Plant Cell Biology

Plant Biotechnology Group

 Prof. Alma Balestrazzi, Dr. Anca Macovei, Dr. Susana Araujo, Dr. Andrea Pagano, Dr. Chiara Forti, Dr. Carla Gualtieri

Research activity

 Role of DNA repair in the plant response to abiotic stress. Aim of the research is the molecular characterisazion of genes involved in the response to genotoxic stress (DNA Damage Response-DDR), as useful tools to detect the level of abiotic stress tolerance in crops. The research activity at the Plant Biotechnology Laboratory has led to the isolation and molecular characterisation of novel genes involved in DNA repair processes in planta. This investigation, carried out in the model legume Medicago truncatula, has disclosed for the first time in plants the presence of the small gene family Tdp1 (Tyrosyl-DNA phosphodiesterase) and the TFIIS-like gene. MtTdp1a, MtTdp1b, and MtTFIIS-like genes are up-regulated in response to oxidative/genotoxic stress caused by exposure to heavy metals and osmotic stress, thus confirming their key role in the DDR activated under adverse environmental conditions. These novel gene functions have been investigated using gene silecing approaches, RNA-Seq analysis and genotoxicity tests (Comet Assay-Single Cell Gel Electrophoresis, DNA diffusion).

Molecular profile of seed quality. Aim of the research is the identification of molecular indicators of seed quality (vigor). DNA repair pathways are activated during the early phase of seed germination (imbibition), when the so-called ‘pre-germinative metabolism’ is triggered. A working system has been established, using imbibed seeds from model plants (Legumes, Medicago truncatula; Solanacee, Petunia hybrida) in order to validate the role of novel DNA repair genes during the pre-germinative metabolism. A translational research project has been subsequently started focusing on commercially relevant horticultural species and cereals, in collaboration with Seed Companies (ATLAS srl, APSOVSEMENTI srl, Bejo BV, Hoopmann Group), Breeders (NIRP International), and with the Research Institutes CREA-SCV (S. Angelo Lodigiano, LO), CREA-ORL (Montanaso Lombardo, LO), and CREA-FSO (Sanremo, IM).

 DNA repair mechanisms induced by ionizing radiations (IR) in plant cells: basic and applied (in vitro breeding) aspects. DNA repair pathways and the antioxidant response are investigated in plant cells characterised by natural radio-tolerance (Petunia hybrida, Medicago truncatula) irradiated with gamma-rays LDR (Low Dose Rate) and HDR (High Dose Rate) in order to identify the key molecular players of LD(Low Dose)/LDR response in planta. The plant response to IR-induced genotoxic damage results in the activation of different DNA repair mechanisms, some of them are ‘error-prone’. Consequently, there are some DNA repair enzymes which can introduce changes in the original DNA sequence while removing the lesions. This mutagenic effect can be modulated, based on the physical parameters (total dose and dose rate) of irradiation treatments as well as on the qualitative/quantitative features of the DNA damage response (DDR) specific for each plant genotype/variety/cultivar. A deeper understanding of the molecular components of DDR involved in the response to LDR and HDR ionizing radiations is an essential requisite for designing improved breeding protocols of ‘elite’ varieties. 

NATIONAL COLLABORATIONS
CREA-FSO, Unità di Ricerca per la Floricoltura e le Specie Ornamentali (Sanremo-IM), Dr. Annalisa Giovannini.
CREA-SCV, Unità di Ricerca per la Selezione dei Cereali e la Valorizzazione delle Varietà Vegetali (S. Angelo Lodigiano-LO), Dr. Patrizia Vaccino.
CNR-IPSP, Bari, Dr. Paola Leonetti

INTERNAZIONAL COLLABORATIONS
Instituto de Tecnologia Quimica e Biologica (ITQB)-Università Nuova di Lisbona (Portogallo). Dr. Susana Araujo, Dr. Pedro Fevereiro.
Institute of Experimental Botany, Praga. Czech Academy of Science. Dr. Karel Angelis.
Institute of Plant Genetics, Poznan. Polish Academy of Science. Dr. Jorge Paiva.
ICGEB, New Delhi (India). Dr. Narendra Tuteja.
National Technical University, Atene (Grecia). Dr. Alexander Georgakilas.
National Institutes for Quantum and Radiological Science and Technology, Gunma (Giappone). Dr. Ayako Sakamoto