Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

FP7

AREA Report Summary

Project ID: 316004
Funded under: FP7-REGPOT
Country: Serbia

Final Report Summary - AREA (ADVANCING RESEARCH IN AGRICULTURAL AND FOOD SCIENCES AT FACULTY OF AGRICULTURE, UNIVERSITY OF BELGRADE)

Executive Summary:
The Faculty of Agriculture (FA) University of Belgrade is the leading institution in Serbia carrying out research in the agricultural and food sciences. AREA project was built on the existing expertise of 13 FA multidisciplinary research teams and was a unique opportunity to improve and upgrade their research capacity by introducing cutting-edge DNA and Raman technologies that are common and relevant to all groups. The project upgraded expertise in methods and conceptual approaches in research areas targeting the most important challenges of Serbian and regional agriculture, namely: biotic and abiotic stresses; environmental protection and biodiversity; food safety and quality; new food products and biotechnology. The additional AREA group was formed to develop and implement the concept of intellectual property and innovation. The AREA project was realized through the activities of 6 work packages in the period from June 1st 2013 to 31st May 2016.
In collaboration with relevant EU organizations, improved research capacity of AREA teams was achieved through the activities of:
• 36 training visits of PhD/young researchers to EU labs to get skills in new state-of-the-art technologies and good laboratory practice; 10 visits of senior researchers to EU host institutions to prepare training activities, 34 fact finding visits to other EU institutions to identify areas of mutual research interest and discuss the potential for new research collaborations, 8 visits of EU hosts to FA and 18 seminars (WP1);
• increasing the dissemination and promotion of AREA research results by organizing 3 AREA International Conferences, 1 Workshop, World Café Workshop, participations of AREA teams at 63 other international conferences and publishing 50 manuscripts in international journals (WP2);
• appointing 3 experts for molecular biology and 1 for Raman to improve human research capacity and introduce new skills in research techniques (WP3);
• purchasing and commissioning new equipment (for Raman microscopy/spectroscopy, DNA molecular technology and establishment of 4 new DNA laboratories), upgrading and renewal of existing research equipment (allowing essential upgrades for project objectives completion) as well as training research staff in using the new facilities and spreading methods (published manuals) (WP4).
The impact of these actions taken is already significant: 4 Horizon 2020 projects funded, 5 bilateral and 2 educational EU projects; participation in 5 COST Actions, 1 network project, 9 defended PhD thesis and 19 in preparation.
Project website (www.area.agrif.bg.ac.rs), promotion materials (brochures, leaflets, posters), info days, agricultural fair exhibitions, exhibition at International Science Festival, media presentations (TV and radio shows), presentation on social networks promoted project to both scientific and non-scientific stakeholders (WP2).
The result of new gained IPI expertise is the establishment of new Faculty’s Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer, which prepared necessary IPI plans and documents, as well as technological and market portfolios for future commercialization of AREA group’s research (WP5). The project was successfully managed by Project’s coordinator, Managing Team and members of Steering Committee (WP6).
Performed AREA’s activities will ensure that Faculty’s researchers can deliver sustainable, innovative science and future research interactions at both national and European levels that will ensure highly productive, environmentally friendly and sustainable agriculture and food production in Serbia and beyond.

Project Context and Objectives:
The main aim of the AREA project was to reinforce and increase the research capacity of 13 FA groups at the Faculty of Agriculture (FA), University of Belgrade (Serbia) by implementing novel and innovative research technologies targeting more productive, environmentally friendly and sustainable agriculture and food science. Despite the importance of agriculture and the food industries to Serbia’s economy (value over 60% of all manufacturing in 2012), the country has limited financial resources, and often insufficient human capacities, for necessary increase of research expertise in agri-food domains.

Furthermore, financial difficulties in Serbia over many years (less than 0.3% of GDP is investigating in science) did not allow significant investment in leading-edge research technologies and training of researchers. Of special interest is also that AREA groups` new improved expertise targets the current agricultural production challenges not only in Serbia, but also in other Western Balkans countries (climate change, low level of productivity, food safety and security, environmental pollution, etc.). Within the AREA project the aim was also to introduce knowledge and skills for solving some of these challenges.

Strategic objectives of the AREA project were to improve research performance and innovation capacity in agricultural and food sciences and to improve the influence of AREA teams within the region and ERA. The AREA project, at the same time, improved research capacity and competitiveness of each team, allowing them to advance in their own state-of-the-art research programs. One of the goals was also to stimulate interactions among research teams through the introduction of technologies common and relevant to all AREA teams, which also provide competitive research opportunities, by strengthening implementation of the existing DNA technologies and introducing innovative, Raman microscopy/spectroscopy. These state-of-the-art technology having a wide range of applications (for assessment of plant and animal material, microorganisms, food and food technology processes, etc), provided unique opportunity for AREA research teams to make more rapid progress in their research and to increase the its sustainability beyond the project lifetime.

Achieving these objectives had required a European dimension because few of the skills and techniques to be acquired are available within either Serbia or the WBC region. Although a wide range of DNA technologies is already in use in Serbia, there is limited national capacity for training in the latest DNA technologies relevant for agricultural and food sciences, and nearly all expertise is in human and medical sciences. Also, the novelty of Raman technology applied by AREA project is that it was the first facility for analysis of biological and food materials and organic compounds in Serbia. The new AREA IPI expertise, managed by the fourteenth group of the project and with the help of the EU host institution, introduced a concept of IPI at FA with the aim to stimulate innovations and knowledge transfer and also to facilitate future commercial exploitation of AREA and FA research results.

The strategic AREA objectives lead to the following specific objectives:
1. Upgrading expertise and introducing new skills and innovation in competitive research for existing young and experienced researchers through two-way motilities for training between FA and EU host institutions and exchange of know-how.
2. Improving the impact of AREA teams’ interactions with scientific and non-scientific stake-holders within the ERA and the region to exchange and disseminate information and knowledge through conferences, workshops and a series of dissemination and promotional activities.
3. Increasing the sustainable research capacity and productivity of AREA teams through the recruitment of incoming experienced researchers, with mechanisms to retain them beyond the end of the project.
4. Increasing opportunities to carry out competitive, cutting-edge research by upgrading, and developing existing equipment and acquiring new state-of-the-art research equipment.
5. Preparing a Strategic Intellectual Property and Innovation (IPI) Capacity Building Plan that includes measures and activities to protect IPI and commercial exploitation of innovative results achieved not only through the AREA project, but also through the Faculty’s other market-oriented research activities.
To facilitate good project management and ensure transparency between the project objectives and the work to be done to achieve those objectives, the work plan was divided into six Work Packages according to each of the five specific objectives, which reflected the requirements of the REGPOT Work Programme.
Project work plan consisted of six work packages (WPs) with the specific objectives:
• WP1. Twinning through exchange of know-how and experience - to improve expertise of AREA researchers by exchanging know-how and experiences with excellent EU research groups and to ensure technology and knowledge transfer to the Faculty and organising research and training seminars
• WP2.Conferences, workshops, dissemination and promotional activities - to improve AREA teams’ interactions with all their scientific (especially EU) and non-scientific stakeholders at national, regional and international levels through exchanging information and knowledge transfer by organizing international conferences and a workshop, and also to improve the impact of AREA teams within Serbia, the region and the ERA through a series of dissemination and promotional activities describing the AREA project and its achievements.
• WP3. Recruitment of experienced researchers- to improve human research capacity and introduce new skills in research techniques and project management by recruiting two incoming international experienced researchers for molecular technologies and one researcher, expert in Raman spectroscopy
• WP4. Upgrading and acquisition of research equipment - to improve research capacity of AREA groups through purchasing and commissioning new equipment, upgrading and renewal existing research equipment as well as training research staff at FA in using the new facilities.
• WP5. Strategic Intellectual Property development plan and innovation capacity building - to support the knowledge transfer and innovation capacities of AREA and other FA staff through preparing a Strategic Intellectual Property Development Plan for IP (IPI) management and protection, and setting-up the Faculty’s Unit for Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer (UIPTT) which will encourage the concept of academic entrepreneurship.
• WP6. Project management- to manage and coordinate the activities of the project effectively and efficiently, to ensure targets and deliverables are achieved and to provide quality control underpinning their delivery.

The overall strategy of the work plan was to mobilize the critical mass of both material and human resources to meet project objectives.

Project Results:
The AREA project was realized at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Belgrade (Serbia) in the period from June 1st 2013 to 31st May 2016. The activities of the project, in line with the requirements of the REGPOT Work Programme, were carried out through 6 work packages. The main results obtained per work package are as follows.

WP1 - Twinning through exchange of know-how and experience
This WP was realized through four types of activities:
• Secondment visits of AREA young researchers to EU host institutions;
• Short term exchange visits of senior researchers;
• Research seminars for exchange of know-how and
• Training seminars at the Faculty of Agriculture

Task 1.1. Secondment visits of AREA young researchers to EU host institutions

The AREA project targeted introduction and implementation of two relevant, cutting-edge technologies: DNA-based technologies and Raman microscopy/spectroscopy in collaboration with the relevant EU host institutions. Task 1.1. activities have been focused on conducting and accomplishing trainings in research application of these two technologies. The aim of these trainings was to increase AREA teams and FA expertise by training young researchers and advanced students in current methods. The objectives were to acquire and master new techniques and different kinds of skills, to gain new knowledge, to produce sufficient results for publications and, upon returning to the Faculty of Agriculture, to upgrade the capacity of their entire team to implement novel technologies. In total 36 trainings were completed.
EU host institutions have been selected because of their suitability to allow the quality of training and exchange of expertise needed for each AREA group. They have all the resources (equipment, facilities, supervision support), as well as a demonstrated track record in training given to PhD students and visiting researchers and also they are active in international collaborative research and productive in research publications in international peer-reviewed journals. Their expertise was available not only in transferring the research skills and techniques needed by AREA researchers, but also in a range of other general skills in project management, research collaboration, proposal writing, scientific writing and presentations that were transferred to the visiting researchers.

Task 1.1.1. Training visits for DNA-based technologies
A total of 25 trainings was successfully accomplished as follows:
• PhD student and research assistant Ivana Petrović (PLANTPHYS group) completed two trainings in DNA-based technologies (May 12th – July 28th, 2014; January 28th – March 28th, 2015) both organised at the Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA), Avignon, France, under the supervision of Dr Nadia Bertin and Dr Mathilde Causse. Aims of these trainings were learning new skills and methods that will be applied in plant stress physiology, with the special attention on genetic bases of tomato plant response to drought stress and breeding drought resistant genotypes.
• Assistant professor Ivan Šoštarić (BIODIV group) finished two trainings in molecular markers and PCR-based techniques. First one took place at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading, UK, from April 26th – July 6th, 2014, under the supervision of Dr Alastair Culham, while the second one was at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Zagreb, Zagreb (Croatia), from 15th – 25th May, 2016, under the supervision of Prof. Zlatko Šatović. The aims of the trainings were to master a range of PCR-based methods in plant systematics and plant population and biodiversity studies, with emphasis on medicinal and aromatic plants.
• PhD student Mirjana Đokić (FRUITBREED group) completed the training in DNA-based technologies at the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Reading, UK from July 10th – September 12th, 2014, under the supervision of Dr. Paul Hadley, Dr. Matthew Ordidge and Dr. George Gibbings. The aim of the training was to learn new skills and molecular methods/DNA-based technologies, which will allow advancing research in fruit breeding.
• Assistant professor Dragana Božić, (WEEDSCI group) finished two trainings in DNA-based technologies at the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Reading, UK from July 7th – September 12th, 2014 and from 20th –30th May, 2016, under the supervision of Prof. Paul Hadley, Dr. George Gibbings and Edward Venison. The aims of the trainings were to learn molecular methods suitable for testing target site of weed/crop resistance to herbicides and to apply molecular methods for studies of gene flow from herbicide tolerant crops to wild/weedy relatives.
• Assistant Professor Igor Kljujev, (MICROBECOL group) attended the training in DNA-based technologies at the Helmholtz Zentrum Munchen, AMP Research Unit Microbe-Plant Interaction from March 8th – May 30th, 2014, under the supervision of Prof. Anton Hartmann. During the visit, he worked on the application of molecular methods in investigation of colonization of wheat root by Salmonella strains.
• Assistant Professor Milan Ivanović and research associate Dr Nemanja Kuzmanović, (PHYTOBAC group) completed the training in molecular-based techniques at the Dutch General Inspection Service (NAK), The Netherlands, from August 15th – October 24th, 2014, under the supervision of Dr Jaap Janse, Dr Miriam Kooman, Dr Robert Vreeburg and Mr Robert Bollema. The aim of the training was to estimate reliability, specificity and sensitivity of real-time PCR methods in detection of Clavibacter michiganensis and Ralstonia solanacearum in potato tubers, and to gain insights into large-scale potato testing for these bacterial pathogens.
• Assistant professor Ivana Stanković (MICRODIAG group) completed the training in DNA-based technologies at Dipartimento di Scienze del Suolo della Pianta e degli Alimenti, Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro, Bari, Italy from March 22nd – June 31st, 2014, under the supervision of Prof. Donato Gallitelli and Assistant professor Tiziana Mascia. The aim of the training was to acquire knowledge of and skills in molecular characterization of Cucumber mosaic virus (CMV) Serbian isolates by detection of specific RNAs using dot-blot hybridization method, cloning of genes encoded by CMV genome, and using RDP3 computer program for analysing recombination events in natural population of CMV originating from Serbia.
• Assistant professor Zorica Ranković Vasić (FRUITBREED group) completed two trainings in DNA-based technologies at the School of Biological Sciences, University of Reading, Reading (UK), from April 20th – May 23rd, 2015 and from 20th – 30th May, 2016, under the supervision of Prof. Paul Hadley, Dr. Matthew Ordidge and Dr. George Gibbings. The aims of the trainings were to master PCR-based methods in grapevine breeding studies, with special attention on analysing the variability between collected samples of different grapevine cultivars.
• PhD student Markola Saulić (WEEDSCI group) completed the training in DNA-based technologies at the School of Agriculture, Policy and Development, University of Reading, Reading, UK from April 20th – June 27th, 2015, under the supervision of Dr. Tijana Blanuša, Dr. Paul Hadley, Dr. Matthew Ordidge and Dr. George Gibbings. The aim of the training was to learn new skills and molecular methods/DNA-based technologies, which will allow the WEEDSCI team to advance research in variability of weed species population, with a particular focus on population of weedy sunflower (Helianthus annuus L.).
• Associate professor Zorka Dulić (AQUACARP group) finished training in DNA-based technologies at the Nofima Research Institute, Ås (Norway), from March 4th – May 16th, 2015, under the supervision of Dr. Bente Ruyter and Dr. Tone-Kari Knutsdatter. The aim of the training was focused on investigation of the minimum required levels of essential fatty acids (EPA and DHA) in Atlantic salmon.
• Research associate Ana Vučurović (MICRODIAG group) completed training in DNA-based technologies at Dipartimento di Scienze del Suolodella Pianta e degli Alimenti, Università degli Studi di Bari Aldo Moro, Bari (Italy), from October 4th – December 13th, 2014, under the supervision of Prof. Donato Gallitelli and Dr. Roberta Spanò. The aim of the training was to acquire knowledge and skills in testing tolerance/susceptibility of tomato cultivars against plant virus infection through surveying accumulation of genes included in gene silencing.
• PhD student Milica Pavlićević (FOODBIOCHEM group) completed two trainings in DNA-based technologies at the Department of Life Sciences, University of Parma, Parma, (Italy) from October 13th - December 13th, 2014, and from April 12th – June 12th, 2015, under the supervision of Prof. Nelson Marmiroli and Prof. Elena Maestri. The aims of the trainings were to learn new methods for extraction and quantification of nucleic acids from food matrices that could be used for analysis of food quality, as well as to learn methods for food traceability.
• PhD student Nemanja Mirković (FOODTECH group) finished two trainings. First one, on the use of DNA, RNA and protein based analyses of food matrices and their application in food traceability and food safety, was organized at the Department of Life Sciences, University of Parma, Parma (Italy), from October 13th – December 13th, 2014, under the supervision of Prof. Nelson Marmiroli and Prof. Elena Maestri. The advanced training in lactic acid bacteria and determination of bacteriocine genes was organized at the Department for Food Bioscience, Teagasc Food Research Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork (Ireland), from 17th –31st May, 2016 under the supervision of Dr. Paul D. Cotter.
• PhD student Nevena Zlatković (PHYTOBAC group) completed the training at The National Research Council (CNR), Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection (IPSP) in Bari (Italy), from November 30th –December 24th, 2015 under the supervision of Dr. Maria Saponari. The aim of the training was to acquire molecular knowledge on invasive plant pathogenic bacterium Xylellafastidiosa..
• PhD student Žaklina Pavlović (PHYTOBAC group) completed the training at The National Research Council (CNR), Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection (IPSP) in Bari (Italy), from April 18th – May 20th, 2016, under the supervision of Dr. Maria Saponari, with the aim to improve her knowledge on detection, identification, isolation and culture of several pathogenic bacteria.
• PhD student and research assistant Jovana Vunduk’s (FOODBIOTECH group) advanced training was organized from 4th – 18th May 2016 at Biotechnical Faculty, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia) under the supervision of Prof. Sonja Smole-Možina. The aim of the training was to obtain the knowledge and skills necessary for the evaluation of different biofilm-connected abilities of mushrooms extracts.
• PhD student Mira Vojvodić (MICRODIAG group) completed advanced training in genetic control and resistance of carrot/Alternaria dauci interaction at National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), Agrocampus-OuestInstitut de Rechercheen Horticulture et Semences IRHS, research team QuaRVeg (France), from 18th –28th May, 2016, under the supervision of Dr. Valérie Le Clerc.
• Assistant professor Tanja Petrović (IMMOBIOG group) completed advanced training in micro and nano encapsulation of active substances by different techniques at the University of Strasbourg, Faculty of Pharmacy, Strasbourg, (France), from 20th – 30th May, 2016 under the supervision of Prof. Thierry Vandamme.

Task 1.1.2 Training visits for Raman microscopy/spectroscopy
Eight secondment visits of AREA young researchers in Raman microscopy/spectroscopy were realized at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Friedrich Schiller University, Jena (Germany) under the supervision of Dr. Petra Rösch as well as 3 advanced trainings at the Faculty of Chemistry, Jagiellonian University in Krakow (Poland) under the supervision of Prof. Małgorzata Barańska. In total 11 trainings were successfully accomplished as follows:
• Assistant professor Božidar Rašković (AQUACARP group) was trained in Jena from March 10th - June 1st, 2014 to acquire basic knowledge of Raman microscope use in fish tissues, especially in muscles of different frozen fish fillets. In his advanced training in Krakow (18th –28th May, 2016) the aim was to advance the knowledge on FT-Raman spectrometry by mapping of animal cells and by applying chemometry methods.
• PhD student Aleksandar Nedeljković’s (FOODTECH group) training in Jena was conducted from March 10th – May 31st, 2014 with the overall aim to obtain basic knowledge and skills necessary for using Raman microscopy and FTIR spectroscopy in analyses of foodstuffs, especially in protein conformation changes of dairy products during intensive heat treatment.
• PhD student Ivana Todorović’s (BIODIV group) training was organised from June 2nd – August 11th, 2014 in Jena to learn about the potential of Raman microscopy/spectroscopy in fast and easy determination of plant samples, with the special emphasis on quantitative and qualitative content of essential oils in different species, as well as different morphological structures of important medical and spice plants.
• Assistant professor Ilinka Pećinar’s (FUNCROPS group) two trainings were organized in Jena (from June 2nd – August 11th, 2014 and from March 1st – April 29th, 2015) with the aim to obtain basic knowledge and skills necessary for using Raman microscopy in analysis of plant organs (especially fruits) and identification of specific metabolites. The third advanced training in Krakow (18th – 28th May, 2016) was devoted to the analyses of other plant organs and the use of Software OPUS.
• PhD student Danka Radić’s (MICROBECOL group) training took place from September 1st - November 28th , 2014, in Jena with the aim to obtain basic knowledge and skills necessary for using Raman microscopy for the characterization of microorganisms, particularly on monitoring the effect of heavy metals on yeast growth, as well as classification of different yeast species isolated from soil.
• PhD student and research assistant Jovana Vunduk’s (FOODBIOTECH group) training was organised from September 1st - November 28th, 2014, in Jena, with the aim to obtain basic knowledge and skills necessary for using Raman microscopy in observing the effects of different extracts of medicinal and edible mushrooms on selected yeasts and bacteria, as well as for characterization of medicinal mushrooms extracts.
• Teaching and research assistant Steva Lević (IMMOBIOG group) completed training in Jena (January 15th – April 13th, 2015.) with the aim to analyse the Raman spectra of several active compounds and biocatalysts (e.g. aromas, antioxidants, edible oils, yeast cells), carrier materials (natural lipid compounds and other carriers), to detect the active compound presence in their structure and to determine the surface properties of encapsulates and distribution of active compounds.
• Assistant professor Dragana Rančić (FUNCROPS group) completed advanced training in using Raman microscopy/spectroscopy for the in situ analysis of bioactive plant compounds, in Krakow (18th – 28th May, 2016).
The general conclusion of all trainees was that secondment visits were very useful, because they provided an opportunity not only to learn new methods and techniques, but also to gain experience of working in an international research environment. Also, secondment visits helped young researchers to further improve their language skills and to establish personal contacts that will be important in their future careers. Upon their return from the EU training institution, all young researchers have been actively engaged in demonstration of the newly acquired methods, as well as in preparing manuals. The EU hosts were also very satisfied with the quality of work done by the trainees.

Task 1.2. Short term exchange visits of senior researchers

Task 1.2.1. Visits of AREA senior researchers to EU partner institutions
The activities of Task 1.2.1. regarding planning and conducting visits of senior researchers from all 13 AREA research teams and Intellectual Property and Innovation team to EU training institutions, were already successfully accomplished during the first reporting period. The main goal of these visits was to carefully plan secondment visits and future trainings of each AREA team member, by specifically targeting appropriate research programs.
Prior to secondment visits, nine short-term visits of senior researchers to EU host institutions were organized to arrange and prepare detailed training plans in DNA-based technologies. Five short-term visits represented individual visits of senior researchers from PLANTPHYS, AQUACARP, MICROBECOL, PHYTOBAC and MICRODIAG teams to respective EU host institutions (INRA, France; Nofima Marine, Norway; Helmholtz Zentrum München, Germany; NAK, The Netherlands; University of Bari and University of Parma, Italy). In one case, University of Reading, UK was visited by a group of senior researchers (BIODIV, WEEDSCI, and FRUITBREED teams). Visit of FOODBIOCHEM team leader to the University of Parma, Italy, resulted in an additional training of FOODTECH team’s young researcher.
The details of Raman microscopy/spectroscopy trainings were planned during visit to the Institute of Physical Chemistry of Friedrich Schiller Universität Jena (Germany) of six senior researchers representing different AREA teams and recruited expert in Raman spectroscopy (FOODTECH, IMMOBIOG, FOODBIOTECH, BIODIV, FUNCROPS, AQUACARP and MICROBECOL). Also, the FOODBIOCHEM team leader visited Raman Imaging Group, University, Krakow (Poland) in order to organize advanced trainings in Raman technique. During this short-term visit, additional trainings were arranged for two young researchers from FUNCROPS and one from AQUACARP team.

Task 1.2.2 Fact finding visits to other EU institutions to increase networking
Short-term fact finding visits for all team leaders or senior researchers were conducted to other EU institutions to identify areas of mutual research interest and discuss the potential for new research collaborations, especially Horizon 2020. The main goals of fact finding visits of AREA senior researchers were the increase in networking and preparation of new research project proposals. During the project realization, in order to strengthen the efforts and maximize the effectiveness of all AREA teams’ future integration in the ERA with non-host EU institutions, 35 fact finding visits were conducted.

Task 1.2.3 Hosting EU experts
These activities have been focused on planning and conducting visits of EU host institutions representatives and other renowned scientists with long lasting cooperation between their institutions and FA. Hosting 8 experts of the corresponding AREA research teams at the Faculty of Agriculture had a goal to help with implementation of molecular procedures performed during secondment visits, supervision of the trainees’ work, data discussion and analysis, as well as to reinforce the existing collaboration and to plan future cooperation. Also, hosting EU experts enabled AREA teams to improve working processes and practices in the newly-established laboratories.

Task 1.3 Research seminars for exchange of know-how

The aim of Task 1.3. was organization of seminar series for exchange of know-how among AREA researchers with distinguished and experienced researchers and university professors from abroad as well as amongst research staff at the Faculty of Agriculture. Research seminars (in total 17) were organized as the scientific programme which included cutting-edge and basic science. In addition to research seminars given by renowned researchers, junior research staff and PhD students from Faculty of Agriculture also gave seminars during this period on progress of their current research and unpublished data. Furthermore, two week-long mini-courses were realized. The first one "Course in professional speaking skills" helped the attendees to raise their professional speaking skill level through focused practice and critical feedback, and the other "Workshop on responsible conduct of research" to understand research ethics as a key aspect of the "soft skills" needed for a successful career in scientific research.
Interaction and exchange of scientific knowledge, practice, experiences and skills are very important because they provide valuable opportunities for transferring knowledge on latest research development and expanding AREA teams’ expertise. Research seminars were particularly important for young researchers at an early stage in their career, not only for ones from AREA project but also for others from the Faculty. The seminars were attended by AREA senior and young researchers, but were also open to the entire scientific community.

Task 1.4. Training seminars at the Faculty of Agriculture

Two seminars were organised as short one-day courses and they covered a broad range of topics, addressing good scientific practice and introducing young researchers to efficient presentation of obtained scientific results. More specifically, training seminars aimed to upgrade the perceptions of a variety of generic research skills important to support AREA researchers’ career developments.

WP2 - Conferences, workshops, dissemination and promotional activities
To improve AREA teams’ interactions with all their scientific and non-scientific stakeholders at national, regional and international levels the different activities were organised including 3 international conferences and 2 workshops as well as a series of other dissemination activities which promoted the AREA project and its achievements.

Task 2.1. Organizing the international conference: “EU project collaborations - challenges for research improvement in agriculture “

This international conference “EU project collaborations - challenges for research improvement in agriculture“ was held in Belgrade at the Faculty of Agriculture in the period between 2nd and 4th June, 2014. Its aim was to promote the importance of international research collaboration in the fields of agriculture and food science. The conference was designed as a stimulating forum for exchange of ideas, information, knowledge and experiences with the goal of helping scientists from Serbia and other West Balkan countries to improve their opportunities for international collaborative research and become more familiar with activities of EU projects. The programme of 3-day Conference included 21 plenary lectures, 11 oral and 57 posters presentations. The total number of participants was 140. Moreover, a Book of Conference Abstracts with ISBN has been prepared and distributed to all attendees of the Conference. Majority of plenary lectures presentations as well as Book of Conference Abstracts are available on project web-site (www.area.agrif.bg.ac.rs).

Task 2.2 Organizing International Conference: “Aquaculture and Fishery“

The “7th International Conference WATER & FISH“ was held at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Belgrade, from June 10th – 12th, 2015. This is one of the series of international conferences on “Aquaculture and Fishery”, organised regularly every two years since 2003. Consequently, the focus of topics at this conference was mainly aquaculture (AQUACARP team). The aim of the Conference was: to present recent research results; exchange knowledge; enable networking of scientists; strengthening regional, European, and global cooperation between researchers in the area of aquatic sciences, aquaculture, water management, and fishery. A three day Conference Programme included 14 plenary lectures, 21 oral and 78 posters presentations of 396 authors from 28 countries. The total number of conference participants was 273 from 30 countries. The Book of Conference Abstracts with the ISBN has been prepared and distributed to all attendees of the Conference.

Task 2.3 Organizing the International Conference: “Molecular and Raman technologies in Agricultural and Food Sciences“

The international conference entitled: “State-of-the-art technologies: challenge for the research in Agricultural and Food Sciences“, was organized at the end of year 3 of project AREA, from 18th to 20thApril, 2016 at the Tulip Inn Hotel in Belgrade. The main aim was to present the possibility to apply new state-of the art technologies in the field of agriculture and food sciences. The Conference included the achievement of the AREA project in Plant, Animal, Microbial and Food Sciences as a result of new expertise in DNA-based and Raman microscopy/spectroscopy technologies. A three day Conference Programme included a total of 117 presented papers, 15 plenary lectures, 22 oral and 80 poster presentations from 384 authors from 21 countries. The total number of registered participants was 164. A Book of Conference Abstracts, with ISBN, was published and distributed to all Conference attendees and is available at web addresses:
http://www.area.agrif.bg.ac.rs/sites/default/files/area_conference_2016_-_book_of_abstracts.pdf
The proceedings of all conferences were published (Task 2.4.).

Task 2.5. Organising the International Workshop: “AREA networking”

The International Workshop entitled „AREA Networking“ was held from 15th to 16th May 2015 at the Faculty of Agriculture, University of Belgrade, with the aim to discuss opportunities for future collaborations with potential stakeholders in terms of topics of mutual interest, potential consortium compositions, funding opportunities, commercialization of AREA innovations etc. The Workshop programme included ten plenary lectures held by the invited speakers (the experts from the EU and collaborators of AREA teams) and panel discussions in four parallel sessions (Plant sciences: Biodiversity and breeding perspectives; Weed management and Phytopathology; Environmental genomics: Challenge for identification of pathogens and contaminants and bioremediation and Food quality, safety and security). During designated sessions, young AREA trainees presented their new expertise gained in host EU institutions. Furthermore, AREA researchers demonstrated new project equipment and facilities to potential future collaborators. In total 130 participants attended the Workshop. The official language of the Workshop was English. All plenary lectures are available on AREA web site (www.area.agrif.bg.ac.rs).

Task 2.6. World Café workshop

The “World Café” Workshop, organized by the AREA project, was held at the “Tulip Inn Putnik” hotel in Belgrade, on December 1st, 2015. The overall objective of the Workshop was to improve communication and to build more effective relationships between SMEs and the food industry on one side, and AREA project participants on the other. At the beginning of the event, the AREA project, its objectives and achievements were presented to the audience. Upgraded analytical methods and improved scientific expertise of the Faculty of Agriculture gained since the beginning of the project have also been emphasized. The program also included lectures held by the relevant invited speakers from different thematic areas such as: possibility of SMEs’ participation in Horizon 2020, current state and future perspectives of SMEs in Serbia, good examples of successful collaboration between practice and science, as well as basic knowledge about Intellectual properties. A three hour discussion, which was held in smaller groups divided by topic areas (plant production, food technology and biochemistry, fruit breeding, weed science, phytobacteriology, plant virology and fungus microbial ecology, aquaculture), gave speakers and participants an opportunity for brainstorming and exchanging innovative ideas.
All AREA groups invited several presenters from relevant SMEs, covering different themes in agriculture and food technology and 80 participants attended the Workshop. The event was also covered by media. The official language was Serbian. All lectures were sent to Workshop participants by e-mail and are also available on the AREA web site (www.area.agrif.bg.ac.rs).

Task 2.7 Developing and maintaining the AREA project web site

The AREA project website (www.area.agrif.bg.ac.rs) was essentially the project’s shop window to the world. It has been established through FA’s existing website (www.agrif.bg.ac.rs). The AREA website homepage provides project summary and project details (project full title, acronym, funding body, call identifier, project number, project beneficiary and project coordinator). Detailed project information is provided in 12 sections with the content concerning the description of the project and work packages activities, deliverables (publicly available and password-protected), events, dissemination activities (scientific and community), participants, existing and new formed laboratories, presented project leaflet, links. From the beginning of the project and its establishment, the website is consistently and timely updated to ensure that the content is up-to-date and that visitors are informed of latest news and kept in touch with the progress of the project.

Task 2.8 Printed material to promote the project research teams and their potential technological and market portfolio

Various publicity materials were produced in order to promote research of the AREA teams and their potential technological and market portfolios. Promotional and dissemination activities within AREA have begun at the beginning of the project, when information about AREA objectives and activities was prepared. Project poster, brochures and hand-outs are prepared in English and in Serbian. The publicity material (posters, brochures, leaflets) hand-outs have been displayed by AREA participants to the public and scientific stakeholders at AREA project meetings and conferences, international scientific conferences, national and regional commercial exhibitions, to FA visitors, as well as to EU partner institutions upon AREA staff visits.

Task 2.9 Scientific dissemination of AREA’s research

Each AREA team promoted its own research progress during the AREA project by publishing research results in peer-reviewed international journals and presenting them at relevant national and international scientific meetings covering relevant research areas. During the project lifetime, 50 scientific articles have been published in international journals and the members of AREA teams participated in 63 international and regional conferences or symposia (including AREA international Conference). In scientific events AREA members presented results in the form of lectures, oral presentations or posters (in total 243).

Task 2.10 Commercial and community dissemination of the AREA activities and results

During project life time significant effort was made to disseminate the activities and results of the AREA project to non-scientific stakeholders. For this purpose, 19 info-days were organised in several cities in Serbia in collaboration with local representatives of Agricultural Extension Services and several agricultural faculties. The broad audience included farmers, plant protection experts, food producers, other relevant industries and policy-makers). The special info-day was organised in Petnica Science Center which is the biggest and, probably, the oldest independent non-profit organization for extracurricular, informal science education for youth in South Eastern Europe. The aim was to promote the AREA results to the Petnica`s participants (primary-school pupils, secondary school and university students and science teachers). The info-days were also organised together with several scientific stakeholders.
All these events were a unique opportunity for non-scientific stakeholders to improve their knowledge on new technologies relevant for successful agricultural production and to establish the contacts for future commercial exploitation of AREA`s results.

Task 2.11 Exhibitions at food and agriculture fairs

During the project`s life time AREA was an exhibitor at 5 national and international fairs, as followed:
• 64th International Trade Fair of Consumer Goods (ITF - Agrofood 2014) which was held from 5th to 8th November 2014 in Skopje, FYR Macedonia.
• 82th Agricultural Fair held from 9th to 15th, May 2015, in Novi Sad (Serbia).
• INDAGRA 2015, fair organised in Bucharest, Romania, from 28th October to 1st November 2015.
• Agrotica, fair organised between 28th and 31st January, 2016, at Thessaloniki (Greece)
• 83th Agricultural Fair, held in Novi Sad (Serbia) from 14th to 20th May, 2016.

For all fairs the indoor exhibition stand was rented and the promotional material was prepared in the forms of brochures and leaflets, banners and roll-up. By project’s leader and other trained stand staff, visitors were familiarized with the project, new laboratories and equipment, as well as with the new expertise that is used or will be used in the future AREA technological and market portfolios. Furthermore, the Faculty of Agriculture study programmes were also presented. During the fairs, meetings with potential users of services that can be provided by the implementation of the AREA project expertise were also held.

Media coverage of the fairs and presenting the AREA project at the fairs was also good. Furthermore, it should be emphasized that among the visitors to AREA stand at the 82th Agricultural Fair in Novi Sad were the Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister of Serbia, Mr. Dušan Vujović (he opened the Fair), Minister of Agriculture and Environmental Protection Prof. Snežana Bogosavljević Bošković and director of the Italian Trade Commissions Embassy in Belgrade (Italy was elected as a Friend of the Fair), Mr. Giovanni Mafodda. These distinguished guests were informed that AREA project is granted by EC to utilize know-how for increasing agricultural productivity and quality and safety of food in Serbia.

Participation of AREA project in this type of commercial and community dissemination activities was very successful and gave the unique opportunity to target contacts with different stakeholders and to present in the face-to-face meetings technological portfolio of AREA groups and its future commercialization.

Task 2.12. Media briefings

The project had a PR officer in charge of the press and media releases, who ensured that various media sources were kept informed of major project events. For dissemination of AREA project results and information different communication channels were used, such as national and regional mass media (TV and radio). The list of shows is as follows:
• 3 National radio shows (Radio Belgrade1 show „The main focus” and Radio Belgrade 202 shows „202 reasons” and ”Ambassadors of Serbia” );
• 1 Regional TV show (Macedonian National television, Trade Fair interview);
• 6 National TV shows (Belgrade 1- House of Science and Scientific Program shows; TV Prva - shows “The agricultural host” and “The fruits of the good land“, TV Vojvodina - show on presentation of World Café workshop and show about AREA and interviews with young AREA researchers).

Task 2.14 Stakeholder and media contacts database

Project’s dissemination activities were audience-oriented. Database which contains the basic data on different stakeholders was established and constantly updated during Project`s lifetime with the aim to provide a resource of contacts to be kept informed of the AREA project and its progress and activities. The database was also created to improve AREA teams’ interactions with their scientific and non-scientific stakeholders, at national, regional and international levels. In the established database the several groups of stakeholders are identified including
• Governmental organizations;
• Academic and Research institutions;
• SMEs and bio-industry and
• Media

Keeping up with current trends, it has been recognized within the AREA project that an online presence is necessary for contemporary research dissemination and engaging with the public. The effective social networks were used, such as LinkedIn.

Task 2.15. Networking and Synergy Development

Networking with EU institutions has continuously been done from the beginning of the project. These activities allowed AREA staff to participate in different consortia, which resulted in funding 4 Horizon 2020 projects, 5 bilateral and 2 educational EU projects and participation in 5 COST Actions and 1 network project.

WP3 Recruitment of experienced researchers

The AREA project recruited 4 experienced researchers who have gained significant experience abroad and who have demonstrated valuable skills and expertise in molecular biology (Dr. Vesna Rapić Otrin, Dr. Smilja Teodorović and Dr. Dimitrije Krstić) and Raman microscopy/spectroscopy (M.Sc. Dejan Lazić). The recruited scientists were those whose scientific qualifications and personality assured that they would be well integrated into newly established laboratories and served as facilitators in disseminating a new knowledge and methods in molecular biology and Raman microscopy/spectroscopy, for assessment of numerous and different samples (plant, animal material, microbial populations, food products and biotechnological materials).
The main activity of recruitments was the constant individual work with young researchers. This was achieved through the "open door" sessions and the main objective for recruitment team was to help young researchers to solve specific problems in the application of new skills and techniques related to DNA technologies and Raman microscopy/spectroscopy. Furthermore, they helped to the trainees to transfer the knowledge which has been acquired in the EU host institutions to other members of the AREA groups. They also helped to young researchers to improve and publish their research. The recruitment team was engaged in preparing young researchers for oral and poster presentations at the AREA’s and other workshops and conferences. It was also very important to engage all members of the recruitment team in the new established laboratories in order to make them functional and also to advance activities in the existing DNA laboratories.

A team of recruited researchers took a comprehensive approach in designing seminar series. Training seminars were primarily intended for young AREA`s researchers and PhD students, providing them with tools to advance their research through introduction of new skills and techniques, as well as with tools for disseminating their advanced research. In total 8 research training seminars relevant for young researchers were organised including:
• PCR – Current Technology and Application in Food Science
• Polymerase Chain Reaction and Biological Sequence Analysis
• Bioinformatic tools for sequence analysis
• Molecular Identification of Bacteria
• Genetically Modified Organisms as Biosensors
• Raman Spectroscopy in Food and Agricultural Sciences
• How to prepare an outstanding oral presentation
• How to prepare a powerful scientific poster

During the third year of project Dr. Dimitrije Krstić and M.Sc. Dejan Lazić organized and facilitated 7 “AREA Beer and Chips” dissemination and networking meetings for PhD students and young researchers. The aim of these meetings were to: share experience and knowledge gained through AREA organized training activities of young researchers in EU host laboratories and increase interactions between PhD students and researchers belonging to various research groups of the AREA project. This scientific part was followed by a free discussion in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere with the aim to increase the group interactions and cohesiveness. During this, less formal, part of the meeting participants also shared the troubleshooting issues and challenges of implementing newly acquired knowledge into their daily work. „AREA Beer and Chips“ proved to be very beneficial for dissemination of know-how among young researchers belonging to various groups of the AREA project, but also became a meeting point for discussion of possible new collaborations among different research groups and laboratories at the Faculty of Agriculture. Therefore, “AREA Beer and Chips” meetings were organized to ensure dissemination and sustainability of the acquired expertise and skills.

The recruitments together with the trainee, prepared the bilingual manual:“Application of molecular methods and Raman microscopy/spectroscopy in agricultural sciences and food technology”. In this manual the basic principles of DNA and Raman technologies were explained by recruitments, while specific protocols for different samples (plant, fish, food, microbiology, food technologies) are written by AREA trainees.

WP4 Upgrading and acquisition of research equipment

The modern research equipment and technologies are crucial for competitive research of all AREA teams, and the whole Faculty. In particular, DNA technologies have become ubiquitous and fully-integrated into research programmes of the best agricultural science laboratories around Europe. Although 6 AREA teams are using PCR-based DNA methods to support their research, the application of DNA technologies to research of other AREA teams was long overdue. To overcome this weakness, the plan of AREA project was to establish 4 new laboratories to allow PCR-based DNA technologies to be introduced, to invest in Raman microscopy/spectroscopy as state–of-the art technique relevant for almost all groups and to re-equip the existing laboratories. Without this investment, the Faculty of Agriculture will not be able to carry out competitive, cutting-edge research.

Task 4.1. Selecting the most appropriate quotation

Selection of the most appropriate equipment quotation took place from the beginning of project. It was a complex task, which required market analysis in order to compare different models of various pieces of equipment, offered by companies and suppliers. The selection of the most appropriate quote was based on several criteria:
• price
• equipment quality and compatibility
• warranty conditions
• future maintenance possibilities
• installation time

Task 4.2. Equipment purchase, installation and commissioning

Following the procedure of collecting and selecting best offers, the purchase was done for three types of AREA`s equipment:
1. Raman microscope/spectroscope with accessories and FTIR equipment
2. Equipment for 4 laboratories starting up DNA technologies
3. Other equipment and upgrades essential to complete project objectives (texture analyser-rheometer, autoclaves, environmentally-controled chambers, facilities for preparing and keeping samples of all groups, etc.).
New equipment is installed in dedicated laboratory space, and each team nominated person to be responsible for the commissioning and testing of their own equipment.

The 4 newly opened laboratories starting up DNA technologies started to work:
1. Laboratory for molecular biology of fish and other aquatic microorganisms
2. Molecular laboratory for microbial ecology
3. Laboratory of molecular characterization of fruit trees and grapevine
4. Molecular laboratory for plant taxonomy and resistance to pesticides

In the course of the up-grade of the four laboratories, EU standards and recommendations for high level efficiency and safety were taken into consideration.

Task 4.3. Preparation of equipment manuals, DNA protocols, health and safety information

For each new item of equipment, method and protocol, manuals have been prepared in both Serbian and English. In total 32 manuals were published. As it was explained in WP3 activities, additionally, and not planned by Annex I, the manual “Application of molecular methods and Raman microscopy/spectroscopy in agricultural sciences and food technology” is prepared for publishing. The decision of the Faculty`s Scientific and Teaching Board and Publishing Committee was that this manual will be used as a text book for Faculty’s PhD students.

In addition to purchasing and commissioning the equipment, each AREA team was provided with consumables to cover the costs of familiarisation with the new facilities and to introduce new methods. To ensure greater visibility and impact of the new research potential of AREA groups, the leaflets explaining new facilities and expertise of AREA groups have been prepared and distributed to scientific and non-scientific stakeholders during different meetings, congresses and other events.

WP 5. Strategic Intellectual Property development plan and innovation capacity building

Intellectual Property and Innovation (IPI) objectives of the AREA project were achieved through training AREA researchers to understand IPI issues and knowledge transfer mechanisms and the preparation of the Faculty’s IPI plan and measures for its implementation and upgrading. As the result of such approach the capacity of AREA teams to provide a market perspective and sustainability of their research was increased. The IPI objectives were accomplished through the activities whose explanation is following.

Task 5.1. Trainings of staff and raising their awareness and skills regarding IPI

In total 4 training seminars were organised for participants of different AREA groups and leaded by INTPRO group. The goal of the first seminar (Task 5.1.1. Basics of Intellectual Property Rights (IPR)) was to introduce and increase general IPI knowledge and knowledge about legislation procedures in Serbia, whereas the second one-day seminar was devoted to advancing IPR knowledge (Task 5.1.2. Advanced seminar on Intellectual Property Rights). Both seminars were organized by the Intellectual Property Office of the Republic of Serbia in Belgrade. The lectures were given jointly by experts from the Intellectual Property Office of the Republic of Serbia and the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Water Management. Seminars were organized in Belgrade.

The goal of the third IPI seminar was to improve IP knowledge by presenting the state of the art of IPR with special emphases on the EU and regional legislation; instructions for engagement of IPR in research publications, projects and MSc or PhD theses; repairing technological and market portfolio on technology and commercialization of research innovations (Task 5.1.3. Knowledge transfer and innovation capacities). The fourth training course was organized with the aim to address the spin-off phenomenon and give a more detailed explanation of the processes leading to its establishment at the university (Task 5.1.4. Academic entrepreneurship and spin-off creation practices). These courses were organized by experts of the AREA subcontractor – the University of Zagreb, Technology Transfer Office (TTO) and they were held in Zagreb. The TTO was chosen as a subcontractor because the legislation procedure for intellectual property rights is very similar in Croatia and Serbia. Furthermore, TTO has an effective infrastructure for successful transfer of knowledge and innovation from University to the industry and market. The Panel discussion was also organized by startup/spinout founders and incubator representatives from Croatia. It should be stressed that members of AREA teams, while taking part in a panel discussion, gained useful knowledge on how the knowledge acquired during the seminars can be practically applied as well as on the experiences of start-up/spinout incubator founders and representatives.

Task 5.2. Expertise mapping and technology auditing for the AREA groups

The technology audit of AREA groups was made by screening and inventorying its current research and potential technological assets. Using the Strategic IPI plan (D.5.3.) and their new-developed IPI skills, key researchers of AREA groups, guided by the staff from the Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer prepared necessary materials. For preparing technological and market portfolios for different AREA commercial and community dissemination activities (Workshop and World Café, fairs, info days) market-look procedure was also applied. The aim was to assess the application potential of AREA research from market aspect.

Task 5.3. Preparing a Strategic Intellectual Property Development plan for IP (IPI) management and protection and innovation capacity building

Strategic Intellectual Property and Innovation plan, as a part of AREA project activities, defines the long-term strategy of the Faculty of Agriculture (FA) in relation to the management of Intellectual Property and Knowledge or Innovation Transfer , including a strategy for how these activities should be pursued for commercialization of research activities and future spinouts. The plan also includes guiding principles related to the effective management of IPR exploitation and knowledge transfer (IPR Guidelines). The IPI plan is prepared by WP5 leader and IPI-trained AREA staff working in the newly established Office for Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer (OIPTT Office) at the Faculty. The plan was approved by Faculty’s Teaching-Scientific Body and it is included in the Statute of the Faculty as an additional document.

Task 5.4. Establishment of an administrative body dealing with IP and Technology Transfer at the Faculty.

The Office of Intellectual Property and Technology Transfer (OIPTT) was established as a Faculty’s unit with the aim to help in recognising, protecting and exploiting the AREA’s and whole Faculty research discoveries and innovations.

Task 5.5. Preparing a technological and market portfolio and market technology transfer schemes for AREA groups

Using their newly-developed IPI skills, key researchers of AREA groups together with the INTPRO group assessed in detail IP titles, their technology transfer possibility and market capacity. Such market technology transfer analyses showed that the new AREA gained expertise of technologically more oriented AREA groups (FOODBIOCHEM, FOODBIOTECH, FOODTECH and IMMOBIOG) has a significant potential for „patentability” but currently their technological assets are still in the early phase of development and not ready for IPR. Market-analyses confirmed that other AREA groups, oriented more to the primary agricultural productions, environmental protection and IPI services, also have opportunities for commercialization of their AREA gained expertise in the future (different extension services and trainings, diagnostics, DNA fingerprints, traits useful for plant and fish breeding, mapping plant population, expert consulting services, etc.).

The potential commercial impact of exploitation of knowledge transfer of each group will be elaborated in the next part of the final report (the potential impact).

Task 5.6. Commercialization of research capacity and spin-off creation

Future commercialization of the research capacities of the AREA groups and the whole Faculty and establishment of spin-offs as a future model for partnership between Faculty, bio-industry and SMEs will be one of the most important impact of the AREA project.

WP6. Project management

The objectives of project management were to organise and coordinate the activities and interactions amongst WPs to ensure that all deliverables and milestones are achieved efficiently and in accordance to the Annex I. The AREA project was a very big team with the total 81 staff and PhD students and therefore overall managing structure was designed to provide efficient technical and financial management of activities, necessary administration, general coordination and supervision.

Overall management structure

The project organisation consisted of three levels of management:
1. Project Coordinator (Prof. Radmila Stikić )
2. WP leaders
(Profs. Branka Krstić, Zorica Jovanović, Vera Raičević, Biljana Vucelić-Radović and Dipl Iurr. Bogdan Mladenović)
3. Leaders of 14 teams
(Profs. Radmila Stikić, Zora Dajić Stevanović, Sofija Pekić Quarrie, Dragan Nikolić Sava Vrbničanin, Branka Krstić, Aleksa Obradović, Vera Raičević, Biljana Vucelić-Radović, Zoran Marković, Predrag Puđa, Miomir Nikšić, Viktor Nedović and Dipl.Iurr. Bogdan Mladenović)

Project coordinator, WP leaders and leaders of AREA’s teams were the members of the Project Management Team (PMT). Project coordinator had day-to-day responsibilities regarding the administrative, financial and contractual issues related to the project. Work Package leaders were responsible for managing the tasks in each of the project’s work packages, whereas 14 team leaders were responsible for the implementation of AREA activities in their research groups (training visits, installing equipment, learning new skills, technologies, etc.) and for communication with the WP leaders. Project activities were also supported by the project secretary (Dr Milena Marjanović) whose activities consisted of collecting administrative data of interest for the entire project, while the Financial Secretary’s (Milica Stanivuković) responsibilities included collection of all financial data and invoices necessary for Project’s activities, as well as data needed for Commission reports.
The Project management Team (PMT) was supported with advices from the project Steering Committee (SC). The Steering Committee (SC) was a non-executive body with the aim to provide advice and guidance on progress within the project.
The Steering Committee (SC) consisted of 12 members (8 representatives of host institutions, 1 of subcontracting IPI institution, 1 governmental representative and 2 SMEs):
1. Dr. Tijana Blanuša, University of Reading, UK, president
2. Dr. Nadia Bertin,INRA,France
3. Dr. Petra Roesch,Jena, Germany
4. Dr. Matthew Ordidge,University of Reading, UK
5. Dr. Jaap Janse, NAP, The Netherland
6. Dr. Tiziana Mascia, University of Bari, Italy
7. Dr. Marijana Todorčević, Nofima, Norway
8. Prof. Elena Maestri, University of Parma, Italy.
9. Dr. Vlatka Petrović, University of Zagreb, Croatia
10. Ms. Željka Dukić, Serbian Ministry of Education, science and Technological Development
11. Mr. Radomir Spasojević, SME
12. Mr. Krum Anastasov, SME.

Projects meetings and communications

All members of AREA are from the Faculty, and therefore the communication within the project was easy (either face-to-face or via e-mail or telephone). Communication with the SC members was also effective (usually by e-mail). In addition to day-to-day contact, to ensure effective project management the following meetings were organised:

1. Kick-off meeting (participation of EC officer, SC members and PMT) and 3 annual project meetings (combined with the SC meetings at the end of year 1, 2 and 3)
2. Monthly meetings of the Project Management Team (27)
3. Three meetings with all AREA project participants
4. One meeting with the Faculty Managing Board
5. Two meetings with the EC officers

Because of the obligations of SC members and to minimize the visit expenses, the ST meetings were organised to coincide with the kick-off meetings, 2 International AREA conferences and AREA Workshop. During these meetings the SC members were informed about the WPs activities. Also, they had useful discussions with the young AREA members about their experiences during trainings in EU and their future research activities and planning. General conclusion of SC members participating at the last meeting was they were very impressed with all the activities and progress of AREA project.

PMT meetings were organized monthly (with the exception of the holiday period) and in general, the responsibilities were: to monitor, review and approve the activities and progress of tasks in each WP against the WP timetable. Meetings with all AREA project participants were organized to inform members of AREA teams about the activities and progress of the project. During the third year, WP coordinator and WP leaders organized one meeting with the Faculty Managing Board to inform them about the final activities of AREA project.

Two meetings were also organised with the EC Officers in Brussels and in both meetings participants were AREA coordinator Prof. Radmila Stikic and WP5 leader Bogdan Mladenovic. They participated in Workshop: Contribution of "Research Potential" and "Regions of Knowledge" to synergies of EU policies, organised in Brussels on December 7th, 2015. During the Workshop they had an opportunity to organise short meeting with project’s EC legal Officer Annamaria Zonno. The aim of the second meeting organised in EC Office in Brussels (17th March 2015) was to discuss with AREA Project officers Annamaria Zonno and Adriana Ocovanova in EC Office in Brussels about the project’s report and future activities.

Project reporting procedure

Because of the complexity and numerous project’s activities, PMT prepared template for different reporting documents at the beginning of the project. These internal documents were prepared in order to help the project staff in reporting their work in all WPs. Reporting document was prepared for each secondment and senior visit, participations in various scientific events, fairs, info days, published papers, different seminars, purchased equipment, etc. After approval, all the reports were signed by team leader, WP leader and the coordinator. The documents were a part of the internal AREA documentation of WPs activities and were included in the agenda of PMT meetings. On the basis of these reports, WP leaders and the coordinator prepared deliverable reports and reports for the Commission. In total, two periodic reports and 1 final activity report were prepared to inform the Commission about all activities of the project and, budget expenditure and distribution. The project coordinator submitted all necessary reports to the Commission within the required deadlines.

Potential Impact:
Experiences of developed countries point out to the fact that the pathway to economic growth and competitiveness is largely connected to research and innovation and this is significant challenge for Serbia and other EU Associate Countries from Western Balkan (WB). Therefore, one of the most important potential impact of AREA project is upgrading of the RTD capacity and capability and quality of research that will facilitate AREA research teams to participate more effectively in the European Research Area, national and regional research projects, and at the same time to deliver some of the solutions to improve sustainable agricultural production.

AREA project already allowed a significant increase in the research capacity, capability and quality of all AREA teams by introducing state-of-the-art techniques, exchange of know-how and development of new cutting-edge research portfolios in the areas of food and biotechnology, agricultural production and environmental protection. The numerous senior visits and trainings of young researchers in EU excellent research institutions, recruitment of experienced researchers and improved research infrastructure (by purchasing new and upgrading the existing equipment, opening 4 new laboratories, purchase of Raman equipment) gave an opportunity to AREA researchers to introduce DNA molecular methods and Raman microscopy/spectroscopy in their different multi-disciplinary research areas. Introducing these new technologies to upgrade current research of AREA teams was also a multidisciplinary cohesive factor for their future research collaborations within the Faculty, as well as for external research collaborations developed through the project.

DNA technologies have become ubiquitous and fully-integrated into research programmes of the best agricultural science laboratories around Europe. Although some AREA teams are now using PCR-based DNA methods to support their research (PLANTPHYS, PHYTOBAC, MICRODIAG, FOODBIOTECH, FOODBIOCHEM) their laboratories needed re-equipment, while the application of DNA technologies to research of other AREA teams was long overdue. To overcome this weakness AREA budget was used, to upgrade the equipment and accessories in existing laboratories and to purchase necessary equipment and facilities to allow PCR-based DNA technologies to be introduced in 4 new laboratories. Two research laboratories were established for plant sciences and are used by 3 AREA groups (one shared between BIODIV, and WEEDSCI - Molecular laboratory for plant taxonomy and resistance to pesticides and Laboratory of molecular characterization of fruit trees and grapevine - FRUITBREED group) one for microbial sciences (Molecular laboratory for microbial ecology- MICROBECOL group) and one for aquaculture science (Laboratory for molecular biology of fish and other aquatic microorganisms-AQUACARP group). The increased capacity in the use of DNA technologies was achieved by 25 trainings of young researchers of AREA teams in 13 excellent EU institutions, exchange visits of seniors and activities of 3 recruitments. This allowed AREA teams to introduce DNA technologies in their current research portfolios and will enable further update in the future.

Raman microscopy/spectroscopy has been used as a resource of relevance and benefit for all AREA research teams. The increased capacity in the use of Raman technologies was achieved by 11 trainings of young researchers of AREA teams in 2 excellent EU institutions. Furthermore, the exchange visits of seniors and activities of Raman recruitment allowed introduction of Raman expertise. This state-of-the-art technology provides not only a focus for the FA to offer Serbia and the region a unique resource for biological sciences having a wide range of applications, but also a major opportunity for AREA research teams to make more rapid progress with cutting-edge research because very little sample preparation and, therefore, few research consumables are required - a very important factor when project funding from the Ministry of Education, Science and Technological Development of Serbia is so limited. The low consumables costs and unique nature of the Raman microscopy/spectroscopy facility for biological and biotechnology research could help to attract national research funding to ensure its continued use beyond the end of the project, thereby achieving sustainability of the strengthened research capacity, It could also support the AREA project aim of becoming a future regional Raman Centre for Biological and Biotechnological Sciences. The similar AREA`s potential impact will be also the establishment of future regional PCR Centre for Agricultural and Food Sciences.

The new expertise already allowed AREA teams to effectively participate in the European Research Area. This is demonstrated by a significant number of international projects funded (4 Horizon 2020, 5 bilateral, 2 educational), 5 participations in COST Actions and 1 in ECPGR network as well as 50 manuscripts published during project’s lifetime. In future, all these activities will raise the profile of AREA researchers amongst their European colleagues and will be a signal of their research excellence and suitability as a potential good quality consortium partner for collaborative research projects. The new AREA gained expertise will also be in the focus of new national research projects (call in December 2016).

The plan of the Faculty of Agriculture is to start the process of accreditation of some of the laboratories, including AREA`s, for providing commercial analyses and services for agricultural and food producers not only in Serbia, but also in WB region. AREA laboratories could offer routine analyses of chemical and microbial identification of pathogens, analyses of seeds, fruit, meet, fish, food quality and safety, GMO plants, etc. It is expected that this will provide future sustainability of the new gained expertise of several AREA groups.

The AREA project was also focused on improvement of human resources. The already performed 36 trainings allowed young researchers/PhD students to adopt new skills which they can implement in their current and future research. Introducing new skills and facilities for state-of-the-art research, AREA and its practical implementation will make research in Serbia more attractive. This would help to decrease the current immigration pressure on the EU, while helping to diminish the continuing scientific “brain drain” effect in Serbia. During AREA lifetime 9 PhD theses were defended and 19 are in progress. It is expected that research modernization will also influence reform of current curricula and educational methodology at FA, and will result in the increased interest of students both from Serbia and WB for agronomy studies and especially PhD studies.

In addition, AREA project is also of particular importance for FA’s young staff career development. Many of them are currently either Teaching/Research Assistants or Assistant Professors and the new AREA expertise enabled their promotion to higher positions at the University (2 full professors, 5 to Associate Professors and 3 to Assistant Professors confirmed). Furthermore, the recent employment of one young AREA`s trainee in relevant SME demonstrated that the practical application of new gained AREA expertise makes workplace in non-scientific organization more receptive and desirable for young researchers.

The project upgraded expertise in methods and conceptual approaches in research areas also targeting the most important current and future challenges in national and regional agriculture, food production and environmental protection. Despite the importance of agriculture and food industry for Serbia’s economy, and similarly, for other WB countries, its efficacy is constrained by respective low technology readiness levels, lack of added value processing, small farm areas, food products that are mainly oriented to the local market, low levels of education, and insufficient modern managerial and technical skills, limited research expertise in the agricultural and food sciences and permanent migration of young working population towards urban areas. However, due to the unpolluted areas, and great and versatile potential to commercialize traditional, organic and ethnic foods, there are more opportunities for increasing sustainable agricultural production and socio-economic development, especialy in rural areas. The role of education, research and knowledge implementation have been identified as the key pillar of future economic growth in the agriculture of Serbia and other less developed WB countries. Thus, the National Strategies for Science, Technological Development and Agriculture emphasize application of knowledge-based innovations into production that will enhance Serbian knowledge-based economy and its competitiveness.

Within AREA project the aim was to introduce expertise for solving some of the challenges of sustainable agricultural production in Serbia and WB region. Many of these challenges are tightly linked to concrete problems in the agriculture and food production in the whole Europe (climate change, agricultural production and environmental pollution, food safety and security etc.).

By bringing new knowledge and skills AREA project will answer the folowing key challenges identified. It is expected that this will increase AREA research teams’ effective contribution to the regional and national development that could also help in increasing socio-economic support for Serbian agriculture.

Climate change and agricultural drought are becoming increasingly prevalent throughout Serbia and WB region, with lower seasonal rainfall and higher summer temperatures. Serbia currently irrigates only around 30,000 ha, that is 3% of total agricultural land. Assessment of the effects of irrigation on yield of maize, as the most important crop in Serbia, for period between 2012 and 2010 confirmed a significant increase for an average of 20% (varying from year to year) compared to rainfed conditions. The economic assessment showed that the estimated average annual loss incurred in Serbia due to a lack of irrigation in maize production is 122,161,287 €. Considering the results of this and other analyses, as well as predictions of increasing drought in South East Europe, irrigation appears to be essential for successful crop production in Serbia and the entire region.

However, the clean fresh water is becoming a limited resource and its use for crop irrigation is in competition with the demand for household consumption and industry as well as with the need to protect the aquatic ecosystems. Therefore, the challenge is to minimize the use of water for irrigation. Another problem is that water in many countries is seriously contaminated with either inorganic or organic pollutants, mainly from intensive animal production and urban areas. Uncontrolled use of contaminated waters (chemically or microbiologically) could have serious environmental and health implications. There are many reports on increased risks of using microbiologically or chemically contaminated water for irrigation and transmition of contaminants through the food chain. The consequence of this situation is that there is high risk of potential infection, particularly if contaminated water is being used to irrigate crops which will not be cooked prior to consumption (soft fruit, lettuce and other vegetables). Also it can be a serious problem in the future because the recent trend is to sell more pre-packed products, particularly salads in supermarkets which the customer may not wash. It is obvious that saving clean water, increasing agricultural productivity per unit of water (“more crop per drop”) and producing safe food are becoming of strategic importance for many countries, including Serbia.

An adaptation measure to mitigate the reduction of yield induced by drought and to increase water productivity, besides other agricultural measures, includes the production and use of drought resistant genotypes. Modern genomics and genetic approaches coupled with advances in precise phenotyping and breeding methodologies are expected to more effectively unravel the genes and metabolic pathways that confer drought tolerance in crops. Expertise in such approaches and new tools gained in the AREA project (groups PLANTPHYS, FRUITBREED, FUNCROPS, FOODBIOCHEM) will have a significantly impact on the research of national and regional breeders in producing drought resistant crop varieties whose use will significantly reduce the financial losses caused by drought. Furthermore, the application of DNA technologies could be very important for recognition and protection of Serbian and other WB wine and food products geographical origin which is very important task for future period.

Currently identifying plant or human pathogens requires sensitive and in many cases time-consuming methods for early detection and identification and staff with specialist skills in bacteriology, virology and mycology. The AREA expertise (groups MICROBECOL, PHYTOBAC, MICRODIAG) will facilitate continuous improvement of knowledge and skills in up-to-date phytobacteriological research and diagnostic procedures through upgraded facilities and DNA technologies. Thus AREA will have major impacts on:
• further development of Serbia’s and the regional phytosanitary system;
• performing pest risk analysis with respect to the spread of plant quarantine organisms;
• further insight into quarantine virus and fungi population variability and genetics in Serbia and region;
• environmental microbiology to identify pathogenic bacteria in food or plant organs originating from microbiologically contaminated soil or irrigation water.

Increased expertise in biological purity of water with new DNA and Raman methods will help to monitor and implement EU standards for irrigation water which are missing in the whole region. Developing innovative microbiological bioremediation procedures in environmental research will also be an important project impact as well as new technology for producing bio fertilizers. Through the AREA project, research teams will become the leading research groups in the areas of plant pathology and environmental microbiology in the WB region, with significant practical impacts of their research.

Weeds are ubiquitous pests in agriculture, typically causing ca. 10% yield loss in developed countries and 25% in less-developed countries like Serbia and other WBCs. Herbicide use has become an essential weed control method, though the pressure of continual use is leading to herbicide resistance in an increasing number of weed species. Using DNA methods to better understand the evolution and spread of herbicide resistance in weed species (expertise WEEDSCI group) would help in alleviating a problem that is common throughout Europe.

Identifying and characterising species biodiversity in Serbia, similarly to other WB countries, is an essential starting point in the search for commercially exploitable plant secondary metabolites, such as essential oils and phytomedicines. Increasing expertise of the BIODIV group in DNA taxonomy and, in collaboration with the FUNCROPS group, in Raman microscopy will give them new tools to identify genetic variation in native plant species having commercial potential as sources of food additives, raw materials for the cosmetics industry, non-food products and herbal medicines. This approach could be of special socio-economic importance for less developed rural areas of Serbia and WB.

The AQUACARP team already has an excellent relation with carp producers and other stakeholders in the aquaculture sector in Serbia and WBCs. The new DNA technologies will contribute significantly to the team’s carp breeding programme to characterize genetic variations and link this with improved fish growth potential. RAMAN expertise allows the team to analyse the quality of fish meat (especially degree of fatty acid unsaturation). This will also significantly improve the research activities in new Centre for fishery and hydrobiology located at the Faculty`s research station Radmilovac.

The modern European consumer’s interest in high quality food is increasing and, therefore, currently there is a strong focus on food quality and safety among scientific and other stakeholder organizations, e.g. European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Food Standards Agency (FSA), which is also reflected in the formulation of food production standards such as EUREPGAP. Serbia has acute problems with the safety and quality of its food products that could seriously reduce their export potential. Officially the cultivation of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) is prohibited in Serbia, though cases of infringement occur because two of Serbia’s major agricultural crops, maize and soybean, are widely grown around the world as genetically-modified varieties. Infringements are difficult to monitor effectively because of Serbia’s lack of sufficient expertise in DNA-based methods to monitor for their presence. So, upgraded research potential in DNA-based methods to characterise food quality, monitor foodstuffs along the food chain and detect GMOs (FOODBIOCHEM, FOODBIOTECH, FOODTECH groups) would give opportunities for AREA researchers to help producers to improve quality control along the food chain and detect infringements in growing prohibited GMOs more easily.

The DNA-based technology is also a useful tool for molecular diagnostics of medicinal mushrooms (FOODBIOTECH group), as well as diagnostics of autochthonous strains of lactic acid bacteria that are important for protection of geographical origin of traditional and authentic for Serbia dairy and fermented meat products (FOODTECH group).

Use of Raman as a tool to develop new or improved technologies to test the quality of food products will be of special importance for the current and future market-driven research of FOODBIOCHEM, FOODBIOTECH, FOODTECH and IMMOBIOG groups. Particularly significant is expertise of the FOODTECH team because it gives opportunity to less developed rural areas in Serbia to increase the technological and market values of the existing autochthonous dairy and other food products, which will have impact on social and economic development.
Explained knowledge transfer between AREA researchers and end-users could be significant AREA technology and innovation-related impact relevant for sustainable agricultural production in both Serbia and WB region. Innovation impact is of special interest because Serbia, similarly to other countries in Western Balkan region, has very limited capacity in almost all aspects of innovation and technology transfer. To stimulate the innovation and knowledge transfer Serbian Government has stepped up its efforts to innovation policy by adopting new Law on Innovation activity, new Low on Scientific and Research Activities, establishment of Innovation Activity Fund that should be financed by non-budgetary funds from international institutions (EIB, World Bank, European Investment Fund, the IPA funds, CIP funds etc.), starting financing the Innovation projects.
Furthermore, the aim of "Innovation Union" strategy for the Europe 2020 is to improve conditions and access to finance for research and innovation, increase knowledge transfer between public research institutions and third parties, including industry and civil society organizations, to ensure that innovative ideas can be turned into products and services that create growth and jobs.

Before AREA project started, FA did not have any formal mechanism in place for knowledge transfer or to protect its IP and exploit its research discoveries and innovations. The AREA activities afforded FA to have in place the necessary legal expertise provided by the INTPRO team, a good quality IPI strategy plan and necessary documents appropriate for Serbia’s IPR legislation, research staff with a heightened awareness of the importance of IP issues and completed technological and market portfolios together with market technology for AREA teams. AREA portfolios were promoted during different non-scientific events (World Café Workshop, fair exhibitions, info days, media). The technology transfer between SMEs and AREA teams will include sharing of knowledge, skills, technologies and production methods and enable both partners to answer technological and innovation challenges which neither of them would be able to cope with on its own. Future „patentability“ of some of AREA innovation is presented in Section 4.2.

Finally, through the offering some of the solution on the current challenges of sustainable agricultural production, AREA contributes to the socio-economic goals for development of rural areas in Serbia. The project outcomes are in line with he EU’s rural development policy which aims to help the rural areas of the EU to meet the wide range of challenges and opportunities that face them in the 21st century – economic, environmental and social.
This policy is known as the “second pillar” of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) (http://ec.europa.eu/agriculture/rural-development-2014-2020/index_en.htm)

Main dissemination activities

With the goal of achieving a high impact within the project, AREA teams and project`s PR continuously carried out an extensive range of activities in accordance to the project`s Dissemination plan. The objective of the Dissemination plan was to present the project activities and achievements in detail, as well as the foreseen activities. At the beginning of the project, the identification and analyses of stakeholders was done and the following major target groups were identified, namely:
• Governmental representatives
• Members of research institutions and academia
• Biotechnology, SMEs and individual farmers representatives
• Media representatives
Stakeholders were continuously informed regarding the main achievements and activities of the project. This was achieved through the use of a database of contacts, which allows targeting the main scientific and non-scientific stakeholders. Database of stakeholder contacts was continuously updated during project`s lifetime.

Given that AREA dissemination is audience-oriented, different approaches were undertaken to achieve communication with different audiences. As it was previously explained, AREA dissemination activities have taken place via following channels:
• Project website (www.area.agrif.bg.ac.rs);
• Scientific dissemination (50 publications, participation at 63 relevant regional and international scientific meetings);
• 18 Research seminars and demonstration of newly-acquired techniques;
• 3 AREA conferences and 2 workshops;
• Publicity material (brochures, posters, hand-outs, manuals);
• 19 Info days;
• 5 Exhibition at food and agronomy fairs;
• Media presentations (10 TV and radio shows)
• Social networks

Scientific project stakeholders were continuously informed of the project’s activities through the project website, printed promotional material, research publications, national and international scientific conferences, research days and annual project meetings. Non-scientific project stakeholders (SMEs, industry representatives, the media and the public at large) were informed by advertising through the project website, printed promotional material, dissemination at agricultural fairs, info days, World Café workshop and media briefings.

In post-project period networking and staying in contact with the AREA host institutions, and other established scientific stakeholders during fact finding visits, would be of special importance because it will help AREA researchers further participation in the EU Framework Programmes, ensuring sustainability of their improved RTD and human capacities. Knowledge transfer between AREA groups and relevant SMEs and bio-industry and commercialization of research portfolios could also provide long-term funding opportunities. This new capacity for future commercialisation of research will allow not only an additional funding for research, but will also improve research capacity for effective contribution to regional development. Establishment of spin-offs at Faculty`s field station Radmilovac as a future model for partnership between Faculty, bio-industry and SMEs would be also one of the most important impact of the AREA project.

List of Websites:
www.area.agrif.bg.ac.rs

Related information

Reported by

FACULTY OF AGRICULTURE - UNIVERSITY OF BELGRADE
Serbia
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