Since 2018, Sensus participates in the EU-funded CHIC project. The objective of this project is to turn chicory into a multi-ingredient source with the use of new plant breeding techniques (NPBT’s). Besides inulin, chicory contains terpenes that give chicory its typical bitter taste. The terpenes protect the plant against fungi, bacteria and other pests. Outside the plant these terpenes are also active and research is devoted to the application as anti-inflammatory or anti-cancer components.
The traditional breeding of chicory is a laborious process and, therefore, new breeding techniques like CRISPR-Cas9 are applied. With these new techniques it is possible to speed-up the process, so the new breed is available more quickly. In the CHIC project four different CRISPR-Cas9 techniques with different level of interaction with the chicory DNA will be investigated. In none of the applied techniques “foreign DNA” will remain in the plant. In that sense these new breeding techniques are different from traditional GMO techniques where foreign DNA will be present in the bred plant. The new breeding technique selects the desired properties that are already present in the chicory DNA.
Chicory cells produced with the new breeding techniques ©Keygene
In the CHIC project, chicory variants have been produced that breakdown inulin into sugars to a much lesser extend under typical stress conditions like cold, drought, etc. than the regular chicory. In principle this new chicory variant should be less sensitive to, for instance, freezing periods and, as a result, produce more inulin per hectare. This variant is now further investigated.
First plants in the greenhouse that with new plant breeding techniques have a reduced enzyme concentration to breakdown inulin ©Wageningen University
On top of that, a chicory variant has been made that emphasizes more on the production of specific terpenes.
To make optimal use of the potential of these new chicory variants an adapted production process needs to be developed that enables an optimal yield of both ingredients (inulin and terpenes). The development of the new processes is the core task of Sensus in this collaboration project. At this moment several alternative processes have been tested on a small scale that enable the production of both inulin as terpenes with the highest possible yield from regular chicory. In addition, Sensus supports the other work packages in the project and involves different stakeholders, like the chicory farmers and the customers that use inulin. This European project contributes to the development of chicory and opens a new perspective for the cultivation of chicory in the future. Additionally, this project opens doors for other healthy perspectives of chicory, besides the health benefits of regular chicory.
This project has received funding from the EU Horizon 2020 research & innovation program under grant agreement N. 760891.