OMICS TECHNOLOGIES FOR CROP IMPROVEMENT, TRACEABILITY, DETERMINATION OF AUTHENTICITY, ADULTERATION AND ORIGIN IN SAFFRON
Funding Body: Europe
Τhe main challenge in the scope of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) is the development of a sustainable economy based on High Value Agricultural Products (HVAP). Saffron is the highest priced HVAP in the world. Its prize can reach 20,000 €/kg retail. The Saffron crocus (C. sativus Linn) is a perennial, triploid and genetically sterile plant that is only vegetatively propagated via its corms which undergo a period of dormancy. This plant has been traditionally cultivated for its red stigmatic three-branch styles which not only comprise a highly desirable “golden condiment” but also, its second chemical derivatives have been used in medicine for a number of health properties. Adulteration and fraud constitute a main problem of HVAPs, including Saffron, and they must be fought with the development of technological tools based on fine chemistry, molecular biology and applied physics. Saffron is adulterated with a variety of chemical and biological substances. Mislabeling of the country of origin confuses and/or misleads Saffron consumers. Fraud is an enormous problem for the Saffron industry and could comprise its long-term viability. The lost of land surface dedicated to Saffron crop in many areas of Europe has resulted in a corresponding genetic erosion. The sterility in Saffron limits the application of conventional breeding approaches for its further improvement. These facts support the interest of biotech breeding approaches to be useful to increase the genetic variability of the crop. Hence, the creation of a germplasm bank for this species, including wild relatives to broaden the available gene pool useful for genetic improvement of the crop has been a great achievement. Since 2007, the European Commission AGRI GEN RES 018 action has permitted the creation of the World Saffron and Crocus Collection (WSCC), which contains a good representation of Saffron biodiversity (see www.crocusbank.org). There is an urgent need for collaborative research on Saffron OMICS at EU level, since Saffron is a European crop for its cultural and historical background, food-safe tendencies, and commercial quality, prestige of the European PDOs and PGIs, and leadership of the European research teams.