24 I EUROPEAN SEED I EUROPEAN-SEED.COM R oot 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 bio- synthetic 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 varie- ties must be developed. However, chicory breeding is currently exceptionally time-consuming. Since it is an obligatory outcrossing species, no true varie- ties can be obtained, and germplasm is maintained by in vitro propagation. Macarena Sanz, project coordinator - CHIC Dissemination and Communication Manager, says CHIC aims at developing chicory varieties as a crop to increase the diversity and sustainability of agricul- tural production while serving consumer needs. These varieties will require less agrochemical and shall pro- duce 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,” she says. “We will compare their efficacy, poten- tial risk, evaluate socio-economic consequences WHY IT MATTERS 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. and develop business plans for commercialization.” Why was chicory chosen for this project over other crops? The idea of the European Commission was to address minor utilised non-food crops that pro- duce interesting compounds and have potential for molecular farming. Chicory is just like that – it is a crop that grows in the north of Europe, predom- inantly 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. The project plans on using new plant breeding techniques. However, the ECJ recently ruled that such techniques should be regulated, as GMOs. Isn’t that a drawback for the project? Sanz says 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. They 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 con- cerns we will detect during the whole length and development of the project.” PUBLIC AWARENESS Sanz says in their project, they will reach out to the public by engaging them with several activities. A solid publication strategy will be developed and How art and science are helping chicory AN INSIDE LOOK AT THE NEW CHIC PROJECT. BY: MARCEL BRUINS