, maar willen via veredeling een beter type maken, met betere voedingsvezels’, zegt Bosch.

Nieuwe soorten antibiotica

‘Daarnaast zitten er ook andere medicinale stoffen in cichorei die interessant zijn, zoals stoffen die aan de basis zouden kunnen staan van nieuwe soorten antibiotica, ontstekings- en tumorremmers en dergelijke.’ Eerdere onderzoeken brachten al aan het licht dat de bitterstoffen in de cichorei zowel een antimalaria-effect hebben als ook een antiwormeffect bij schapen.

Het lijkt een utopie om alle bitterheid uit cichorei te halen.

Bosch: ‘In de eerste fase van het project gaan we uitzoeken welke medicinale stoffen erin zitten en welke daarvan de meeste potentie hebben; zijn dat antibiotica, ontstekingsremmers of iets anders? Pas als we daar antwoord op hebben, kunnen we gaan veredelen.’

Hij noemt het ‘de inventariserende fase, waarbij de nodige protocollen zullen worden opgezet’. Daarna komt pas de fase van ‘verbeteren, veredelen en testen’.


Het verdere veredelen (dat de EU wel ziet zitten, gezien de verstrekte subsidie) is dankzij Crispr-Cas vereenvoudigd. Deze nieuwe veredelingstechniek kan erfelijk materiaal van onder meer planten relatief eenvoudig genetisch veranderen, wat leidt tot aangepaste of geheel nieuwe eigenschappen.

‘Uiteindelijk moet het project leiden tot meerdere, hoogwaardige types cichorei, met een nuttige verbetering voor de consument of patiënt. Die moeten er iets aan hebben’, aldus Bosch.

Ook projectdeelnemer Sensus kijkt met een gretig oog naar het beter verwaarden van cichorei. Innovation manager Matthew de Roode: ‘Wij zijn niet alleen inulineproducent, maar actief bezig om de hele keten op een hoger plan te brengen en nauw betrokken bij de telers. Dat zijn wij als onderdeel van de coöperatie Royal Cosun aan onze stand verplicht.’


De Roode hoopt dat de cichoreiteelt qua opbrengst per hectare ‘dezelfde sprongen’ kan maken als de suikerbiet en dat de inulineproductie minder grillen vertoont. ‘De hoeveelheid inuline is geen constante factor in de campagne die van september tot januari loopt. De piek ligt in oktober en november. Daarvoor, in de opgroei en daarna is die lager. Onder meer door koudere weersomstandigheden, waardoor de plant de voorraad inuline sneller aanspreekt’, vertelt hij.

‘Wij vragen ons af: zou het mogelijk zijn om een cichorei te kweken die zijn inuline dan niet afbreekt? Een hele campagne een constante kwaliteit, dat zou mooi zijn.’

Daarnaast is De Roode zeer geïnteresseerd in de uitkomsten van het onderzoek naar de terpenen (aromatische stoffen met een medicinaal en beschermend effect tegen planteneters) in de plant. ‘De bitterheid in de wortel is best lastig, dat wil je niet in je eindproduct hebben. Met nieuwe veredelingstechnieken kan de bitterheid omlaag, al lijkt het een utopie om alle bitterheid eruit te halen.’

Maatschappelijk debat

De Roode realiseert zich dat de maatschappij nauwlettend kijkt naar het via gerichte mutaties verbeteren van het gewas en verhogen van gezonde inhoudsstoffen.

‘We weten niet hoe de Nederlandse burger denkt over deze veredelingstechnieken die geen vreemd DNA inbouwen. Het maatschappelijk debat tijdens het CHIC-project is belangrijk. Naast een veredelingsproject is dit ook een opinievormend project.’ Het is een van Sensus’ taken om een businesscase uit te werken, de commerciële potentie van nieuwe cichoreitypes duidelijk te maken en vanuit de telers feedback te geven.

De Roode: ‘In dit project zijn twee dingen mogelijk: óf we staan aan de start van een veredelde cichorei, óf dat is om technische redenen niet mogelijk. Ik hoop op het eerste, al is een onderzoeksperiode van 4,5 jaar zeer kort. Ik verwacht niet dat er meteen een nieuw soort cichoreizaad ligt.’

WUR, Sensus en KeyGene in breed gedragen onderzoek

De Europese Unie steekt 7,3 miljoen euro vanuit het Horizon 2020-programma in het onderzoeks- en innovatieproject CHIC (CHicory Innovation Consortium) . In CHIC slaan zestien universiteiten, onderzoekscentra en -laboratoria, bedrijven en non-profitorganisaties uit twaalf landen (elf Europese – België, Duitsland, Finland, Frankrijk, Italië, Nederland, Oostenrijk, Polen, Portugal, Servië en Spanje – plus Nieuw-Zeeland) de handen ineen om met behulp van nieuwe, verantwoorde veredelingstechnieken gezonde voedingsvezels en medicinale stoffen uit cichorei te winnen. Daarbij heeft het project ook oog voor het draagvlak en de maatschappelijke acceptatie ervan.Bij het project zijn drie Nederlandse partijen betrokken: Wageningen University & Research (WUR, kartrekker en coördinator), Sensus en KeyGene (R&D-bedrijf in gewasveredeling). Het project is in januari 2018 begonnen en zal 4,5 jaar in beslag nemen.


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