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Collaborative Opportunity for Research on Profiling, Evaluation and Production of Flavors


Plant Research International has been involved in flavor research for the past ten years. Flavor of plants (fruits, vegetables, herbs) is composed of a blend of volatile and non-volatile compounds. We have a strong track record in metabolic profiling of these compounds in plant parts, as well as in isolating enzymes and genes involved in their biosynthesis. Metabolic profiles are useful tools for optimizing cultivation practices and selecting breeding lines, while flavor genes are applicable in the microbial production of natural plant flavor compounds.

Among our recent achievements in the flavor field are:

  1. Extensive profiling of flavor compounds in fruits from tomato, strawberry, cacao, melon, citrus, and apple, and several herbs and vegetables.

  2. Identification of enzymes and genes involved in the biosynthesis of fruit esters, such as hexenyl acetate, isoamyl acetate and octanol-butyrate, from a diverse set of fruit species, including strawberry, banana and tomato.

  3. Identification of enzymes and genes involved in the biosynthesis of terpenoids, such as linalool, limonene, nerolidol, myrtenol and pinene, from strawberry, cucumber and citrus.

  4. Understanding of the evolution of fruit flavor and genes involved during domestication of strawberry.

Several of these findings are now being utilized for the microbial production of flavor compounds.

Vision / strategy    

Flavor is a key factor in food appreciation: parents will only be able to feed children with nutritious and vitamin-rich food if it tastes right. Particularly fruit flavor is one of the most important components in food, determining the perception of e.g. ice-creams, beverages, pastry etc., but also of non-food products such as cosmetics (e.g. perfumes, shampoos, toothpastes). Our flavor research is currently aimed at two customer profiles: those interested in breeding for flavor traits, and those interested in producing sustainable aroma compounds.

Flavor for quality: Flavor in plants is a complex bouquet of volatile compounds, to which a multitude of biochemical pathways in the plant contribute. The blend of flavor compounds is very sensitive to breeding, cultivation and storage. Nowadays, consumer traits such as flavor and health are of increasing importance. Metabolic profiling is an indispensable tool to select high-quality lines and best practices.

Flavor for food quality: The demand for flavor compounds as food additives can no longer be met by the supply of plant material.   This is why many food products instead contain ‘aromas' composed of mixed flavor compounds. Compounds used in these aromas are often synthesized by organic chemistry. However, the food industry is increasingly interested to use ingredients produced by sustainable procedures. In practice, microbial production can be a sustainable alternative for chemical synthesis. Such a microbial production system is based on a GRAS micro-organism (Generally Regarded As Safe). The micro-organism can produce plant flavor molecules by using plant genes that deliver the necessary enzymes.

Presently our research is addressed at:

  • identifying and applying genes involved in the flavor of strawberry and other berry species, with focus on esters, ketones, terpenoids and nor-isoprenoids;
  • profiling the flavor compounds (volatiles, acids, sugars) of tomato lines, and correlating these profiles with results from sensory evaluations and genomics data.  

Generally we aim at:

  • unravellling biochemical pathways in plants towards flavor compounds, and make these applicable for microbial production of flavor compounds;
  • applying comprehensive profiling of flavor compounds for evaluation of breeding lines and cultivation practices.

Business opportunities

  • For companies with breeding interests : high quality metabolic profiling of flavor compounds in plant materials, both targeted and untargeted, in combination with sensory evaluation.
  • For companies with food ingredient interests : new genes that can be incorporated into microbial production systems for producing flavor compounds.

PRI strategy in developing this field:

  • In general, governmental funding is used for fundamental and pre-competitive research to strengthen our scientific knowledge base in the field of flavors.
  • PRI is seeking long-term collaborations with commercial partners to jointly co-develop market-ready products for exploitation and commercialization.
  • IP Strategy: where relevant from commercial point of view, patent protection is sought. PRI aims at developing joint IP in its collaborative research programmes. Where relevant, industrial partners will get access to existing IP belonging to PRI in the field of interest.

Track record

Some key references (additional references are available upon request)

  • Aharoni et al., (2000) Identification of the SAAT gene involved in strawberry flavor biogenesis by use of DNA microarrays. Plant Cell 12(5): 647-661

  • Aharoni et al., (2004) Gain and loss of fruit flavor compounds produced by wild and cultivated strawberry species. Plant Cell 16(11)

  • Beekwilder et al., (2004) Functional characterization of enzymes forming volatile esters from strawberry and banana. Plant Physiol. 135(4): 1865-1878

  • de-Kraker et al., (2003) Hydroxylation of sesquiterpenes by enzymes from chicory ( Cichorium intybus L.) roots. Tetrahedron 59(3): 409-418

  • El-Tamer et al., (2003) The influence of monoterpene synthase transformation on the odour of tobacco. J. Biotechnology 106(1): 15-21

  • Lucker et al., (2002) Monoterpene biosynthesis in lemon ( Citrus limon ) - cDNA isolation and functional analysis of four monoterpene synthases. Eur. J. Biochem. 269(13): 3160-3171

  • Lucker et al., (2004) Metabolic engineering of monoterpene biosynthesis: two-step production of (+)-trans-isopiperitenol by tobacco. Plant J. 39(1): 135-145

All intellectual property rights and copyright on the contents of this document belong solely to Plant Research International B.V. Any disclosure, reproduction, distribution or non-authorised use of the information detailed in this document is not allowed without written permission from Plant Research International B.V.

For further information please contact either:
Euro Japan Marketing Limited
Phone: +81 3 3664 5062 • Email: •
Plant Research International B.V.
Phone: +31 317 47 7377 • E-mail:

For additional details please go to the PRI homepage or contact us.

Plant Research International is currently offering specific opportunities relating to: