The main objective of this COST Action is to build up a network of collaborative research in order to increase our knowledge of the structural organization of Saffron genome DNA fingerprinting, chemical fingerprinting, proteomics, transcriptomics, and metabolomics. This integrated knowledge will be the basis for the development of Saffron genetic improvement, and the maturity of reliable techniques to combat bio-adulteration and fraud. We pursue an adulteration-free condition for Saffron industry. Such objective is absolutely relevant on the basis of the CAP and the European Union Policy on Food Safety and Consumer Protection.




The information generated by coordination amongst the COST network will be used in: (1) Genetic characterization, estimation of biodiversity and development of molecular and chemical descriptors for Saffron and Crocus spp. at the WSCC (CROCUSBANK; www.crocusbank.org). (2) Novel genomic tools and modern genetic and breeding approaches for crop improvement in saffron and ornamental crocuses. (3) Development of omics techniques to detect new-generation biological adulterants in saffron, based on DNA and chemical fingerprintings. (4) Genomic typing of Saffron in PDOs and recognized areas, as tools for traceability applications, determination of authenticity, and for fighting against fraud of origin, labeling and marketing in this HVAP, the highest-priced European food product.

More specific objectives are: (i) Analysis of the Saffron genome by mapping (physical, large fragments) and sequencing (genome, ESTs, SNP polymorphisms, AFLPs, 454 cDNA sequencing). (ii) Analysis of the Saffron metabolome by two strategies: metabolic profile (precise quantification of specific metabolites of interest in Saffron) and metabolic fingerprinting (semi quantitative data acquired by LC-MS or  1H-NMR and (bio)markers revealed by multivariate statistical tools). (iii) Development of robust techniques to be used in traceability, determination of authenticity and origin, and adulteration detection, based on DNA fingerprinting and chemical fingerprinting. (iv) Dissemination of these knowledge and know-how (students, researchers, Saffron growers and industry), dialogue with society.

Targeted problems and expected goals will be directed to the generation of new knowledge about:

1. Saffron biodiversity assessment, conservation, and breeding, specifically through the following subjects: DNA-markers; structural and functional genomics, and metabolomics; biotechnology-based breeding methods.

2. Saffron chemical and biochemical characterisation and development of methods of analysis for control of adulteration by  genomic and  phytochemical fingerprinting.

3. Genomic typing for traceability, determination of authenticity, and to detect fraud of origin, mislabelling and marketing doubtful strategies. Configuration of Saffron DNA-markers profiles associated to distinct Protected Designations of Origin, Geographical Indications and recognized areas.


How networking within the Action will yield the objectives?

To achieve the objective of the COST action, international coordination, cooperative research, and a multidisciplinary approach, is required. This proposal joints together geneticists, molecular biologists, biochemists, biotechnologists, analytical chemists, food technologists, plant breeders, but also manufacturers and experts in Saffron business. Some participants are recognised experts in plant genomics, having generated the database SaffronGenes EST (www.saffrongenes.org), and they amass great experience in molecular cytogenetics, structural and functional genomics, transcriptomics, metabolomics and last generation sequencing. Other participants are leader experts in chemical analysis and food technologies. The biggest experts in Saffron genetic resources and breeding are also included, as well as Saffron manufacturers and producers with more than two centuries of business tradition and expertise. Those participants come from the most important EU countries in terms of saffron production and uses (Spain, Greece, Italy, France) but also from other leading RTD countries (UK, Netherlands). Non-EU groups and experts are also included, reflecting the global dimension of this action.

Urgently needed is the reinforcement of coordination activities, through meetings, exchange and/or transference of OMICS technologies, research stages for young scientists, and dissemination activities. The exchange of information in the form of reports, publications, and experimental procedures and hence the development and evaluation of novel DNA and chemical fingerprinting tools will be achieved through state-of-the-art conferences, workshops, and seminars. These means will bring the researchers from both academia and industry together and thus broaden the views of the researchers and fortify their problem solving capabilities. Furthermore, the exchange of experts, scientists, and graduate students for training, especially through Short-Term Scientific Missions (STSMs), will facilitate the Action to achieve its objectives. Additionally, at least three Training Schools concerning state-of-the-art techniques will be arranged in conjunction with European or national courses and graduate schools.


Potential impact of the Action

Benefits from the proposed networking and capacity-building activities are foreseen as best mechanisms for COST support: The Action will initiate knowledge building on important molecular and phytochemical characters to be used in breeding programmes, traceability applications, determination of authenticity, and detection of adulteration which allows the development of:

(1) Molecular markers for characterisation of local varieties, land races, or cultivars. These Saffron lines would achieve higher yield and quality, and would be adapted to the different socio-economic circumstances, climatic and edaphic conditions, and new production systems (organic, greenhouse, etc.).

(2) Robust techniques to detect adulteration in the Saffron industry provoked by the addition of parts of otherplants, animal matters, artificial products, organic colorants, and extracts from Gardenia jasminoides and Buddleia officinalis that contain crocetins, just the same kind of apocarotenoids present in Saffron. The last category represents the new generation of Saffron bio-adulterants, difficult to detect, that currently are invading the market.

(3) Molecular markers for the enhancement of local germplasm for Protected Designations of Origin, Geographical Indications and recognized areas in Europe and abroad. The proposed COST Action will provide an open and flexible framework including the invitation to join other participants, especially young researchers, looking forward to extend the network at a larger stage of counties signing the MoU.


Target groups/end users

-(1) Saffron breeders and farmers, especially by using the germplasm conserved and characterized at the World Saffron and Crocus Collection (WSCC), a milestone achieved by the AGRI GEN RES 018 ‘CROCUSBANK’ Project (www.crocusbank.org) and gathered in the Bank of Germplasm of Cuenca (Spain).

-(2) Food Standards Agencies and Consumers Defence Associations, fighting against adulteration and fake food products.

-(3) Saffron Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) Councils, created to protect the integrity of European Saffron by carefully legislating the labeling. They must ensure that only products genuinely originating in that region are allowed in commerce as such. Currently these PDOs are: (i) Krokos Kozanis (Kozani, Greece) www.kozani.gr/krokos/index.htm ; (ii) Azafrán de La-Mancha (La-Mancha, Spain) www.doazafrandelamancha.com/ ; (iii) Zafferano dell´Aquila (L´Aquila, Italy)
www.zafferanodellaquila.it/pagine/index.asp ; (iv) Zafferano di Sardegna (Sardegna, Italy) www.zafferanozaf.it/dop.htm ; (v) Zafferano di San Gimignano (Tuscany, Italy) www.agriturist.it/documenti/zafferano_di_san_gimignano_dop.pdf ; (vi) Zafferano delle Colline Fiorentine (Firenze, Italy) www.zafferanodifirenze.it/ ; & (vi) Munder Safran (Mund, Switzerland) www.mund.ch/mund/mundersafran.

-(4) Associations of Saffron producers in EU emerging areas with trademarks such as: (i) Safran du Gâtinais (France) www.safrandugatinais.fr/; (ii) Safran du Quercy (France) www.safran-du-quercy.com/; (iii) Safran dela Font Saint Blaise en Limousin (France) www.safrandelafontsaintblaiseenlimousin.fr/ , (iv) Safran de Provence (France) www.safran-du-ventoux-en-provence.com/, (v) Safran du Tarn et du Lauragais (France) www.safrandutarn.com/; (vi) Azafranes del Jiloca (Spain) http://azafranesjiloca.com/home.asp ; Azafranes de Campo Bello (Spain) http://azafrandebello.galeon.com/; Zafferano di Cascia (Italy) www.zafferanodicascia.com/; & Wachauer Safran (Austria) www.crocus-austriacus.at/.

-(5) Politicians, Managers and Foundations for Rural Sustainable Development, since Saffron is a social crop that fixes rural population.

-(6) the European Scientific Community will find excellent opportunity to strengthen key –OMICS technologies within the course of the Action.