Spotlight: the Plant Biology research unit

Pubblicato il: 29.08.2022 09:56

The research unit of Plant Biology of the Department of Biology has wide research interests, as the scientists belonging to it are investigating many aspects of plant biology like the study of microalgae and plant physiology, plant nutrition, plant biodiversity and evolution, plant development, plant-microorganisms interaction, and plant biotechnology.

Research groups forming this Research Unit have a wide range of skills, and the most updated and cutting-edge techniques are applied for the study of plant biology. Researchers of this Research Unit contribute and collaborate to improve the knowledge of the biology of plants and photosynthetic organisms in general.

This knowledge is of crucial importance considering that plants are at the basis of human nutrition, health, and economy.


In detail, the research groups belonging to this Research Unit are focused on:


Plant development, evolution, and DNA barcoding (PI: Baldan)

This research, performed in the lab of Padova’s Botanical Garden, is focused on the study of the development of plant reproductive organs, in both non-flowering plants (gymnosperms) and flowering plants (angiosperms). In particular, the attention of these researchers is focused on the genetic mechanisms underlying female reproductive structures, flowers and fruits. Some of the studied species are the gymnosperms Ginkgo biloba, Taxus baccata and the early diverging angiosperm water lily Nymphaea caerulea. These plants have crucial phylogenetic positions, and the results of the study of developmental mechanisms allow to add knowledge on land plant evolution.

DNA barcoding is a molecular technique that allows the identification and the study of taxonomy and phylogeny of living organisms by DNA sequencing. In this group this technique is applied to ancient herbarium fungal specimens and to a living collection of Cycas plants to revaluate their taxonomic position.


Biodiversity of photosynthetic organisms and photosynthesis physiology (PIs: Tomas Morosinotto, Alessandro Alboresi, Nicoletta La Rocca)

Researchers of this research group study a wide variety of photosynthetic organisms, cyanobacteria, microalgae and land plants (mosses, non-flowering and flowering plants). Photosynthesis is the key reaction that injected oxygen in the atmosphere and allowed Life on Earth as we know it today, converting light energy into chemical energy. It is the fundamental reaction that ensures primary productivity and the green production of complex high-value compounds. This research group is focusing to understand how plants adapt to the environmental factors such as carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, temperature, and droughts. Moreover, the study of organisms that already live in extreme conditions (deserts, high altitude, and latitude) is a smart strategy to understand how plants will be able to cope with future environmental conditions.

So, this research group exploits information from basic research for the development of methods for the sustainable production of biomolecules, to improve photosynthetic efficiency to boost the conversion of light into biomass.


Photosynthetic biodiversity of extreme environments in Antarctica and vulnerable seaweeds in the North Adriatic Sea and possible restoration actions(PI Isabella Moro)

The Antarctic continent is undergoing very important climate changes, which can deeply affect the structure of communities living in different environments, highly responsive to external perturbations. This research group focuses on the photosynthetic biodiversity (cyanobacteria, microalgae, and macroalgae) of different habitats of Antarctica, through a multidisciplinary approach, using classical and modern techniques (DNA barcoding and metabarcoding).

Seaweeds are very important for their key role in marine conservation, supporting biodiversity, food webs, and sequestrating large amount of CO2 . In the North Adriatic Sea some of them are disappearing, due to anthropogenic pressure. This research line aims to monitor the distribution of some vulnerable seaweed species, such as Fucus virsoides, Cystoseira barbata, in the Adriatic Sea as target species of the environmental changes.


Effects of abiotic stress on plants (PI Francesca Dalla Vecchia)

This research group aims to investigate the effects of heavy metals and pharmaceuticals on morpho-physiology of microalgae, macroalgae and land plants.


Plant systematic and biodiversity (PI Francesco Dal Grande)

Researchers of this group combine high-throughput sequencing, population genomic and phylogeographic approaches to investigate patterns and drivers of evolutionary novelty and speciation in plant endemics and threatened taxa.

Culturing-based and multi-omics approaches are applied to study the genetic diversity, spatial dynamics, and selection footprints of stress adaptation in green algae from global drylands.

In collaboration with science historians, the history behind our herbarium collections is studied, using also the DNA from ancient herbarium specimens to infer genetic changes in response to climate and anthropogenic perturbations over the last centuries.


Plant nutrition, root development and plant-microbe interactions (PIs Marco Giovannetti, Sebastiano Nigris, Barbara Baldan)

Plant roots are the main interface between the plants and the environment. Roots can sense and adapt their growth in response to a plethora of abiotic and biotic stimuli, among which nutrient levels and microorganisms represent a crucial layer. This research aims at understanding the plant genetic determinants regulating nutrient homeostasis and how this complex system is able to control the interaction with soil microorganisms.

In fact, during their life plant roots interacts with a plethora of microorganisms, in particular fungi and bacteria; and many of them have beneficial effects to root development and plant growth and health. This research group is focused to investigate molecular mechanisms (genetic pathways, and hormonal mechanisms) that are involved in these beneficial interactions. In addition, a recently funded research project designed in collaboration with the company SESA spa, is focusing to understand the effect of soil amendment COMPOST from organic waste on the soil and plant-associated bacterial communities, to develop more sustainable solutions for agriculture.


Production of biomolecules in plant cell cultures and regulation of fruit development and ripening (PI Livio Trainotti)

Plant cells can produce a great variety of compounds, many of which are useful as raw materials to produce chemicals, drugs and food additives. Cells and/or tissue cultures are used to produce valuable molecules by both optimizing growth conditions and plant genomes.

Fleshy fruit development and ripening are regulated by the interaction of environmental and internal (genetic, physiological, molecular) factors. By focusing on peptide hormones’ biology this research group aims to shed light on these interactions to produce fruits of better quality in a more sustainable manner.


Calcium signalling in plant cells: regulation of establishment of plant-fungus endosymbiosis and plasma-induced signalling (PI Lorella Navazio)


This research group is focused on calcium-mediated signalling pathways activated by fungal signals during the establishment of the ancient mutualistic interaction, called arbuscular mycorrhizal symbioses, to describe how land plants can recognize and host beneficial soil-borne fungi within their roots. Molecular mechanisms are investigated, as for example, the role of plant-specific family of proteins on the establishment of this plant-fungus endosymbiosis.

Calcium signalling mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects played by water activated by plasma discharge are also investigated, to understand their involvement on plant growth, development, and resistance to biotic and abiotic stresses.

The effects of the use of plasma-activated water will be tested in terms of plant growth, resistance to abiotic stresses, and defense responses by performing phenotype, cell viability and gene expression analyses under different growth conditions.


To meet all the researchers working in this research unit please click the following link https://www.biologia.unipd.it/ricerca/unita-di-ricerca/biologia-vegetale/


Ultimo aggiornamento: 29.08.2022 10:01