GeneBEcon is a project funded by the European Union within the Horizon Europe research and innovation programme, with 18 partners from 11 European countries.
GeneBEcon started on September 2022 and will last 3 years. It is coordinated by Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU).
Scope of the project
GeneBEcon has been funded under the Horizon Europe programme destination ‘Clean environment and zero pollution’ focusing on circular bio-based systems in industrial sectors along value chains and supply chains of biological feedstock.
In GeneBEcon, we are researching and innovating using New Genomic Techniques (NGTs) to provide farmers and biobased industries with climate-friendly and less polluting agricultural and aquaculture solutions.
GeneBEcon’s results aim to support the European Green Deal, the circular economy action plan, and the bioeconomy strategy. We will use our project’s results to inform scientists, policymakers, plant breeders, farmers, industry and consumers.
What is the challenge we address?
The innovation potential is fully exploited only if economic, social, and regulatory drivers coalesce and are accompanied by transparent communication and inclusive stakeholder engagement. But NGTs do not yet reach their full potential. A problem facing NGT innovation in Europe is that regulatory uncertainty restricts investment at all levels – research, innovation and scaling up – and the impacts of NGTs, both positive and negative, are not fully assessed. It also remains to be seen if public and stakeholder uptake of NGT products will enable their application. The consequence is that NGTs do not yet reach their full potential.
How will we address the challenge?
The research in GeneBEcon has two facets. First, the technical potential is explored by applying gene editing to develop 1) a virus-resistant potato with an industrial tuber starch quality, and 2) microalgae-based production of industrially relevant compounds (e.g., mycosporin-like amino acids). Second, the risk-regulatory aspects, economic incentives, and social perceptions are investigated. In the latter, comparative analyses are enabled by our approach with two different production systems: open-field agricultural crop and contained-system microalgae.
How will our results contribute to a solution?
The results will enable technical innovations, as well as allow stakeholders (including researchers, breeders, primary producers, value chain actors, risk assessors and decision makers) to take informed decisions on the safe and responsible use of NGT-derived products. GeneBEcon has a multi-sectoral consortium and the project links to relevant stakeholders through a Stakeholder Advisory Board. This will, through communication and inclusive engagement, enable an improved understanding and awareness of the risks and benefits of NGT-derived products through societal dialogue.
Develop an improved gene editing toolbox using potato and microalgae as case studies toward developing beneficial traits including virus resistance, enhanced qualities, and production of high-value compounds
Study associated economic and societal issues and provide transparent information to all stakeholders
Innovate the regulatory options of NGT products to account for benefits and risks and ensure a regulatory framework that is fit for purpose
Engage stakeholders to increase awareness and to contribute to scientific evidence and NGTs innovations
WP1 is studying the governance issues related to new genomic techniques (NGTs) and their products in potato and microalgae production systems. We are looking at data requirements for risk and benefit assessment, stakeholder acceptance and uptake, and economic implications of different regulatory options. Regulatory innovation for NGTs is believed to be needed to ensure their safe and sustainable use. The study compares the current legal regime with six alternative regulatory options to see how they balance the benefits of NGTs with the protection of health, safety, and the environment.
WP2 is working on using NGTs, specifically advanced CRISPR/Cas-based methods, to modify the genome of potato and microalgae. In potato, the aim is to make it resistant to potato virus Y (PVY) and improve the quality of industrial starch. In microalgae, the goal is to increase the production of valuable compounds called mycosporin-like aminoacids (MAAs) that have benefits for the pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries. GeneBEcon also aims to create a circular bio-economy by using residual biomass as a feed additive.
In WP3, we will test the use of NGTs in large-scale prototype production setups for potato and microalgae. WP3 will validate the toolbox developed under WP2. For potato case study, gene-edited potaoes will be grown in greenhouses in France and Sweden and in the field in Sweden. For microalgae case study, we will use gene-edited microalgae to increase the production of MAAs and develop a method to extract the MAAs so the residual biomass can be used as a nutrient source in chicken feed. The microalgae will be grown in a closed indoor system called a photobioreactor.
WP4 focuses on effective communication and stakeholder engagement through various tools and materials such as the website, social media, press releases, etc. It also aims to ensure that the project’s results contribute to the development of commercial products and technology by addressing specific value chains for the products developed in WP2 and innovative production processes in WP3. A set of events will be organized with beneficiaries and stakeholders to discuss the impacts, benefits, risks, and trade-offs of the proposed biobased innovations and the impact of regulatory options, requirements, and social acceptance on project results.
WP5 is responsible for ensuring project management and making sure all the other parts of the project run smoothly. We create and implement a set of rules for financial and administrative management and ensure everyone follows them, complying with the rules of Horizon Europe. We monitor progress to avoid problems, organize meetings, and ensure all partners work together well. WP5 also guarantees responsible research and innovation principles are applied to the project’s tasks and stakeholder engagement.
GeneBEcon involves a multi-sectoral consortium with 18 partner organisations from 11 European countries and is characterised by an interdisciplinary and multi-actor systems approach.
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) is a world-class international university founded in 1977 with research, education and environmental assessment within the sciences for a sustainable life. The main campuses are located in Alnarp, Skara, Umeå and Uppsala, but activities are also conducted at research stations, experimental parks and educational establishments throughout Sweden.
SLU has gathered vital tools towards the management of projects such as GeneBEcon, namely dedicated to molecular biology, tissue culture labs, and analysis of mutation events with all the necessary GMO permits. In addition, SLU has been involved in projects related to genome editing, outreach and educational activities, and biotechnology in farming and food production.
In GeneBEcon, SLU is the project coordinator and will lead the financial project management and the data management, as well as contribute to constructing a gene editing toolbox, generating a better starch quality in potato through gene editing.
XPRO Consulting Limited specialises in responsible innovation, business strategy and change management approaches. The SME was founded in Cyprus in 2003 and it operates mainly in continental Europe. It has the expertise and know-how of managing multidisciplinary international projects based on a capability-driven design and customer-centric processes. XPRO Consulting has been actively participating in EU-funded projects since 2003 in water management, water-energy-food-ecosystem nexus, nature-based solutions, innovation ecosystems, marine biotechnology, blue growth, and circular bioeconomy.
In GeneBEcon, XPRO Consulting Limited has three functions: 1) project management and quality assurance, 2) leading the application of Responsible Research and Innovation through its proprietary RRI Roadmap method, and 3) contributing to the consumer and business stakeholder awareness of NGT-derived biobased products.
SolEdits is a company with a group of highly skilled individuals with extensive experience in potato biotechnology who are motivated to find solutions to societal challenges. The company is owned by researchers with backgrounds in both the Plant Biotech industry and academia, as well as the Swedish starch producers (Lyckeby) and SLU Holding. The ownership combines advanced scientific knowledge, potato cultivation expertise and business development.
SolEdits is a spin-off company from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), with personnel that has several years of experience working with gene editing in potato. In GeneBEcon, SolEdits leads the trait development and stacking in elite potato genotypes and participate in the selection of elite events and in the phenotyping of potato plants grown in greenhouse and field.
The University of Latvia, a state-run university founded in 1919 and located in Riga, consistently retains the position of the national leading and most influential higher education institution in Latvia. In terms of the total number of students, the University of Latvia is also the largest university in the country. It is the largest comprehensive university in Latvia with a prominent standing both in the development of the entire education system and in the overall growth of the country’s economy.
The University of Latvia builds on its expertise in many fields and uses that knowledge to play a supportive role regarding NGTs and its governance in the context of the EU.
In GeneBEcon, University of Latvia is responsible for data requirements for biosafety assessment of starch-enhanced, PVY-resistant potatoes and mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs)-enhanced microalgae for biobased products under the five governance options.
inov3PT is the new entity for Research, Development and Innovation activities of the French Federation of Seed Potato Growers (FN3PT), which is a national farming organization gathering all the French seed potato growers and their 3 regional producer organizations. It is recognised as an Agricultural Technical Institute for its research programme on potato diseases, genetics and seed crop management. inov3pt staff represents 30 people, conducting important research actions on different potato pathogens including viruses (epidemiology, detection, diversity, control management, resistance), to preserve the introduction and the development of diseases. FN3PT/inov3pt carries out a partnership with public research organisations such as INRAE - UMR IGEPP (Le Rheu and Ploudaniel) (with a joint R&D unit InnoPlant: www.umt-innoplant.fr), CNRS – Institute of Integrative Cell Biology (Gif-sur-Yvette) and University of Picardie Jules Verne (Amiens).
In GeneBEcon, owing to its years of experience in PVY diversity and potato genetic resistance, FN3PT/Inov3PT is responsible for phenotyping potato plants grown in greenhouse and field, mainly for their resistance to potato viruses.
The French National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) was created on January 1st, 2020, formed by the merging of the National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA) and the National Research Institute of Science and Technology for the Environment and Agriculture (IRSTEA).
The main goals of INRAE are to produce and share scientific knowledge contributing to solving major challenges in Europe and in the world concerning agriculture, food and the environment and to build on their research in order to foster innovation, provide expertise, and lend support to public policymakers at international, European and national levels.
Considering that INRAE’s main influence areas are all in close proximity with GeneBEcon’s key areas, its contributions are targeted towards advancing NGTs in the context of bio-based R&I, with the generation of gene-edited potato plants and genomic analysis of gene-edited material.
Euroseeds is the voice of the European seed sector and represents the interests of those active in research, breeding, production and marketing of seeds of agricultural, horticultural and ornamental plant species. Nowadays, with more than 37 national member associations from EU Members States and beyond, Euroseeds represents several thousand seed businesses, as well as 70 direct company members, including from seed-related industries.
In GeneBEcon, Euroseeds provides expertise on the topic of plant breeding innovation with the use of NGTs and plays a key role in communicative tools and innovation transfer.
Danish Technological Institute
Danish Technological Institute (DTI) is among the strongest partners when it comes to developing and implementing high-tech solutions in Danish companies. Founded over 100 years ago, the institute’s core business lies in providing technological services to industry.
DTI is a key partner in ensuring that the green transition takes place in companies in terms of energy, materials and foods. The green transition requires technological knowledge, test facilities that are ready for industrial use and partnerships in order to achieve its goals.
In GeneBEcon, DTI is involved in supporting governance options for the use of NGTs in the EU, in generating gene-edited microalgae with increased content of MAAs and in providing innovation to the production processes involving NGT products. DTI is responsible for the cultivation and upscaled production of microalgae, and the processing, fractioning and extraction of MAAs with residual biomass for feeding trial.
Slovak University of Agriculture
The Slovak University of Agriculture (SUA) in Nitra, with its educational, scientific and research activities, represents a significant part of the European and world educational area. SUA has become a modern open university which reflects current needs in the agrifood sector on a local and global scale. Its mission is to prepare competitive specialists for all areas of the agrifood sector, as well as other fields of the national economy – engineering, finance, institutions and bodies of state administrations and others. It has six faculties providing a wide range of knowledge in the field of natural, economic, technical and social sciences in 90 study programs.
In GeneBEcon, SUA leads the consumer and business stakeholder acceptance of NGT-derived bio-based products, as well as helps in the comprehensive analysis of NGT governance policies.
Flanders Research Institute for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food (ILVO) is an independent scientific research institute of the Flanders Government. As a leading governmental research institute, ILVO conducts fundamental, policy-supportive and practice-oriented scientific research.
ILVO aims to present and clarify, on a scientific basis, societal choices concerning a sustainable future for Flemish agriculture, fisheries and the countryside. With expertise in various disciplines including agronomy, sociology, biology, biotechnology, ecology, geography, anthropology and agricultural economics, they approach their research objects in a unique way.
ILVO’s work is strongly anchored in Flanders and extends from there to Belgium, Europe and the rest of the world.
In GeneBEcon, ILVO leads a systems mapping approach to assess and improve the impact of NGTs and biobased innovations, the generation of gene-edited microalgae with increased content of MAAs, the genomic analysis of gene-edited material, as well as repurposing the microalgae residual biomass. Furthermore, ILVO brings contributions to data requirements for biosafety assessment of starch-enhanced, PVY-resistant potatoes and MAA-enhanced microalgae for biobased products under the five governance options, the construction of a plant and microalgae gene editing toolbox, the cultivation and upscaled production of microalgae, and the processing, fractioning and extraction of MAAs with residual biomass for poultry feed trial.
Plants for the Future European Technology Platform (Plant ETP) is a multi-stakeholder platform representing the plant sector from fundamental research to crop production and distribution, with members from academia, industry and the farming community.
Plant ETP brings these stakeholders together to consider the challenges and opportunities of agricultural value chains in a holistic way while developing a vision for future systems spanning food, feed, and biobased raw materials. In this way, Plant ETP provides strategic direction and recommendations for essential research & innovation for the benefit of policymakers, research funding providers, practitioners, and innovators throughout agricultural value chains.
Plant ETP contributes towards GeneBEcon by working on governance options for the use of NGTs in the EU and on communication, dissemination and stakeholder engagement.
Wageningen University & Research
Wageningen University & Research (WUR) is a collaboration between Wageningen University and the Wageningen Research foundation, in Wageningen, Netherlands. WUR’s mission is to explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life.
The domain of WUR consists of three related core areas, namely the food, feed and biobased production, natural resources and living environment, and society and well-being.
In GeneBEcon, WUR will be making use of its experience to greatly support governance options for the use of NGTs in the EU, more specifically will be leading the comprehensive analysis of NGT governance policies and participate in the consumer and business stakeholder acceptance of NGT products.
The Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL) is an agency of the German government that fulfils many tasks in the area of food safety and grants authorization. In the area of health-related consumer protection, BVL aims to improve the coordination between the Federal Government and the Federal States (Bundesländer), to make the communication of risks more transparent and to manage risks before they turn into crises.
BVL responsibilities in GeneBEcon reside within the conjuncture of governance options for the use of NGTs in the EU, more specifically in regard to data requirements for biosafety assessment of starch-enhanced, PVY-resistant potatoes and MAA-enhanced microalgae for biobased products under the five governance options.
The University of Bayreuth (UB) is a public research university founded in 1975 as a campus university situated in Kulmbach and Bayreuth, Germany. Interdisciplinary research and teaching are the main features of their more than 160 degree programmes offered at seven faculties in the natural sciences, food sciences, engineering, law and economics, as well as language, literature and cultural studies. UB’s mission is to address the most pressing questions of our time – internationalization, digitalization, diversity, and sustainability.
UB responsibilities in GeneBEcon reside within the conjuncture of Governance options for the use of NGTs in the EU, more precisely in comprehensive analysis of NGT governance policies.
Sociedade Portuguesa de Inovação (SPI) is a consulting firm established in 1996, with a deep knowledge of the private and public sectors, as well as the processes that allow its clients to foster innovation, be competitive and generate growth. The Group includes SPI, SPI Azores, SPI China, SPI Spain, SPI USA, SPI Ventures, Turivã, Herdade da Torre Vã and an affiliate office in Brussels, through a partnership with the European Business & Innovation Network (EBN).
SPI leads the project marketing and communication activities and the participatory approaches to communication, dissemination & stakeholder engagement. Moreover, together with Euroseeds and Plant ETP, SPI will participate in the exploitation pathways towards sustainability.
Founded in 1898 and with Dutch roots, HZPC has grown to become a global market leader in seed potato trading, innovative breeding and concept development.
HZPC offers innovative potato varieties that are optimized for local growing conditions. With around 400 employees across 16 countries, and exports to over 90 countries, HZPC contributes to the availability of responsible food for the well-being of millions of people worldwide.
In GeneBEcon, HZPC will use their large facilities to contribute to innovate the production processes involving NGT products, more exactly in providing a selection of elite events for further studies and field trials.
INVE BELGIUM NV is active in the animal feed sector and offers piglet (pre-) starters, concentrates, premixes, additives and a number of nutritional ingredients. A natural antioxidant developed from fruit seed press cake, which constitutes food waste, also belongs to INVE’s product portfolio.
In GeneBEcon, INVE contributes to the testing of the algae biomass in poultry feeding experiments and will provide insights into the prospects of utilization, and application of residual algae biomass on the European poultry feed market.
WBF-Agroscope is the Swiss centre of excellence for agricultural research and is affiliated with the Federal Office for Agriculture.
WBF-Agroscope attempts to contribute to a sustainable agriculture and food sector, and maintain an intact environment.
The three main WBF Competence Divisions are Animals, Products of Animal Origin, and Swiss National Stud, Plants and Plant Products, and Methods Development and Analytics.
WBF-Agroscope responsibilities in GeneBEcon reside, via a supporting role, within the conjuncture of governance options for the use of NGTs in the EU, mainly on data requirements for biosafety assessment of starch-enhanced, PVY-resistant potatoes and MAA-enhanced microalgae for biobased products under the five governance options.