Environment and Geosciences - 4

Short description of the research team
Thematic fields of interest/research areas:
The research at the Plant Physiology and Biochemistry (PPB) Lab focuses on different aspect of amino acid metabolism, involving either basic or applied science. In more detail, we deal with (1) Studies on selected enzymes in amino acid biosynthesis in higher plants and bacteria (activity, purification, localization within the cell and in differing tissues, regulation and expression during growth or in response to environmental factors). (2) Selection and characterization of mutants tolerant to specific inhibitors and herbicides which act by interfering with amino acid pathways. (3) Characterization of proline accumulation in plants under osmotic stress. Genetic engineering of the synthesis and catabolism of proline to improve drought and salt tolerance in crops. (4) Investigation on selected aspects of aromatic metabolism during the response to biotic stress conditions and their use as a tool to select plant varieties with increased resistance to fungal pathogens. (5) Cloning of microbial genes coding for detoxifying enzymes and transfer of the selected trait into crops. (6) Screening for new herbicides endowed with low environmental impact that act by interfering with glutamate and proline synthesis, or with the photosynthetic electron flow.

Manager/head of the team:
Giuseppe Forlani, Associate Professor of Plant Physiology

Team members:
Davide Petrollino (PostDoc fellow)
Samuele Giberti (PhD fellow)
Michele Bertazzini (PhD fellow)


Research infrastructures
The Laboratory is equipped with all the facilities required to extract, purify and characterize enzymes; among these, a climatized growth chamber for plants and cell suspension cultures, orbital shakers, thermostatic incubators with light and photoperiod control; cold room; refrigerated centrifuge and ultracentrifuge; chemical hood; laminar flow cabinets; thermostatic baths; UV and visible spectro-photometers; table centrifuges; horizontal and vertical electrophoresis systems; western blot devices; LC columns, peristaltic pumps and fraction collectors; FPLC and HPLC systems; thermal cycler for PCR and gelDoc system; rotary evaporator and lyophilizer for the quantisation of amino acids, substrates and metabolic products. As a resource at the Lab's disposal, a 0.8 ha field in the municipality of Jolanda di Savoia is possibly available for field trials.

Prerequisites of the trainee researcher:
Level of education: “Marie Curie Individual Fellowship” Action requirements.
Research experience: N/A
Required working language: English
Further required requisites: ability to work in a team


Further useful information:
For a list of recent publications, please see:
The PPB Lab is currently involved in a National Research Project on rice, funded by AGER Foundation. Rice is particularly sensitive to salt stress at the seedling level, with consequent poor crop establishment, as well as during the transition to the reproductive stage, where salinity can severely disrupt grain formation and yield. The role of the Lab within the project is the biochemical analysis of key enzymes controlling salt stress response. With this aim, Italian rice cultivars with a contrasting capability to cope with salt stress conditions during the vegetative and reproductive stages have been selected. The levels and the properties of selected enzymes playing a pivotal role in antioxidant and in proline metabolism will be studied in these genotypes, as well as the resulting levels of ROS, reduced ascorbate/GSH and free proline in tissues of osmotically-stressed seedlings. Either increased expression levels or higher substrate affinity are expected to contribute in providing the basis for higher salt tolerance through increased ROS scavenging and/or osmolyte accumulation. Overall, these activities will provide a comprehensive picture about the relationship between the ability to scavenge ROS and/or to accumulate compatible osmolytes like proline and the ability to survive the exposure to salt stress conditions. Besides filling a gap in our knowledge, since no conclusive information is available to date as to this point, and almost nothing has been investigated with respect to Italian genotypes, data will represent the basis for the practical selection of rice cultivars that could be sown in salt vulnerable areas.
On the other hand, the Lab is also involved in a National Research Project on functional foods, funded by the Italian Ministry for Agriculture. During recent years increasing evidence supporting the ability of some plant secondary metabolites (mainly phenolics and carotenoids) to promote well-being and reduce the risk of certain major diseases prompted a strong interest for the development of strategies to increase the levels of health-promoting bioactive compounds in fruits and vegetables. To ensure protective effects, relatively high levels of phytonutrients would be in fact required, well over those commonly taken with the dietary consumption of plant-derived foods. Within this perspective, the biochemical characterization of enzymes catalysing key steps in the metabolism of carotenoids in peach and durum wheat, and of anthocyanidins in durum wheat is currently in progress. By means of a comparison among plant varieties with contrasting phenotypes, we aim to identify the steps responsible for phytonutrient accumulation in plant tissues. Results could greatly improve a future screening of plant genetic resources, allowing to identify molecular markers useful for the selection of cultivars with increased levels of secondary metabolites.


Giuseppe Forlani, flg@unife.it; tel. +39 0532 455311;  skype: giubeca28
Dept of Life Science & Biotechnology, via L. Borsari 46, I-44121 Ferrara, Italy
http: Laboratorio di fisiologia e biochimica vegetale