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Project Architecture and Partnerships:

The project "Future Agriculture and Functional Foods: a challenge for research and the revitalization of the Veneto territory" (F.A.&A.F.), funded in December 2020, was presented under the DGR 822/2020 (POR FESR 2014-2020 Action 1.1.4), by the Consorzio Innovaa- Innovazione Agroalimentare, a legal entity representing the Regional Innovative Network INNOSAP - Innovation For Sustainability in Agrifood Production. The Innovative Network, recognized by the Veneto Region in 2016, includes more than a hundred SMEs and Large Enterprises in the Agrifood sector and related industries (including, for example, chemical companies; suppliers of technological, including IT, and producers of machinery and plants). F.A.&A.F. also sees, as co-applicants, the Innovative Network RIBES - Nest Innovative Network for Health Ecosystem and Smart Food and the Fishery District of Rovigo and Chioggia.

The project, lasting 27 months, capitalizes on the interaction between actors, private and public, of different economic sizes and with distinctive skills, intercepting the Development Trajectories outlined by the Smart Specialization Strategy (RIS3), with the aim of achieving R&D targets otherwise unattainable by individual partners. It combines enabling technologies belonging to different sectors (in particular, biotechnology and diagnostic technologies) to produce results useful to traditional sectors and, in parallel, provide tools and opportunities suitable for opening businesses to new markets. To address the transition to a new industrial paradigm, the partnership will also draw on other technologies, such as advanced production systems for application in production processes and IoT systems for circular and sustainable production.

F.A.&A.F is implemented by a partnership consisting of Research Centers (University of Padua, Ca' Foscari University of Venice, University of Verona, and National Research Council) and companies (one of which is without a budget), belonging to different sectors for specialization which belongs to:

  • Agricultural producers (Scandola Riccardo; Tu e Noi Agricultural Company; Aipo OP, Padana Group; EcorNaturaSì), who capitalize on various agronomic skills, specific to horticulture and floriculture (including aromatic and medicinal species), namely, optimization skills of cultural techniques (nutrition and irrigation plans); skills functional to phytosanitary defense and integrated biological control on crops; use of diagnostic systems for the containment of infesting bacteria on crops; management of varietal trial fields and data collection (also assisted by DSS) of characteristic data.
  • Agricultural producer specialized in shellfish farming (Kappa Agricultural Company), which integrates skills for the definition of livestock management protocols; constant monitoring of the health status of animals from breeding; management of trial fields.
  • Metalworking producers (Oliver Agro, Ocll) specializing in machinery and tools for agriculture, sharing engineering skills related to the design and pre-prototyping of innovative components and machines (electric motors; prototypes of autonomous driving machines).
  • Support technology producers (Abs Computer; Nolan Norton Italia; Ez Lab), specialized in the implementation of multispectral sensors, Decision Support Systems (DSS) consistent with Agriculture 4.0; integration of autonomous/robotic systems in agricultural machinery etc.
  • Producers of organic, inorganic fertilizers (Cereal Docks and Molino Favero), capable of enhancing agricultural raw materials from simple commodities to specialties/ingredients with higher added value, opening up to the new developments of agriculture 4.0.
  • Animal feed producers (Cortal Extrasoy), who will focus on the interaction between nutrients and intestinal flora, also at the zootechnical level.
  • Molecular, veterinary, environmental, and food diagnostic companies (Experteam and BMR- Genomics), respectively with skills in diagnostic kits in the health sector and with skills in omics disciplines and bioinformatics.
Lines of Research, Purposes, and Objectives:
F.A.&A.F focuses on primary production and functional foods, and, in particular, on the characterization of raw materials, food safety and traceability, automation and digitization of production processes, new methodologies for microbiota analysis and its applications in terms of immune response. These interventions aim to support health and quality of life, impacting overall environmental and economic sustainability, goals even more urgent in the current health and economic emergency linked to Covid-19. The pandemic phase has indeed determined the need, on the one hand, to adopt, at the community level, new lifestyles more respectful of safety, hygiene, and public health and, on the other hand, the need to support business income and the competitiveness of the production system.

F.A.&A.F. has several purposes:
*The first one dedicated to Primary Production: it aims primarily to develop innovative monitoring systems for studying the impact of climate change on the phenology, productivity, and quality of plant productions of horticultural and medicinal-officinal species for the development of nutrition and irrigation plans, and low-impact environmental defense methods aimed at improving the properties of crops, raw materials, and their environmental sustainability. To collect various morpho-physiological, chemical, and genetic-molecular data, digital technologies based on robotics, big data, and distributed sensors for Agriculture 4.0 will be used.

Specifically, within the framework of this strategic-projectual line, it will also be possible to analyze the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic emergency on the agri-food and territorial system under focus, and develop strategies to revive the supply chains linked to the primary sector for better competitiveness, sustainability, and resilience. At the same time, the following objectives can also be pursued: 1) review of known knowledge regarding the effects determined by the Covid-19 emergency through the analysis of information contained in the main economic-productive databases of the "Agri-Food" sector at different territorial scales; 2) study of the perception of the effects of the pandemic by the productive sector and the different agri-food supply chains; 3) evaluation of the evolution of the demand for high-quality agri-food products and nutraceutical and functional products, as a consequence of new consumer lifestyles; 4) co-creation with sector stakeholders of strategies for the revival of the agri-food sector through the improvement of competitiveness, sustainability (economic, social, environmental), and resilience of the system.

The Industrial Research and Experimental Development lines through which to achieve the above objectives have been organized into a series of Work Packages (W.P). Below are the types of research (RI or SS) and the main themes addressed in the dedicated WP:

WP-SS-1 Innovations for the optimization of nutritional status and sustainability of phytosanitary defense in olive growing
WP-SS-2. Product and process innovation in the horticultural-floricultural sector
WP-SS -3 Veneto Greenhouse 4.0: Electrification and Digitalization

*The second purpose Functional Foods mainly consists of the characterization of foods that could improve immune response, interacting with the intestinal microbiota of animals of zootechnical interest (specifically monogastric animals) to define guidelines to be extended in the future also to the human organism. Knowledge related to the intestinal microbiota is constantly evolving given its influence and/or correlation with different aspects. Literature evidence indicates the influence of the intestinal microbiota on food absorption, modification of xenobiotic agents (including drugs), but also on the positive development of the functionality of the immune system, the onset of diseases, and the effect of prebiotics and postbiotics. The intestinal microbiota is composed of different species of bacteria, predominantly Firmicutes and Bacteroides, and can vary in quantity, depending on the state of well-being, the context in which one lives, and the lifestyle one leads, including nutrition. The microbial population of the intestine acts as a protective barrier thanks to the production of mucus, containing pathogenic microorganisms and, above all, keeps under control the immune system of the intestine defined as GALT (Gut-Associated Lymphoid Tissue). It is important, therefore, to guarantee the biodiversity of the microbiota, in order to strengthen the immune defenses to protect against potential pathogens including aggressive viruses. To achieve this goal, it is necessary to identify functional foods rich in fibers and proteins, accompanying the diet with supplements (also of plant origin) formulated on scientific evidence. Since there are several factors that characterize the intestinal microbiota and that have a different influence on each individual, it is necessary to identify a personalized diet, basing studies on nutrigenetics and nutrigenomics.

The project, therefore, highlights that highly innovative sectors such as functional food and "Smart-Food" require adequate research activity aimed at studying suitable raw materials and developing competitive finished products in this field. As already specified, the impact of new food products on individual well-being also depends on the interactions of food with the immune system, which in turn is influenced by the bacteria of the intestinal flora. This complex network of interactions must be evaluated with adequate experimental methods that not only concern the analysis of the microbiota but that also simultaneously study and evaluate some characteristics of the active principles (or more simply positively functional raw materials) and some characteristics such as digestibility, absorbency, etc.

Below are the types of research (RI or SS) and the main themes addressed in the dedicated WP:
WP-RI - 4 Qualification of raw materials for the improvement of food quality
WP -RI- 5 Development, validation, and execution of microbiological tests aimed at evaluating the maintenance of the functional properties of food ingredients
WP- SS - 6 Evaluation of the quality and functionality of food in relation to metabolism, health status, and well-being
WP-RI- 7 Improvement of the nutraceutical action of fish products

Overall, the project is not limited to the development of next-generation procedures for primary production but also includes the search for new raw materials and the development of finished products, and extends to the influence these can have on environmental sustainability, health, and well-being.

Allowable expenditure: € 2.860.626,79

Expected final contribution: € 1.914.047,75