Frequently Asked Questions

The SynBio4Flav Project may have left you with some questions about flavonoids, synthetic biology or biotechnology, click here to learn more.

Which food is rich in flavonoids?
Most fruits, especially red, blue and purple berries, apples, citrus fruits and their juices contain high levels of flavonoids. Vegetables such as red onions, scallions, red cabbage, kale, broccoli, spinach, celery, hot peppers, soy beans, radishes, and some herbs (e.g. parsley, thyme), as well as some nuts (e.g. pecan, pistachio) or spices (e.g. cinnamon) are rich in flavonoids as well. In general the raw form is considered to hold highest levels of flavonoids, but also processed plant products such as green and black tea, red wine, fermented soy-based products, dark chocolate are named as flavonoid-rich food and beverages. There are several classes of flavonoids, that occur in different types of plant food, and are associated with differing benefits.

Why are flavonoids considered good for us?
Flavonoids are bioactive compounds that are produced in plants to protect them against microbial attacks and UV radiation. Their antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory and antioxidant capacities may indirectly serve humans when eating flavonoid-rich food. The potential health benefits of flavonoids are currently researched in-depth in order to verify their expected benefits. The envisaged fields of applications range from pharmaceuticals to food supplements.

Why may flavonoids not be equally beneficial to all people?
The bioavailability of flavonoids – their absorption and supply to the respective parts of the body – can depend on many factors including the dietary habits of people, as well as on their individual intestinal microbiota.

What are biosynthetic pathways?
All organisms synthesize substances that they need for their survival by converting simple compounds into more complex compounds. The conversion happens in several steps, in sequences of reactions called biosynthetic or metabolic pathways. The conversion of simple compounds to more complex compounds requires energy and the presence of specific enzymes that enable the reactions.

What is a bioreactor?
A bioreactor is a vessel, in which biological processes can happen in a controlled way under favourable conditions. They are commonly used for the manufacturing of products that involve organisms, mainly microorganisms. Bioreactor size can range from one litre up to several cubic metres for application in industrial production. Bioreactors are generally referred to as biotechnological applications. Traditional techniques that involve microbial activities such as brewing beer or the production of wine, are comparable to the bioactive processes in bioreactors.

What would be the benefit of flavonoid production in microbial bioreactor farms?
Microbial farms in bioreactors enable production under highly controlled conditions, for example under optimal temperature and with optimal feed for the microbes. It is considered a clean and efficient way of producing flavonoids instead of growing plants and extracting the small quantities of flavonoids the plants produce. The production can happen locally where flavonoids are needed, so cultivation and transport costs can be avoided.

What are down-streaming processes in biotechnology?
The recovery and purification of substances from natural resources, as well as the disposal of waste and potential recycling of side products is comprised under the term down-streaming processes. These processes can be very cost-intensive, especially if the yieldable quantities are small, or if complex purification processes are required. The biological production performed by microorganisms in bioreactors under optimised conditions is expected to reduce down-streaming process costs.

What is the difference between genetic evolution, genetic modification, genetic engineering, genome editing and Synthetic Biology?
Genetic modification is commonly considered an active and intentional process in comparison to genetic evolution that happens through arbitrary genetic variations and natural selection of the fittest. Genetic engineering is associated with the direct manipulation of genomes in biotechnologies. Some of the genetic engineering results might also be achieved through conventional agricultural breeding. Genome editing refers to techniques within genetic engineering that allow the insertion or deletion of genes at predetermined positions within DNA molecules. Synthetic biology applies genome editing techniques to build modular synthetic systems of genes that can be recombined to generate desired functions within living organisms.

Can natural organisms actively change their own and foreign genes?
Active genetic modification strategies have been developed by a wide range of microorganisms to complement cloning, their main way of reproduction. Cloning happens through cell division resulting in identical organisms. It is a material- and energy-saving strategy that enables rapid multiplication when environmental conditions are favourable. To ensure adaptivity other strategies for genetic variations have emerged that are independent from reproduction. Bacteria can take in DNA fragments from their environment that stem from dead organisms, or they can selectively transfer some of their own beneficial DNA sequences to other bacteria to enhance their capabilities, such as resistance to antibiotics.

What is the CRISPR system?
CRISPR is a natural defence strategy of many bacterial species against viral attacks. Bacteria store genetic copies of viral DNA within their own DNA to be able to distinguish between beneficial and harmful DNA. When recognizing invading viral DNA, they make it ineffective by cutting it up. The natural bacterial strategy CRISPR-CAS9 involves a guiding tool to identifying where to cut the invading DNA and a scissor tool to perform the cut.

Who has discovered the potential of CRISPR-Cas9 for genetic engineering?
Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna discovered the potentials of the natural bacterial  defence strategy CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing. They developed a simple and highly precise method that can cut any DNA molecule at a predetermined position. Since their first publication on CRISPR/Cas9 genetic scissors in 2012 their method has contributed to multiple advancements in life sciences. They have been jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2020.

What are promising potentials of synthetic biology in the field of medical applications?
Completely new medical strategies are expected with the potential of synthetic biology. The envisioned applications comprise the treatment of inherited diseases, prevention and treatment of cancer, engineered tissues, new diagnostic methods, engineered therapeutic microbes, and many others.

What are promising potentials of synthetic biology regarding climate change combat?
The effects of climate change may impact the health of many living organisms. Unusual changes in the environment cause imbalances that go hand in hand with weaker immune systems, resulting in higher susceptibility for diseases. To ensure food security worldwide new types of crops are being researched that shall be more resistant to drought, pests and moulds.

What are debates on genetic modifications in Europe about?
In the European Union, the commercial application of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is highly regulated, which is stricter than in many other parts of the World. Nonetheless, research in the field of genetic modification is advancing worldwide, with envisioned applications for many fields. Medical applications appear to gain higher approval than agricultural applications. Whilst genetic engineering is considered too high a risk by opponents, proponents plead for easing GMOs regulations and point out the economic and social costs of an anti-GMO stance.

What are beneficial examples of genetic engineering?
Selective breeding, performed over thousands of years worldwide, has increased productivity of farm animals and plants. The high productivity is frequently accompanied by a reduction in robustness, resulting in the use of large amounts of pesticides and herbicides. Genetic modification of maize has restored an original natural resistance to a fatal pest by reinserting the resistance genes lost along with traditional breeding.

Why is standardisation important in synthetic biology?
Standardisation is generally intended to facilitate communication and production. Synthetic biology intends to work with standardised genetic parts and clusters of DNA that enable specific functions when inserted in microorganisms or cells. This design and engineering-based approach of synthetic biology allows interchangeability and modularity to speed up and reduce the costs of DNA synthesis.