Stress limits growth and yield in crop plants worldwide. Environmental stress is very commonly experienced by crop plants, and its intensity and frequency is increasing due to competition for fertile land with other uses, and to global climate change. Wild plants have a strong ability to react to stress, while most crop plants have lost these characteristics upon breeding. Understanding the mechanisms that underlie resistance to stress is pivotal to identify traits that can be inserted into crop plants to increase their resilience in a stressful environment.  Our mission is to contribute to this endeavour, with the ultimate goal to provide knowledge and tools that may integrate in solutions for farmers and professionals. 

Strigolactones as regulators of development and stress acclimation - Plant development and stress acclimation are interlinked processes, and recent results show that strigolactones are major players in this field. Their role on shoot branching is well established while their effects on reproductive development are still little explored. Strigolactones also regulate physiological aspects of tolerance to osmotic stress, such as stomatal conductance, osmoregulation, and oxidative responses.. I focus my research on understanding the role of strigolactones in acclimation to osmotic stress and in fruit development. We apply tools of plant and cellular physiology, supported by molecular analysis, targeting crop species such as tomato and grapevine. We work with lines altered in strigolactone biosynthesis and use treatments with artificial strigolactones. We assess morphological, physiological, and molecular phenotypes, by targeted and non-targeted gene expression analysis and by metabolite analysis. We extend our experiments to prototype plant growing systems such as commercial greenhouse and field to provide the information required to develop practical solutions for crop improvement and adaptation to climate change.

contact: Andrea Schubert

Strigolactone signalling and stress - Strigolactones are carotenoid-derived plant metabolites with a multitude of functions, both in the plant and in the biotic surrounding environment. They have a prominent role as hormones, influencing whole-plant morphology and development also in response to environmental stress. Understanding their biology may help to improve plant yield and resilience in stressful environments.

1. We want to understand what the local and systemic changes of strigolactone levels - observed in different organs of plants undergoing osmotic stress - mean for whole-plant hormonal balance, physiology and water relations. To this purpose, the development of a genetically-encoded strigolactone sensor is being developed.2. We are elucidating the molecular underpinnings of strigolactone effects in stress resilience, focusing on cross-talk with other hormones (abscisic acid, gibberellins...), miRNAs and peptides.3. We feed our knowledge into crop management tools such as biostimulants, that may improve plant performances and yield under environmental stress.
contact: Francesca Cardinale

Drought stress responses  in grapevine - Adaptation of grapevines to water deficit is a wide and complex biological process that implies global changes in plant hydraulics, carbon distribution within the plant, signaling among plant organs, gene expression and primary and secondary metabolite biosynthesis and accumulation.

Our research  aims to understand how plant signals drive grapevine adaptation to water availability with consequences on growth and  fruit quality. In grapevine, the rootstock and the scion concur to whole-plant resistance to drought. These plant components interact through a complex of hydraulic, hormonal (especially abscisic acid, ABA) and molecular (miRNAs) signal exchange. We are interested to discover how xylem development, whole plant hydraulic conductance, and carbon allocation are affected under stress and in different grapevine genotypes.
contact: Claudio Lovisolo

Molecular processes behind osmotic stress memory  - Plant responses to stress can be amplified by exposure to a previous stress episode. This “memory of stress” can be induced also by priming treatments. Understanding osmotic memory would potentially greatly benefit crop plants growing in temperate climates where irrigation and rainfall are spaced by increasingly severe drought episodes.

We focus on the roles of strigolactones in controlling osmotic memory, in particular as concerns stomatal closure and re-opening during the recovery phase from stress. We follow 'omic' and targeted research approaches in Arabidopsis and in tomato, addressing the interaction of hormone networks and epigenetic mark deposition on target genes.


Contact: Ivan Visentin

Xylem recovery from water stress - Recent episodes of anomalous drought and heat have caused tree mortality and crop failure, raising interest into processes underlying plant resistance and resilience to water stress. Reduction of plant hydraulic efficiency, due to presence of embolisms, is a major cause of drought-induced plant death. It has been demonstrated that many plant species can counter embolism formation with a fast refilling process; however a full understanding of the biology behind embolism recovery is currently lacking. 

Our research aims to elucidate the biological mechanisms at the base of xylem repair adopting a multidisciplinary approach, which integrates molecular, biophysical, chemical and physiological techniques. 
Contact: Francesca Secchi

Selected publications 2018-2024