Towards a harmonised OLEUM Databank

OLEUM researchers Jean-François Morin and Alain Maquet summarise their work so far in an interview about the OLEUM Databank, an online integrated quality assurance database of olive oil analytical methods and data related to chemical and organoleptic characteristics.


Jean-François Morin (pictured left) is in charge of Collaborative Research and Early Innovation at the Food Laboratory of the Eurofins Group in Nantes (France). Today his work involves the development of new analytical methods for the detection of food fraud. In the OLEUM project, he is involved in the development of the Databank (WP5). He has led the survey on existing databases on olives and olive oils.

Alain Maquet (pictured right) has led the food forensics activities at JRC-IRMM since ten years. He has expertise in agronomy, genetic resource management, molecular fingerprinting and food authenticity. He was coordinating the JRC's activities in the TRACE project (FP6) and he is the operational manager of the European Reference Centre for Control in the Wine Sector including the European Wine databank.

Can you briefly summarise the results of the work undertaken so far?

A.M. We conducted a survey on existing databases on olive germplasm (living tissue from which new plants can be grown) and compositional data on olive oils to evaluate which information is potentially available, where such information is stored and what could be the relevance for the OLEUM project. In addition, where available, technical information on the databases was also analysed as the potential for exchange/transfer of data will be evaluated with the curators.

JF.M. A total of 16 databases related to Olea europaea have been identified, of which 10 are web-based and currently accessible. They are mainly curated in Europe but also in other part of the world.

In order to identify an unknown monovarietal virgin olive oil cultivar, several reference databases have been established providing morphologic, DNA molecular markers and/or chemical data of worldwide olive trees and oils. Our key finding is that there is no database centralising the passport data of all the olive accessions distributed in the existing olive germplasm banks.

What kind of information is found in the databases you have identified?

JF.M. A significant percentage of the olive germplasm is conserved in the European germplasm banks; the two most important ones being the Worldwide Olive Germplasm bank of Cordoba and the CRA-OLI collection, for which elaiographic cards are also available. These cards include morphological and agronomical data as well as a variety of molecular and chemical descriptors. Several databases are containing information on genetic markers, mainly SSR markers. Other databases store data on chemical composition of olive oils from conventional chemical analyses; e.g. fatty acids, triglycerides, organoleptic oil values. Only one database (i.e. Italian National Database of PDO/PGI Extra Virgin Olive Oils) maintains data from isotopic measurements as well as from a metabolomics approach.

What problems does having so many disconnected databases cause to the olive oil analysis community?

A.M. Based on estimates by the FAO Plant Production and Protection Division Olive Germplasm[1], the world’s olive germplasm contains more than 2,600 different varieties, with many local varieties and ecotypes contributing to this richness.

Having so many disconnected databases cause problems for germplasm classification (including olive). It is not only complicated by the richness of its genetic patrimony, but also by the absence of reference standards and by the confusion regarding the cultivar names, with numerous cases of homonymy (one name for several genotypes) and synonymy (one genotype with several names).

JF.M. At the same time, the technologies and methods used in research are becoming more advanced and increasing in number. This increases the complexity and quantity of the data produced, which tend to take a variety of formats. In addition, lack of a central catalogue for research data, inability to host sensitive data on public servers, and privacy and security concerns make it hard to locate existing data leading to redundancy in research and ambiguity in resources used.

What is the OLEUM Databank and why is there a need for it?

A.M. The objectives of the OLEUM project is to establish an open access databank to store not only the information generated by the OLEUM consortium but also to be interoperable with existing databases related to the characterisation of the olive tree germplasm and olive oils.

A key challenge for this OLEUM database will be to develop a strategy to ensure the maintenance of the OLEUM Databank in the long term as well as its availability using a user-friendly interface for use by authorised bodies through the European Union.

What benefits can be gained by sharing data related to characterisation of olive oils?

JF.M. By sharing or even integrating olive databases in the sense of the data FAIR principles recommended by the Horizon 2020 framework, it is expected to provide proper references to data and have detailed metadata on content, provenance and sample relations. Having data and information on how the data were produced and analysed enables replication studies and reproducibility. This will allow data to be reused and will promote collaboration, thus increasing the data’s scientific impact.

What are the next steps you will take towards a more centralised source of data on olive oil characterisation?

A.M. We have already started to contact the curators of the reported databases to evaluate their structure (types of recorded data), to inventory the relevance of the available information in more detail and the technical possibilities/difficulties for sharing the information. We will also try to identify additional data sources. In parallel, the needs for future development of the OLEUM Databank on olive oils will be collected based on the planned activities from other work packages.

[1] Muzzalupo, I., Olive Germplasm – The Olive Cultivation, Table Olive and Olive Oil Industry in Italy. InTech: Rijeka, Croatia, 2012; p 383