Plant-based innovations and climate change – assessment and evaluation of entrepreneurial adaptations induced by risk and their effects on commodity markets

Climate change, environmental damage and global population growth create an urgent need to improve the use of biological resources. Such improvements require bio-economic innovations, i.e., technological, organisational and institutional innovations in the use of biological resources. Cost-benefit analyses of innovations cannot be reduced to studying their technological effectiveness, but must rather study their interactions with the eco-system and take account of the value judgements and risk attitudes of business people, consumers and citizens in a value-pluralistic democratic society. Against this background the collaborative research project concerns itself with two important aspects: first, the adaptation of farmers to production risks caused by climate change; second, their adaptation to an economic and institutional environment as shaped by regulatory policies that are aimed at internalizing external effects. A further goal of the project to demonstrate the knowledge contribution of economic and social science research in the domain of bio-economy. It is also aimed at identifying interdisciplinary approaches that can be implemented in the future within the Halle-campus-of-science framework.

Subproject 1 - Economic strategies for an adaptation to risks induced by climate change: a sectoral and regional analysis of plant production in Germany

Names of principal investigators and institutions:
Prof. Dr. Thomas Glauben (IAMO)
Prof. Dr. Michael Grings (MLU Halle Wittenberg)
Names of PhD students: Denitsa Angelova
Project duration: 01.07.2012 – 31.12.2015
Funding amount: 102.500 €

I. Topic, open questions and purpose

The existence and extent of the technologically determined adaptive capacity of grain producers to changes in the environmental and market conditions they operate in is a topic of high political relevance. Different definitions of production technology and adaptive capacity naturally lead to deviating policy recommendations. The goal of this project is to offer an assessment of the production possibilities from the perspective of a new theory, the so-called state-contingent approach to production and decision-making under uncertainty, for the case of grain producers in the German federal state of Saxony-Anhalt. On a methodical level the project demonstrates the applicability of the state-contingent approach to real world problems.


II. Theory and methods

The theoretical basis of the project is constituted by a new theoretical development, the state-contingent approach to production analysis and decision-making under uncertainty developed by Chambers and Quiggin. The approach unifies two economic subfields – the subfield of production economics and the subfield of decision-making under risk and uncertainty. It offers an explanation of production decisions under uncertainty with a solid production economic foundation.
The state-contingent approach postulates that the uncertain future output can be described as potential outcomes, which are realized in mutually exclusive states of nature. Input choices are committed before uncertainty is resolved. Depending on the nature of the production technology, substitution between the potential future outcomes could be possible through redistribution of inputs, which would constitute adaptive capacity in the state-contingent sense. Ways to econometrically validate the existence of adaptive capacity have been established in the literature, with the open question of how to detect the occurrence of the states of nature, which is necessary in order to estimate the parameters of the production technology. For interpretation purposes it is worth noting that, if the adaptive capacity is econometrically substantiated, adaptation must have occurred.
With respect to the open question, the occurrence of the states of nature is usually determined through employing the opinion of agricultural experts on the weather conditions which would constitute a state of nature beneficial for growing a specific crop and subsequently employing the data from weather stations.

This project introduces a reliance directly on the experimental crop yields from agricultural experiments and employs statistical methods for the data evaluation. The results described in the next section are obtained using simulated data based on the publicly available accounting data published by the Landesanstalt für Landwirtschaft, Forsten und Gartenbau on three agricultural regions in Saxony-Anhalt: Altmark, Schwarzerde, Heiden. To obtain the results the accounting data is matched with experimental crop yields from three geographically and climatically relevant agronomic experimental stations, Beetzendorf, Magdeburg and Gadegast respectively. The parameters of the statecontingent production technology are econometrically recovered.

III. Results and perspectives

The parameter estimates of the state-contingent production function for specialized farms owned by sole proprietary grain producers in Saxony-Anhalt offer evidence for adaptation in the state-contingent sense, through redistribution of inputs in order to “substitute” potential future yields against each other. Thus, the results of the analysis offer evidence for the ability of farmers to correct, at least to a certain extent, a production decision taken ex ante, i. e. before uncertainty is resolved, if the “bet” on the realization of a favorable state of nature proves to be suboptimal ex post. The analysis also indicates that the grain farmers operate under conditions of increasing returns to scale.

As already described, the project also resulted in a methodical contribution towards detecting the states of nature. The method of statistically evaluating experimental crop yields at agronomic experimental stations is currently being compared to the traditional way of detecting the states of nature through employing expert opinion on weather conditions. The difference in estimation results is to be the topic of a manuscript, which is in preparation for publication.

IV. Index (publications, talks, posters)
Selected peer-reviewed conference contributions
Angelova, D.: Climate and state-contingent production: the case of grain in Saxony-Anhalt. Contributed
paper, presented at IAMO Forum 2015: Agriculture and Climate Change in Transition Economies, Halle
(Saale), 2015.
Angelova, D.: The state-contingent approach to production and choice under uncertainty: usefulness as
a basis for economic modeling. Contributed paper, presented at FACCE MACSUR Mid-term Scientific
Conference, Sassari, 2014.
Selected talks
Angelova, D.: State-contingent production: the case of Saxony-Anhalt. Agricultural Economics seminar
at the chair of production economics at the University of Bonn 2015.
Angelova, D.: Emerging statistical applications: modeling the impact of climate change on agricultural
production on a regional level. National Stochastics Seminar at the Institute of Mathematics and Informatics
at the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences, Sofia, Bulgaria. (Invited talk)
Selected posters
Angelova, D., Glauben, T., Grings, M., Becker C.: Climate and state-contingent production: the case of
grain in Saxony-Anhalt. Leibniz-status evaluation of IAMO, Halle (Saale), 2015.
Angelova, D.: Statistical identification of nature-states within the state-contingent framework. FACCE
MACSUR CropM Workshop, Oslo, 2014.

Subproject 2: Bio-economic innovations and regulatory impact analysis

Names of principal investigators and institutions:
Prof. Dr. Norbert Hirschauer (MLU Halle Wittenberg)
Prof. Dr. Peter Wagner (MLU Halle Wittenberg)
Names of PhD students: Sven Grüner
Project duration: 15.05.2012 – 31.10.2015
Funding amount: 102.500 €

I. Topic, open questions and purpose

People are increasingly concerned about global population growth, environmental damage and climate change. Bio-economic innovations may help to mitigate these challenges. Such innovations include not only technological but also institutional adjustments such as government interventions that change the relative prices of various choices through novel property rights, incentivized voluntary schemes, taxation, the enforcement of mandatory law, or nudges and persuasive efforts to disseminate informal norms. The German government, for example, aims to reduce nitrogen surplus in agriculture that currently amounts to approx. 100 kg/ha annually. The in-troduction of an adequate regulatory system that fosters socially desirable outcomes requires (i) the identification of external effects, (ii) the definition of precise policy goals, (iii) the design of regulatory alternatives, and (iv) a reliable regulatory impact analysis based on forecasts of how people will respond to changes in their socio-economic and legal environment. Against this background, we examined the suita-bility of context specific Internet-based business management games as experimental tools for evaluating institutional innovations that affect environmentally relevant behavior.

II. Theory and methods

The core idea of a behavioral experiment is to ceteris paribus manipulate an inde-pendent variable in an artificially designed and well-controlled setting, thus facilitating the identification of the variable’s influence on behavior. Contrary to experimental settings, real-life environments are characterized by a simultaneous and continuous change of many variables. This causes a violation of the ceteris paribus condition in observational studies that hampers the identification of cause and ef-fect relationships and, consequently, a reliable forecasting of agents’ behaviors.

The potential field of application for behavioral experiments is vast. With a view to the informational needs of policy makers who aim to steer the behavior of economic agents through a change of the institutional environment, it encompasses conditional forecasting. Even without a consolidated theory of behavior, experiments may be valuable tools in this prognostic exercise. Behavioral experiments are systematic what-if-studies that test how people would decide if they were facing a new institutional environment. That is, understanding the black box of individual decision-making is not an imperative requirement within an experimental assessment of behaviors that are likely to be induced by institutional innovation. In agricultural policy, experimental approaches may thus open up new opportunities to forecast how farmers respond to changed conditions.
Traditionally, economic experiments have been carried out in highly stylized lab environments where high internal validity can be obtained since environmental factors can be controlled with little effort. This comes at costs, however. One particular dis-advantage of traditional lab experiments is their low external validity caused by the fact that experimental subjects face both unfamiliar settings and highly artificial tasks. To increase external validity, economist adopted Internet-based extra-laboratory experiments back in the mid-1990s. In these experiments, the experimental subjects are confronted with real-life decisions in their familiar life settings. Internet-based experiments have considerable cost advantages over lab experiments:
No travel costs arise for experimental subjects and their opportunity costs are reduced due to lower time requirements and higher temporal flexibility. These advantages apply especially for Internet-based individual experiments such as those tested in this study.

III. Results and perspectives

a) Methodical contribution to a better understanding of individual experiments

Exigencies and properties of economic experiments including experimental business management games. While being capable of providing useful predictions in some areas, narrow rational choice models fail to provide reliable predictions of human behavior in many areas – hence, the motivation to use economic experiments. Many insight of behavioral economics (e.g., path depend-ence, herd behavior) originated in experimental economics which is inherently based on randomization and the method of difference. A systematization and assessment of economic experiments, a comparison with clinical drug trials, and a comparative view on how honeybees organize information gathering and processing show the potential for a cross fertilization of various behavioral and experimental disciplines. This, in turn, improves the specific understanding of how Internet-based individual experiments and, in particular, business management games can be used for agricultural policy analysis. With a view to the elicitation of self-interested as opposed to pro-social goals, business management games may suffer from “social desirability bias.”
Distortions in terms of exaggerated prosocial preferences are likely to occur in poorly incentivized experiments where prosocial conduct incurs little individual cost. Conversely, high monetary incentives in individual experiments may produce a “virtual game bias” in that experimental subjects show ex-aggerated self-interest because they understand that their experimental behavior carries no consequences for third parties. At the same time, well-designed Internet-based individual experiments have the comparative advantage of higher external validity and low costs. Besides the savings of travel and lab costs, the experimental subjects have fewer opportunity costs. Experimenters can use freed funds to further increase external validity compared to traditional lab experiments. Eliciting subjective risk attitudes: Over the last decades, economists have increasingly used incentivized lab experiments, such as the Holt-and-Laury lottery, to elicit subjective risk attitudes. The paper shows that including inconsistent subjects into the analysis will bias the mean as well as the variance of the risk attitudes of the subject group. One might be tempted to drop inconsistent subjects to avoid such biases in a population-level analysis. Unfortunately, this is not a solution: first, the sample size may fall to an unacceptably low level. Second, simply dropping inconsistent subjects may introduce another bias since systematic differences may exist in the risk preferences of those who answer consistently and those who do not.

b) Contribution to a better understanding of the gap between experimental be-havior and rational-choice predictions

The experimental subjects in the business management games show mental accounting (i.e., they are less prepared to forego profits and adopt environmentally friendly practices if they feel that they have already made a contribution in the cate-gory “environment”). They furthermore overvalue subsidized action and react very differently to different measures even if all measures have identical impacts on prof-it. In addition, evidence was found that, contrary to standard rational choice predic-tions, even social awards without monetary remuneration increase the adoption of the desired behavior and that experimental subjects treat opportunity costs and out-of-pocket costs differently. All in all, the findings indicate that the behavioural changes that can be achieved per Euro of the taxpayers’ money, and therefore the cost efficiency (and smartness) of governmental measures, are crucially dependent on their specific design.

c) Contribution to a better understanding of how economic and non-economic preferences affect human behavior in different contexts

To analyze the behavioral impact of policy measures in different contexts, experimental subjects were randomly assigned to a decision context (green genetics and nitrogen fertilization) and one of three payoffinvariant policy scenarios (award associated with monetary remuneration, liability, steering tax), respectively. In both contexts, the award and liability scenarios were found to be statistically significant. While the behavioral influence of the liability was stronger than the award in the green genetics context, the behavioral impact of the award was stronger than the impact of the liability in the high nitrogen fertilization context. The difference of the behavioral impacts of the respective policy measures in both contexts was, however, not statistically significant. Nevertheless, the deviant rankings of their behavioral impacts provide an interesting starting point for further research.

d) Perspectives

We have produced some interesting findings in a quite limited study setting and with limited resources. One drawback is the small number of experimental subjects and the fact that we had to content ourselves with a convenience group of students. Our findings have thus to be interpreted cautiously. Rather than being robust and generalizable, they provide indications in which direction further research in general, and replication studies in particular, would be useful. While replication studies are rarely carried out in the behavioral sciences due to illdirected incentives of scientific research and publishing, the following follow-up research would be helpful: (1) Further studies should recruit experimental subjects as a representative sample from the social group of interest (e.g., farmers), instead of using a small convenience groups of students as surrogate experimental subjects. (2) The monetary incentives provided in the experiment should be varied systematically to control for bias that may be caused by participants who, when facing little individual costs, behave as pro-social 'do-gooders’ (Gutmenschen). (3) Going beyond the assessment of the behavioral changes that are likely to be induced by policy measures, a full-scale policy analysis would also need to consider transactions costs. (4) Multi-person experi-ments with interdependencies between participants may also contribute to less bi-ased and more generalizable forecasts.

IV. Index (publications, talks, posters)
Peer-reviewed journal contributions
Grüner, S., Hirschauer, N., Mußhoff, O. (forthcoming): The potential of different experimental designs for
policy impact assessment. German Journal of Agricultural Economics.
Gruener, S., Hirschauer, N. (2016): An experimental investigation of mental ac-counting in environmental
economics. International Journal of Agricultural Re-sources, Government and Ecology 12(1): 18-26.
Gruener, S. (2015): Interventions in different disciplines – a comparison of clini-cal drug trials and
economic experiments. Expert Review of Pharmacoeconomics & Outcomes Research 15(5): 739-743.
Grüner, S., Fietz, A., Jantsch, A. (2015): Float like a butterfly, decide like a bee. Journal of Bioeconomics
17(3): 243-254.
Hirschauer, N., Mußhoff, O., Maart-Noelck, S. C., Gruener, S. (2014): Eliciting risk attitudes – how to
avoid mean and variance bias in Holt-and-Laury lotteries. In: Applied Economics Letters 21(1): 35-38.
Mußhoff, O., Grüner, S., Hirschauer, N. (2014): Muss man begrenzte Rationalität und heuristisches
Entscheiden bei der Erklärung für die Verbreitung von Wetterin-dexversicherungen in der Landwirtschaft
berücksichtigen? – Eine Untersuchung auf der Basis eines extra-laboratory Experiments. German Journal
of Agricultural Economics 63(2): 67-80.
Peer-reviewed conference contributions
Grüner, S., Hirschauer, N. (forthcoming): Wie wirkt sich die Variation von Kontext und Politikmaßnahmen
auf agrarökonomische Entscheidungen in Unternehmensplanspielen aus? Schriften der GEWISOLA, Band
51 (Jahrestagung der GEWISOLA 2015).
Fietz, A., Grüner, S., Bavorová, M. (forthcoming): Die Anreizwirkung von Trans-parenz¬systemen auf
die Gesetzestreue der Lebensmittelunternehmen – das Beispiel des Pankower Smiley. Schriften der
GEWISOLA, Band 51 (Jahrestagung der GEWISOLA 2015).
Fietz, A., Grüner, S. (2013): Die Bedeutung von Verhaltensdeterminanten für Regulierungsmechanismen
in der Landwirtschaft und Nahrungsmittelproduktion. Tagungsband zur 23. Jahrestagung der Österreichischen
Gesellschaft für Ag-rarökonomie (ÖGA) und zur 41. Jahrestagung der Schweizer Gesellschaft für
Agrarwirtschaft und Agrarsoziologie (SGA), 12.-14. September 2013, Zürich, Schweiz: 117-118.
Grüner, S., Hirschauer, N., Mußhoff, O. (2015): Potenzial verschiedener experi-menteller Designs für die
Politikfolgenabschätzung. Schriften der GEWISOLA, Band 50 (Jahrestagung der GEWISOLA 2014): 53-65.
(“Best-Paper-Award” of the German Association of Agricultural Economists (GEWISOLA) at the association’s
annual meeting 2014).
Fietz, A., Bavorová, M., Grüner, S., Hirschauer, N. (2015): Which factors influ-ence food business behaviour
to comply with the rules? The case of Berlin, Germa-ny. 143rd Joint EAAE-AAEA Seminar: Consumer
Behaviour in a Changing World: Food, Culture and Society, 25-27 March 2015, Naples, Italy.
Grüner, S., Fietz, A. (2014): Chancen, Grenzen und Barrieren staatlicher Regulierungspolitik – Eine
verhaltensökonomische Betrachtung unter Berücksichtigung des individuellen landwirtschaftlichen
Unternehmerverhaltens. Schriften der GEWISOLA, Band 49 (Jahrestagung der GEWISOLA 2013): 3-14.
Mußhoff, O., Hirschauer, N. (2013): Planspiele als experimentelle Methode der Politikfolgenabschätzung:
Das Beispiel der Stickstoffextensivierung. Schriften der GEWISOLA, Band 48 (Jahrestagung der
GEWISOLA 2012): 371-382.
Other contributions
Mußhoff, O., Hirschauer, N., Grüner, S., Pielsticker, S. (2014): Der Einfluss be-grenzter Rationalität auf
die Verbreitung von Wetterindexversicherungen – Ergebnisse eines internetbasierten Experiments mit Landwirten. Diskussionspapier Nr. 1409, Department für Agrarökonomie und Rurale Entwicklung, Universität
Göttingen.
Grüner, S., Hirschauer, N. (2015): Gain framings versus loss framings – An ex-perimental study of the
adoption of socially desired behavior. Unveröffentlichtes Manuskript.

 

Secondary substances in cereals as quality attribute: Analysis of potential health-enhancing effects and consumers’ willingness to buy and willingness to pay
In the end, the consumer has the choice.
In the end, the consumer has the choice.

This project combines questions of plant biochemistry as well as consumer behavior research. The main goal is to analyse the assumed beneficial health effects of anthocyanin-containing seeds.

Research is conducted in cooperation by the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK) and the Leibniz Institute of Agricultural Development in Central and Eastern Europe (IAMO).

In the IPK part of the project the influence of environmental conditions on anthocyanin contents will be tested and the potential impact of increased anthocyanin levels on yield parameters (growth, germination rate, kernel weight) will be verified. Moreover, the stability of anthocyanins during processing of cereal seeds will be investigated. Besides technical feasibility consumer demand needs to be taken into account when developing new food products. Therefore, experimental auctions with potential consumers to investigate their willingness to buy (WTB) and willingness to pay (WTP) for anthocyanin-containing cereal products will be carried out by IAMO. These surveys will be carried out in Germany and Russia to allow cross-cultural comparisons in consumer behavior.

 

Sub-project 1: Evaluation of the potential health effects of anthocyanins in cereal grains by using mapping populations.

Names of principal investigators and institutions:
PD Dr. Hans-Peter Mock, Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics
and Crop Plant Research (IPK)
Names of PhD students: Patrick Marienhagen & Rongfan Wang
Project duration: 01.01.2012 - 31.12.2015 (sub-project 1)
Funding amount: 126.000 € (sub-project 1)

I. Topic, open questions and purpose

In this sub-project anthocyanin-rich cereal seeds (wheat, barley) with potential beneficial health effects were studied. A major aim was to generate balanced bulks of seeds differing only in anthocyanins. The second aim was to study the impact of anthocyanin accumulation in seeds on other traits, in particular seed yield and germination capacity. Finally the pathways associated with anthocyanin formation and competing branches of phenylpropanoid metabolism were characterized in selected lines.


II. Theory and methods
Within this sub-project we made use of wheat mapping populations with contrasting accumulation of anthocyanins in the parental lines. Furthermore barley genotypes with or without pigments in seeds were obtained from the genebank. Most of the accessions used needed propagation first to obtain sufficient quantities for detailed growth experiments. Plants were either grown in the field or under defined greenhouse conditions. For the generation of bulks with or without anthocyanins in the mature seeds, anthocyanin-containing off-springs of one mapping population were grown on one field plot and anthocyanin-free off-springs on a separate plot. Propagation was repeated in the following year to finally obtain more than 100 kg of seeds per bulk. Bulks of three wheat additional mapping populations were obtained in smaller quantities. Phytochemical analysis of mature seeds and of different developmental stages of seeds was performed using chromatographic separation of compounds with subsequent detection by UV and mass  spectrometry. RT-PCR was used to quantify transcript abundance related to key enzymes in anthocyanin synthesis and competing branches of phenylpropanoids.


III. Results and perspectives

The off-springs of a wheat mapping population were pooled to obtain bulks of anthocyan-containing and anthocyanin-free bulks (Fig. 2). Then, comparisons of two seed pools were conducted to ensure that their metabolic differences comprise only on accumulation of anthocyanins, but not on the contents of other metabolites. Therefore, targeted and non-targeted metabolic analyses were performed to demonstrate the metabolic equivalence of the bulks except their anthocyanins contents. We found only slight differences in primary compounds, amino acid contents and elemental composition between different bulks from the harvests of both 2012 and 2013. In total, anthocyanins from 21 different barley cultivars were quantified. A range of these genotypes had a dark pericarp such as the hulled cultivar HOR 4802 but anthocyanins could not be extracted. We hypothesized that extractable anthocyanin monomers were converted to insoluble phenolics such as proanthocyanidins during seed development. Considering both pericarp color and amount of extractable anthocyanins, four barley cultivars were selected for further investigation. Metabolite analysis includes anthocyanins and proanthocyanidins. Transcriptional levels of related enzymes of biosynthesis pathways were studied. The results provide an improved insight into associated biochemical and molecular networks within different developmental stages of the barley seeds. Based on this analysis, no further evidence was provided that the non-extractable proanthocyanidins would be derived from the proanthocyanidin pathway. Follow up-studies to monitor the involvement of polyphenoloxidase have been initiated but a definitive answer for this sub-set of lines was not obtained at the end of the funding period. Germination tests were performed by applying artificial aging treatments prior to the assays. Germination percentages of four wheat parent lines and corresponding bulks were compared. Differences of germination rates among purple-grained parent lines and yellow-grained parent lines were significant. However, the germination rates of the anthocyanins-rich and the anthocyanins-free bulks did not differ. Therefore we tentatively concluded that anthocyanins do not have a pronounced negative effect on seed germination in our wheat accessions.
Although a number of genotypes with anthocyanin-containing seeds were now available for further studies, it was a major concern if anthocyanins would be stable during preparation of food materials which could involve high temperatures during baking or extrusion. In collaboration with Prof. Andrea Bauer from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences we tested the stability of anthocyanins during an extrusion process of wheat flour derived from the anthocyanin-containing bulk. Quantification of anthocyanins in the wheat flour and the extrusion products indicated that 70 - 80 % of the anthocyanins were retained during the extrusion (Bachelor thesis Eva-Maria Willeke).

IV. Index (publications, talks, poster)
Publications
Eva-Maria Willeke Thema: Extrusionsverhalten von anthocyanhaltigem Weizenmehl und Auswirkungen
des Extrusions- und Postextrusionsprozesses auf dessen Anthocyangehalt. Bachelor Arbeit, Hochschule
für Angewandte Wissenschaften, Hamburg (2015).
Rongfan Wang, Molecular and biochemical analysis of cereal seed pigmentation. Dissertation, to be
submitted in 2016.
Presentations
Patrick Marienhagen has given an oral presentation of the project during the meeting of the section
“Natural Products” of the German Botanical society in September 2012 in Hildesheim.
A poster related to the characterization of anthocyanin patterns is presented in June 2013 during the
annual student conference in Halle (Rongfan Wang).
A poster with the title ‘Phytochmical characterization of cereals accumulating anthocyanins with potential
health beneficial effects’ was presented during the annual student conference in Gatersleben and during
the EUCARPIA-ITMI joint conference in Wernigerode in June 2014 (Rongfan Wang).
An oral presentation was given during the postgraduate workshop of the section “Pflanzliche Naturstoffe”
(Deutsche Botanishce Gesellschaft) 21.09.2014 Nürnberg (Rongfan Wang).
For a wider audience, the concepts and results obtained were also presented during the day of the open
door of the IPK Gatersleben in 2014 (R. Wang, A. Matros, H.-P. Mock)
Rongfan Wang: Phytochemical characterization of cereals accumulating anthocyanins with potential
health beneficial effects. Oral presentation, PSCC, Halle, 5.6.2015
Matros, Andrea, Örtel, Anne; Wang, Rongfan; Mock, Hans-Peter: Anthocyanin Profiling in Plants and
Biotechnological Applications: Plant Cell Walls, ARC Centre of Excellence, The University of Adelaide,
2015/11/03 (Oral Presentation Dr. Matros)

Subproject 2:'Secondary substances in cereals as quality attribute: Analysis of consumers’ willingness to pay‘ (Food Economics – Consumer Research)

Names of principal investigators and institutions:
Dr. Ramona Teuber, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
(previously Leibniz-Institute of Agricultural Development in
Transition Economies, IAMO)
Dr. Viola Bruschi, previously Leibniz-Institute of Agricultural
Development in Transition Economies (IAMO)
Names of PhD students: Dr. Irina Dolgopolova
Project duration: 01.06.2012-31.07.2015 (sub-project 2)
Funding amount: 105.000€ (sub-project 2)

I. Topic, open questions and purpose

This sub-project focuses on investigating consumers’ perception and acceptance of anthocyanin-rich cereal products, and their willingness to pay (WTP) for such products. It is especially investigated whether German and Russian consumers differ significantly in their acceptance and WTP for anthocyanin-rich cereal products and in which way different information strategies lead to differences in WTP.

II. Theory and methods

We chose a mixed methods approach combining qualitative and quantitative research methods. Such an approach allows exploring a topic that has not been investigated so far in more depth. For the qualitative part we conducted focus group interviews in 2012 and 2013 both in Germany and in Russia (see Dolgopolova et al., 2013, 2015). With respect to quantitative data experimental auctions with young Russian consumers were carried out in 2013 in Moscow and Irkutsk (see Bruschi et al., 2015) and experimental auctions in combination with sensory tests with young German consumers were conducted in December 2014 in Hamburg (manuscript in preparation).

More specifically, in Russia we analyzed the acceptance and willingness-to-pay (WTP) for anthocyanincontaining bakery products among young urban Russians employing two different products in the experimental auctions, namely bread rolls (staple product) and biscuits (hedonic product). Thus, we investigated explicitly to which extent acceptance and WTP are product-specific.

In Germany, we chose a slightly different approach since in this case we combined experimental auctions with sensory tests. In Germany we only focused on bread and possible substitution patterns among different whole grain bread types. For the sensory tests we collaborated with Prof. Andrea Bauer from the Hamburg University of Applied Sciences and Peter Becker, the president of the German bakery association. 131 students and staff participated in December 2014 in seven auction sessions. Four different bread types (conventional whole wheat bread, organic whole wheat bread, anthocyanin-containing whole wheat bread, spelt whole wheat bread) were rated and auctioned in three subsequent auction rounds (see Fig. 1 for the test set up). Two different information strategies were employed to investigate the impact of different information on the WTP. Such an approach enables us to estimate the WTP for the anthocyanin attribute itself but also to disentangle how much taste and how much health information contributes to willingness to pay estimates.

III. Results and perspectives

The focus group results showed that consumers’ perceptions of functional foods are complicated by perceived risks and the complexity that appears from growing and sometimes confusing information flow. The results highlighted further that distrust related to the potential health benefits of the products, and the information provided during marketing campaigns was shared by participants in both countries. However, whereas in the case of German participants’ distrust is related to specific institutions and food safety scandals, Russian participants project distrust in formal institutions inherited from Soviet times on health claims and commercials about functional foods. Consequently, Russian consumers’ distrust is more culturally enrooted and probably more difficult to overcome. The existing Russian regulatory measures on functional food also do not contribute to improving consumers’ trust in information coming from food-industry related institutions. This regulatory vacuum contributes to the existence of non-justified health-related labels and marketing campaigns. Moreover, food-neophobia was also mainly expressed by Russian participants. As far as Russian respondents are concerned, novelty is a critical factor in decisions about food purchases in the sense that novel food is not purchased if traditional analogs with similar characteristics are available. Previous research has already confirmed that the carrier product is very important for consumers’ perception of functional foods and, moreover, that the health claim might not be perceived independently from the carrier product. This statement is indirectly confirmed in the present study by consumers’ references to products that are traditionally considered healthy.

The quantitative results confirmed most of the results from the qualitative focus groups. Our results for young Russian consumers show that in general participants have a positive WTP for the anthocyanin attribute, both for bread as well as for biscuits. This is already an important result since the only so far existing empirical evidence for consumer acceptance of and WTP for health-enhancing food in a post-Soviet country reported a negative WTP. Our results indicate further that those participants who consider the healthiness of a product, its tradition and taste as most important factors in their food choice exhibit a significantly higher WTP for anthocyanin. With respect to the role of the product our results highlight that on average consumers perceive the combination of anthocyanin with bread a better fit than anthocyanin with biscuits.
The results for young German consumers indicate that there is an interest in anthocyanin-containing bread but that taste is clearly the most important determinant of acceptance and WTP. Consequently, only if taste preferences are satisfied will consumers be willing to buy anthocyanin-containing bread. Thus, our results confirm previous research findings that consumers will not comprise on taste because of health reasons. However, another important result from these auctions is that there is a “taste of information” meaning that if consumers are provided with positive information about the bread this significantly influences the taste experience. But this effect is not only true for the anthocyanin-bread. Organic and whole grain spelt bread (as an example of another ancient grain variety) benefitted equally from positive information provided in terms of higher rating scores. Consequently, even though there is a certain consumer segment that would be willing to buy and also willing to pay a price premium for this bread, anthocyanin-bread would be only one alternative among a large range of differentiated breads with added value such as organic.


IV. Index (publications, talks, poster)
Publications
Dolgopolova, I., Teuber, R., Bruschi, V., Weber, G.-W., Danilenko, N., Galitskiy, E. (2015). Modelling
Consumer Preferences for Novel Foods: Random Utility and Reference Point Effects Approach. In: Pinot,
A., Zilberman, D. (eds.) Modelling, Dynamics, Optimization and Bioeconomics II, forthcoming
Bruschi, V., Teuber, R., & Dolgopolova, I. (2015). Acceptance and willingness to pay for health-enhancing
bakery products - Empirical evidence for young urban Russian consumers. Food Quality and
Preference, 46, 79–91. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodqual.2015.07.008
Dolgopolova, I., Teuber, R., & Bruschi, V. (2015). Consumers’ perceptions of functional foods: trust and
food-neophobia in a cross-cultural context. International Journal of Consumer Studies, http://doi.org/10.1111/
ijcs.12184
Dolgopolova, I., Teuber, R., Bruschi, V. (2013). Recent trends in consumer behavior concerning foods
with health benefits in Russia, in: Pedro Ferreira, André Vieira (Hrsg.): International Conference on
Marketing & Consumer Behaviour – 2013 Back to Basics: consumer-centric marketing or target-centric
marketing, Porto, 16-17 May 2013, 104-114.
Presentations
“Recent Trends in Consumer Behavior Concerning Foods with Health Benefits in Russia”, Oral presentation
at the International Conference on Marketing and Consumer Behavior (ICMC) in May 2013 (Porto,
Portugal)
“Defining Consumer Attitudes toward Anthocyanin-rich Cereals: Traditions as a source for innovations”,
Poster presentation at the 17th ‘International Consortium on Applied Bioeconomy Research (ICABR)
Conference in June 2013 (Ravello, Italy).
“Secondary substances in cereals as quality attribute: Analysis of potential health-enhancing effects and
consumers’ willingness to pay”, Oral presentation at the International Bioeconomy Conference “From Molecule
to Society” in June 2013 (Halle (Saale), Germany)
“Consumers’ Perception of Functional Foods in Germany and Russia: Qualitative Comparative Study”,
Oral presentation at the Global Food Symposium, in Goettingen on 25-26 April 2014.
“Secondary substances in cereals as quality attribute: analysis of potential health enhancing effects and
consumers’ willingness-to-buy and willingness-to-pay”, Oral presentation at the ScienceCampus, International
Bioeconomy Conference “Bio meets economy - Science meets industry”, Halle, 22.05.2014 - 23.05.2014.
Poster presentation at the Wissenswerte 2014
“Modelling Consumer Preferences for Novel Foods: Random Utility and Reference Point Effects
Approaches”, Oral presentation at “Food in the Bio-based Economy – Sustainable Provision and Access”,
27-29 May 2015, Wageningen, Netherlands.

 

For more information please visit:

- http://www.athena-flora.eu/
- Journal Food Quality & Preference (July 2015)

- Food Quality and Preference (May 2016)

 

Innovation networks in the plant-based bioeconomy (pBE)

The ability to create innovations constitutes an important source of competitiveness in high-tech industries. In order to keep pace in the race for new products and services, companies increasingly make use of new organizational forms and establish various types of partnerships in research and development (R&D). In this respect, the companies and research facilities of the plant-based bio-economy (pBE) are no exception.

A precise definition of the technology, scientific and economic areas forming the plant-based bio-economy is a prerequisite for the analysis of economic developments and cooperation activities relevant for a pBE. So far, there is no precise inventory of companies and research institutions (definition of the population) operating in this new area. Similarly, the existence of new alliances, e.g. of chemical industry and plant breeding research are likely. Their formation and termination has not yet been precisely recorded. Likewise, network structures have not been systematically recorded yet. The relationship between various facets of firm embeddedness in the German pBE innovation network has not yet been investigated in detail. Not only the structural development of the innovation network, but also the formation of spatial clusters as well as an analysis of recent and current trends in raw materials, products and technologies provide important insights for science and economic policy. Findings of co-operation-driven factors of firms' innovatory success allow for deriving recommendations for managers and policy-makers. The same applies for the results of the analysis in the area of science and technology based on the same data, which reveals trends or interests of clusters, companies or institutions in certain raw materials, technologies or products.

Against this backdrop, it is necessary, to establish an ontology (terms and their structural relationships) of the pBE, based on which, raw materials and products can be associated with firms and research facilities operating in this new field. In the course of the project, automated software processes (in the field of text or data mining) will be further advanced and applied to extract and annotate or group all documents (preferably patent documents and scientific publications) relevant for the pBE, In summary, the main objectives of this research project are as follows: (1.) analysis of the entry and exit dynamics of the identified organizations, (2.) analysis of the evolution of the innovation network in the pBE and (3.) econometric analysis to disentangle the impact of proximity effects (geographical-, network- and technological proximity) on innovatory success of companies.

Names of principal investigators and institutions:
Dr. Wilfried Ehrenfeld, Halle Institute for
Economic Research (IWH); Dr. Muhamed Kudic,
Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH)
In cooperation with the Leibniz-Institute of Plant
Biochemistry (IPB)
Names of PhD students: Frieder Kropfhäußer
Project duration: 01.01.2013 - 31.03.2014
Funding amount: 34.649.61 €
Industry partner: OntoChem IT Solutions GmbH

I. Topic, open questions and purpose
Problem background
It is not contested that the plant-based bioeconomy (pBE) is one of the key industries of the 21st Century. It is already foreseeable today that there is a need to draw upon non-fossil resources to ensure the steadily growing global demand for feed, food and energy. Many pharmaceutical and chemical products based on crude oil, such as pharmaceutical building blocks, food additives, fine chemicals, or even bulk products like plastics and fuels, can just as well be provided on the basis of plant-based biomass. Given the importance of plant-based resources and production technologies for the economic prosperity of countries it is all the more astonishing that we still have no clear idea of how the pBE industry is composed and what factors the generation of novelties. Or to put it more precisely, it is still widely unexplored which firms and organizations are located at the very heart of the industry and how R&D partnerships and innovation network involvement affects the innovative performance of the actors involved. In order to shed some light on these issues, an interdisciplinary research team was set up composed of economists from the Halle Institute for Economic Research (IWH) – Member of the Leibniz Association, biochemists from the Leibniz Institute of Plant Biochemistry (IPB), and computer specialists from the OntoChem GmbH. The project team comprised a small group of researchers. Content-based expertise in the broad field of plant-based bioeconomy was provided by Prof. Ludger Wessjohann (IPB). Dr. Jutta Günther (IWH), Dr. Muhamed Kudic and Dr. Wilfried Ehrenfeld were responsible for the project coordination. Frieder Kropfhäußer (IWH) filled a project-related PhD position funded by the WCH from January 2013 till March 2014. Last but not least, expertise on data mining techniques and ontologies was provided by specialists from the OntoChem GmbH.

II. Theory and methods

The ability to create innovations constitutes an important source of competitiveness in high-tech industries. By now it is well-recognized that the generation of innovation does not occur in isolation. Previous empirical studies in sociology (Powell et al., 1996), management science (Baum et al. 2000; Inkpen and Tsang 2005) and economics (Pyka 1997); Fornahl et al. 2011) have demonstrated the collective nature of innovation processes. Firms increasingly make use of new organizational forms by establishing R&D partnerships and occupying strategic positions in the industry’s innovation network in order to keep pace with competitors. A precise definition of the technological, scientific and economic areas forming the pBE is still missing but a necessary prerequisite to gain insights on the structural configuration of the pBE sector. So far, there is no precise inventory of companies and research institutions operating in this new area. Therefore, a main objective of this research project was to identify the firms and other organizations, which comprise the pBE. Gaining knowledge about the pBE actors is of particular relevance in regions which underwent the transition from a centrally planned economy to a market economy. Usually these regions suffer from weak technologydriven private entrepreneurial activities whereas the public R&D sector is relatively better situated. In such a situation, public policy often tries to spur new technologies by strengthening public research facilities.

Against this background, the empirical investigation covers the so called Central German Region, consisting of the federal states of Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony and Thuringia. Saxony-Anhalt, for instance, regards the bioeconomy, food and agriculture as an important part of its Regional Inn ovation Strategy. On the firm level the focus was laid on firms and organizations in the agriculture, energy, chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Therefore member lists of industry organizations and trade directories were explored. Actors involved in the pBE were identified using advanced keyword based search routines on a comprehensive set of catchwords containing pBE relevant inputs, outputs and technologies. Once a complete list of relevant actors was established, firm characteristics were matched using other external data sources (Amadeus database).

III. Results and perspectives

After data acquisition and processing, a descriptive analysis of the collected data was carried out on companies, research institutions and associations operating in pBE. Results have been published in Ehrenfeld and Kropfhäußer (2014, 2016). In these findings the status of the pBE in the three states of Central Germany – Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia was outlined – and compared to German pBE as a whole, using data as of 2013. An in-depth look was taken at the different sectors and the industries involved, the location and age of the enterprises. In total, there are 183 actors in the plant-based bioeconomy (pBE) in Central Germany, of which 43.7% in Saxony-Anhalt, 33.3 % in Saxony and 23% in Thuringia (as of 2013). The share of enterprises in the total number of actors is 81.4%. The proportion of enterprises differs from state to state. While Thuringia has the highest proportion (90.5%), Saxony-Anhalt shows the lowest compared to the other two states under consideration (76.2%), whereby it hosts the largest absolute number of enterprises (61). Universities and universities of applied science, research institutes and associations have a share of 18.6% in the total number of pBE actors in Central Germany. The proportion of actors mentioned latter differs between the three Federal States in Central Germany. In Saxony-Anhalt, for instance, 9 out of 80 actors stem from universities and universities of applied science. In Saxony, 7 actors stem from the university sector, and in Thuringia it is one. Thus, more than 50% of the university-based actors in pBE in Central Germany are located in Saxony-Anhalt. Saxony-Anhalt also hosts 50% of the non-university research institutes mainly working on pBE. In terms of firm-size measured by employment the pBE enterprises mainly represent micro-enterprises (1-9 employees) and small enterprises (10-49 employees). The two size groups together have a proportion of 82.7 % in the total number of pBE enterprises.

The task will be to enhance science industry relations whereby the integration of microenterprises and small enterprises is of particular importance to overcome possible size-specific development obstacles. Regardless the considerable potential of actors in pBE in Central Germany, the region competes with other regions in Germany where the share of pBE actors is much greater in a single federal state compared to Central Germany as a whole. To illustrate: While Central Germany has a share of 10.4% in the total number of enterprises in the pBE sector, the shares of each individual state – Baden-Wuerttemberg, Lower Saxony and Bavaria – is higher than Central Germany’s share. This in mind, networking among the pBE actors in Central Germany might be an appropriate way to improve the capability to innovate.

IV. References
Baum, J. A., Calabrese, T., Silverman, B. S. (2000): Don’t go it alone: alliance network composition and
startup’s performance in Canadian biotechnology. Strategic Management Journal, 21 (3), pp. 267-294.
Ehrenfeld, W., Kropfhäußer, F. (2014): Plant-based Bioeconomy in Central Germany - Mapping of Actors,
Industries and Places. IWH Discussion Papers 7/2014.
Fornahl, D., Broekel, T., Boschma, R. (2011): What drives patent performance of German biotech firms?
The impact of R&D subsidies, knowledge networks and their location. Papers in Regional Science, 90 (2),
pp. 395-418.
Inkpen, A. C., Tsang, E. W. K. (2005): Social Capital, Networks, and Knowledge Transfer. Academy of
Management Review, 30 (1), pp. 146-165Powell, W. W., Koput, K. W. & Smith-Doerr, L. (1996): Interorganizational
Collaboration and the Locus of Innovation: Networks of Learning in Biotechnology. Administrative
Science Quarterly, 41 (1), pp. 116-145.
Powell, W. W., Koput, K. W. & Smith-Doerr, L. (1996): Interorganizational Collaboration and the Locus of
Innovation: Networks of Learning in Biotechnology. Administrative Science Quarterly, 41 (1), pp. 116-145.
Pyka, A. (1997): Informal networking. Technovation, 17 (4), pp. 207-220.
Index (publications, talks, posters)
Ehrenfeld, W., Kropfhäußer, F. (2014): Plant-based Bioeconomy in Central Germany - Mapping of Actors,
Industries and Places. IWH Discussion Papers 7/2014.
Wilfried Ehrenfeld & Frieder Kropfhäußer (2016): Plant-based bioeconomy in Central Germany – a
mapping of actors, industries and places, Technology Analysis & Strategic Management, DOI:
10.1080/09537325.2016.1140135
Title presentation/ poster, name of event, date, venue
The Structure and Dynamics of Innovation Networks in the German plant-based Bioeconomy - Outline
of the Database, International Bioeconomy conference 'Bio meets economy – science meets Industry’,
22nd/23rd May 2014, Halle (Saale), Germany.

 

Optimising the Efficiency of Biomass Formation of Cultivated Plants - Options and Strategies: A Model Based Analysis and Assessment System for Plant Based Bioeconomy (OECOS)
Verbraucherakzeptanz
Principle of the novel multiscale plant modelling approach spanning several nested scales. Note that the comprehensiveness of the different model domains and the degree of abstraction decrease from the outer model shell to the inner.

Based on the "National Research Strategy BioEconomy 2030", the project focuses on an innovative systems biology approach to increase efficiency and sustainability of using biological resources of crops for supply of food, raw material, and in relevant parts also energy. In the current project we apply a novel multiscale systems modelling technique to investigate possible starting points and strategies to improve the efficiency of the storage of photosynthetically fixed solar energy in plant biomass. Multiscale modelling is a highly topical approach applied most recently in physics, technology, biology and other disciplines. It enables predicting emergent proper­ties of the system using information from – respectively models of – more basic levels.

Our approach combines models describing metabolic and physiological processes at various levels of detail and that span several structural and temporal scales (Fig. 1). In the current project we are developing a first version of such a framework and will evaluate its application for assessing options for the improvement of plant biomass formation.

Main questions that will be addressed are:

  • What is the maximal possible growth rate and biomass yield?
  • How efficient can metabolism channel metabolites through the network?
  • What are the biochemical production capabilities?
  • How energetically efficient can metabolism operate?

Recently, simulations were performed considering two developmental stages, pre-storage and main seed storage phase of barley plants, with the aim of the maximization of vegetative and generative biomass, respectively. This method was also applied to simulate the temporary storage behaviour of the barley stem. It provides the basis for future analyses about metabolic and physiological mechanisms controlling carbon partitioning. This will facilitate to identify possible strategies of its optimization for improving yield formation of an important crop plant. The method is generic and thus in principle may be adapted also to other crops.

Names of principal investigators and institutions:
Dr. Johannes Müller, Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg
Prof. Dr. Falk Schreiber, Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research (IPK)
Project duration: 01.01.2013 – 31.12.2014
Funding amount: 62.384 €

Results and perspectives

A multi-scale dynamic plant model was developed (prototype version) that may be used in simulation studies for identifying most successful strategies to improve biomass formation by means of conventional plant breeding and/or bio-technology. The model combines sub-models of photosynthesis, metabolic networks, allocation of main carbon and nitrogen compounds, and formation of plant biomass and yield (see 2014 Annual Report). The Simulink software (The Mathworks®) was used to establish an effective simulation environment.
The formulation of the model is universal such that it may be specified for different crops. Here, the model was adapted for spring barley based on experimental data.

First, as a reference the time courses of dry mass (g plant -1), transpiration rate representing the water demand (kg plant -1), and of the transpiration coefficient (ratio of plant transpiration rate to plant dry mass formation; kg/kg) were simulated for the present climatic conditions. To simulate the effect of the predicted change of the environment, we repeated the simulation, assuming an increase of ambient CO2 concentration approaching Ca = 0.045 vol-% and an increase of air and leaf temperature by 2 K. The results show that biomass and yield, plant leaf area (not given) and transpiration will increase. However, the relative increase in transpiration is higher than that of biomass, thus leading to an increase of the transpiration coefficient as well (i.e. to a decrease in water use efficiency, WUE).

As may be seen, a down-regulation of RuBisCO activity by 20% might compensate almost completely for the positive effect of increased CO2 on biomass formation, whereas the water demand would be reduced to a lesser extent. Since climate change is predicted to be accompanied with a reduction of precipitation in spring and summer, plants with a reduced water demand would be better adapted to those conditions. We simulated two different alternatives to approach this goal: creating plants with (1.) smaller leaves (reduced investment of assimilated carbon into the formation of structural leaf carbohydrates or formation of thicker leaves) or (2.) reduced stomatal conductance (i.e. reduced stomatal frequency per leaf area). As expected, simulations for the first case showed that the reduction in leaf assimilation area would lead to a substantial reduction of biomass formation as well (simulations not shown). In contrast, the second approach would be the better alternative leading to larger relative reduction in plant water demand as compared to that in biomass formation. This would result in a decreased transpiration coefficient, i.e. increased WUE, which is of advantage at less water availability.

In conclusion it may be stated that the example presented here shows that the simulation model may be used successfully in accessing quantitatively the most promising strategies to increase the performance of cultural plants, in particular under conditions of climate change. To further improve the informative value of the approach, several model components have to be further developed in future.

 

 

 

Biotechnological synthesis of plant phenylpropanoids as the starting material for pharmaceuticals, flavors and polymers
Artificial pathway for the in vitro biosynthesis of monolignols. A) Specific decoration of the aromatic ring is achieved on the carboxylic acid level. Access to C5-modified compounds is dependent on the application of a variant of hydroxylase 4HPA3H. B)

The aim of our research is to provide selective biocatalytic access for the production of central plant secondary metabolites of the phenylpropanoid series, namely monolignols (e.g. p-coumaryl, coniferyl and sinapyl alcohol) starting from abundant primary metabolites (e.g. L-tyrosine). Although lignanes are very common in plants (wood etc.), especially the higher oxidized monomers are very difficult to obtain in pure form. Therefore different enzyme combinations and cascades to produce clean monolignenes shall be developed. A toolbox of enzymes for catalysis of different reaction types shall be developed to provide a versatile access to different substitution patterns in phenylpropanoids. The selected enzymes should have a wide substrate tolerance to be applicable for the synthesis of several products.

Names of principal investigators and institutions:
Prof. Dr. Ludger Wessjohann,
Leibniz-Institute of Plant Biochemistry (IPB)
Prof. Dr. Markus Pietzsch,
Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg
Names of PhD students: Susann Herrmann (née Riemer-Köhler)
Project duration: 01.01.2013 – 30.06.2016
Funding amount: 75.000

Phenylpropanoids are natural products derived from the amino acid L-phenylalanine by deamination with L-phenylalanine ammonia lyase. The simplest examples are the hydroxycinnamic acids, such as ferulic acid, and the monolignols, such as coniferyl alcohol. More complex phenylpropanoids are e.g. flavonoids, isoflavonoids and stilbenes. Phenylpropanoids have a wide range of important functions in plants, including as structural components (such as lignin), protectants against biotic and abiotic stresses, pigments (particularly anthocyanins) and signaling molecules (e.g. flavonoids).

The success of the ongoing economic transformation into a sustainable, bio-based economy depends on the establishment of new and non-petroleum-based strategies for the production of central metabolites. Monolignols are plant-derived aromatic compounds with many potential applications as they are building blocks for biologically active compounds like lignans, flavors and fragrances or precursors for pharmaceuticals and cosmetics. Even though monolignols are produced in high amounts in plants to produce the polymeric lignins, their isolation from this renewable resource is difficult due to its complex and highly crosslinked structure which does not easily allow reversal of the polymerization.

Results and perspectives

Topic A – Synthesis of phenylpropanoids, e.g. monolignols

4-Hydroxyphenylacetate 3-hydroxylase (4HPA3H), a flavin-dependent monooxygenase from E. coli that catalyzes the hydroxylation of monophenols to catechols, was optimized for conversion of bulky natural products by rational re-design. Selected amino acid positions in the binding pocket of the aromatic substrate were exchanged, yielding variants with improved conversion of spacious substrates such as the flavonoid naringenin or the alkaloid mimetic 2-hydroxycarbazole. A single residue could be identified that facilitates modulation of substrate specificity: introduction of a non-aromatic but hydrophobic (iso)leucine resulted in preference of the vanilloid substrate ferulic acid over unsubstituted monophenols. The in vivo (whole-cell biocatalysts) and in vitro (three-enzyme cascade) transformation of substrates by 4HPA3H and its optimized variants was strictly regiospecific and proceeded without generation of by-products.

Furthermore we established a biosynthetic route for the cell-free production of all natural occurring monolignols starting with p-coumaric acid and replaced the inconvenient, natural pathway by a chimeric enzymatic system containing stable microbial and plant enzymes. Key steps for accessing highly substituted monolignols like sinapyl alcohol are the utilization of I) a designed oxidase variant of 4HPA3H that accepts ferulic acid as substrate, II) a substrate promiscuous but 3’-specific O‑methyltransferase (PFOMT) and III) a bacterial one-component carboxylic acid reductase (CAR) that allows conversion of highly substituted cinnamic acid derivatives like sinapic acid.

Final aim is to reconstitute the complete pathway with well-behaved adaptable enzymes, starting with simple substrates (e.g. p-coumaric acid), within in one host strain. Enzymes should be overexpressed in one strain collectively, although the synthesis in plants may be compartmentalized.

 

Topic B – A modular cell-free multi-enzyme cascade for vanillin synthesis
(in conjunction with the Leibniz Research Cluster)

Vanilla is one of the most used flavors in the world and is applied in many types of industry. The flavor and fragrance profile is a complex system, with vanillin (4‑hydroxy-3-methoxybenzaldehyde) as the key component. For the production of 1 kg of vanillin, 500 kg of vanilla pods are necessary and only 1 % of the annual demand can be satisfied using this natural source. In the past, different approaches for pathway engineering in genetically modified organisms were used to produce vanillin from phenylpropanoid precursors (e.g. ferulic acid) or from metabolic intermediates in vivo. However, the cytotoxic activity of vanillin restricts the yields that are available using living cells as biocatalyst. This crucial challenge lies in the adaption of different enzyme characteristics to work in one medium, and to accommodate for sufficient cosubstrate delivery. The system was also tested for the production of further phenylpropanoids.

 

Index

Presentations (oral)

Prof. Dr. Markus Pietzsch:

  • Biotechnological Synthesis of Phenylpropanoids, 3rd International Bioeconomy Conference, 22.-23. Mai 2014, Halle (Saale)

Prof. Dr. Dr. Wessjohann:

  • Schwarzheider Kolloquium des VCI Nordost, BASF 29. Sept. 2016, Schwarzheide
  • Deutsch-Chinesisches Bioeconomy Meeting, Universität Stuttgart Hohenheim, 10. Oct. 2016, Stuttgart
  • UFZ BioEnergy Days, UFZ-Helmholtz, 23. Mar. 2016, Leipzig
  • Manchester Biomolecular Meeting, U. Manchester, 07. Sept. 2015, Manchester, UK
  • CLAFOQ (Latin American Conference of Physical Organic Chemistry), U. Cordoba (AR), 20. Mai 2015, Calos Paz, Argentina

Presentations (Poster)

Dippe, S. Riemer-Köhler, B. Weigel, A.-K. Bauer, A. Laub, L. A. Wessjohann: A modular cell-free multi-enzyme cascade for vanillin synthesis, 27. Irseer Naturstofftage, 25.-27.02.2015, Irsee

Dippe, S. Riemer-Köhler, B. Weigel, A.-K. Bauer, A. Laub, L. A. Wessjohann: A modular cartridge system for flavor production, 11th Plant Science Student Conference, 02.-05.06.2015, Halle (Saale)

Riemer-Köhler, D. Meyer, M. Pietzsch, L. A. Wessjohann, Biocatalytic route for cell-free synthesis of sinapyl alcohol and related monolignols, 8th International Congress on Biocataysis, 28.08.-01.09.2016, Hamburg-Harburg