Institute of agricultural biology and biotechnology (IBBA)


The Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology (IBBA) was established on May 24, 2001 and it has been operating since February 15, 2002. At present Dr. Roberto Bollini is the director. The Institute is the result of a merger of previous CNR entities, namely the Crop Plant Biosynthesis Institute (IBV) of Milan; the Animal Germplasm Conservation and Defence Institute (IDVGA) of Milan; the Soil Microbiology Centre (CSMS) of Pisa, a section of the Mutagenesis and Differentation Institute (IMD) of Psa, and a section of the Institute of agro-environmental and forest biology of Porano (TR)

The Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology is headquartered in Milan, Via Bassini 15, where the Plant Biosynthesis labs are located, and that represent the most consistent part of the organisation. IBBA has three other operating facilities: - the Lodi Unit, at the Parco Tecnologico Padano, Via Einstein, Lodi (MI); the Pisa Unity, comprising the soil microbiology labs at the University Department of Agriculture - Via del Borghetto 80, and the agro-environmental ecotoxicology and plant differentiation department at the CNR Research Area - Via Moruzzi 1, Pisa; the Rome Unit, at the CNR Research Area - Via Salaria km 29,300, Monterotondo Scalo, Rome.

Description of operating facilities
The Plant Biosynthesis Laboratories - The Plant Biosynthesis Laboratories come from the previous Institute for Crop Plant Biosynthesis (IBV, Istituto Biosintesi Vegetali). The IBV, established in 1974, was a research body of CNR. Since 1985, in compliance with the Italian Law 46/82 , IBV was registered as a highly qualified laboratory. In 1999, the Advisory Committee for CNR Agricultural Sciences awarded IBV with the labelling of "excellence centre". From 1974 to 1983, IBV was directed by Prof. Giuseppe Torti and from 1983 to 2002 by Dr. Alcide Bertani. The Institute interests were in the field of plant biochemistry, molecular biology and biotechnology. The scientific aims of the research was to gain, through a multi-discipline approach encompassing biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology, physiology and bioinformatic, an understanding of the physiological and molecular mechanisms underlying the growth, development, reproduction and acquisition-maintenance of the biochemical characteristics of crop plants, as well as to implement technological and biotechnological developments supporting the current research studies and their applications. Up to year 2002, IBV Research activity output was about 300 papers on JCR journals; some patents in the biotechnological field; a large number of gene sequences deposited in international databases; new biological material (transgenic plants or tissues); database on current research information systems; methodologies for the production of metabolites and proteins of industrial and pharmacological interest.
In February 2002, following a process of mergers and reorganisation involving the CNR research network, IBV merged into the Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology (IBBA) as the core research group of the new Institute. The headquarter of the new IBBA is the same as the former IBV's headquarter, in Milan - Via Bassini, 15.
The Plant Biosynthesis Unit comprises 6 laboratories for radioisotope manipulation, microbiology, tissue and cell culture, analytical chemical analyses, and bioinformatics genomics, as well as 6 biochemistry/molecular biology labs. The Institute is entitled to perform class 1 MOGM works. The main equipments include: ultra-centrifuges, DNA-thermo cyclers, electrophoretic devices, particle gun apparatus, aseptic cabinets, microscopes, spectrofotometers and spectrofluorimeters, luminometer, HPLCs with a wide range of detectors, HPTLC, FPLCs, spectroradiometer, CCD and digital cameras for image analysis, IRGAs, pressure chamber, psichrometers, phytotrones, and growth chambers.
The main research projects carried out can be summarised as follows: molecular and cellular biology of storage seed proteins; molecular mechanisms that determine the correct protein traffic and accumulation in the plant secretory pathway; biochemical, physiological and molecular basis of plant adaptation to environmental stress as well as to the presence of exogenous genes; plant biotechnology; non food plants as renewable energy. The development of technologies and biotechnologies of agricultural and industrial interest is the principal point of contact, cultural integration and cooperation among the different departments (sections) of IBBA.
Staff working at IBBA's headquarters: 18 researchers, 8 technicians, 5 administrative employees, four researchers on temporary contracts. Training activities: an average of 20 trainees (providing assistance with graduation theses to PhD students, undergraduates, and issuing professional qualifications and awarding scholarships to graduates).

Lodi Unit (GA, Animal Germplasm) - In 2002, as part of a reorganisation process involving CNR's Research sections, the Institute for Defence and Valorisation of the Animal Germplasm (IDVGA) merged along with other entities into IBBA. Within its new institutional position, GA has been pursuing its previous research themes finding several areas of cultural integration with the rest of IBBA, as well as promoting and starting programs and research studies in conjunction with researchers from other entities. At the end of December 2002, the GA section team welcomed two new researchers devoted to developing research projects in the field of bioinformatics and molecular genetics. The team was further increased by a technician coming from a former CNR Centre, a Professor from the University of Milan and former IDVGA Director as "associated member", but lost a first researcher who found a more convenient position within the CNR Molecular Biology Institute in Pavia. The section has got several labs and offices at the CNR Research Area Milan 4 (LITA Segrate), whereas a working team with two GA researchers was operating at the Department of Veterinarian Science and Technology for Food safety of the University of Milan. At the LITA headquarter, within a specific Agreement, GA housed a few researchers from the Parco Tecnologico Padano (LO), working in close cooperation with CNR people on projects concerning the agro-alimentary field, and namely the domestic animal population. The Animal Germplasm unit has recently moved to Lodi, at the Parco Tecnologico Padano site, where about 350 square meters of labs and offices are devoted to it. Personnel at the Lodi unit comprises 6 researchers on permanent position , one on a temporary position, 2 associated professors and a number of trainees. The main themes of research conducted by the researchers are related to the following: 1) economically significant relationships between genome and phenotypes; 2) reproduction and genetic conservation; 3) bioinformatics . These basic themes comprise specific projects that are often supported by external funds apart from the ordinary yearly capital provisions by the CNR to its entities, that are getting scantier every year. These specific projects perfectly match IBBA's statutory foundation and, although they often focus research on basic issues, they mostly provide concrete answers to operating issues, such as, for instance, the quality improvement of pork meat to be used in quality sausage products or the genetic conservation of domestic animal breeds to prevent their extinction.

Pisa Unit - The Unit in Pisa originates from the former Soil Microbiology Centre (CS Microbiologia del Suolo) and part of the Mutagenesis and Differentation Institute. The former Centre staff comprises two CNR researchers, still based at the Faculty of Agriculture. The cultural inheritance of the Pisa Section revolves around the relationship between micro-organisms and plants and on their possible effects on biodiversity and on micro-organism functions, as well as on the effects of mycorrhizosphere micro-organisms both amongst themselves and on the plants they are associated with. An important contributor to these studies is a young researcher who (in cooperation with researchers in Milan and at Pisa University) is attempting to isolate and identify the physiological role of gene sequences involved in plant adaptation to environmental stress through a biological molecular approach. Former IMD staff represent the most consistent IBBA group in Pisa, consisting in four researchers and four technicians, located in the CNR Research Area. Their major research interests are: molecular and cytophysiological basis of meristematic and embryogenic competence, epigenetic processes, somaclonal variation and meiosis for in vitro selection of elite genotypes in crop species; development of new protocols for crop genetic transformation that exploit cellular totipotency and adaptative responses to stress; use of yeast systems to support plant post-genomics and for studies of mutagenesis and antimutagenesis in eukaryotic cells. At present the Pisa unit comprises 7 researchers, 4 technicians, a researcher on temporary contracts, aa associate researcher from Pisa University, a variable number of trainees.

Rome Unit - This unit is based in the CNR Research Area in Montelibretti, Rome. A new building is under construction and will host all IBBA labs and officies. Staff consists of five researchers and an administrative unit. Main research interests relate to genetic, physiological and environmental bases that control cell determination and the activity of plant meristems. Work carried out comprises isolation, functional characterisation and biotechnological use of plant homeobox genes that control meristem (plant stem cells) formation, identity and activity in model and crop species for plant genetic improvement; development of new protocols for crop genetic transformation that exploit cellular totipotency and adaptative responses to stress.

General goals of the Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology
The institue main goal is the development of fundamental knowledge, which is a pre requisite for the understanding and valorisation of biodiversity as well as for all genetic, technological and biotechnological applications in the agricultural field. Particular focus is given to the training of young researchers, graduate and undergraduate students working on their theses.

The scientific aims of the Institute of Agricultural Biology and Biotechnology
In compliance with the current institute regulations, the Institute performs research, technological enhancement and transfer as well as training projects in the following research fields and related to the following themes:
-Gene identification for the functional characterization of animals, plants and microorganisms of agrarian interest, and study of their chromosome localisation, physiologic expression and function.
-Study of the processes controlling the growth, differentiation, and acquisition-maintenance of functional, metabolic, and productive characteristics of plants, also related to the external environment and to the introduction of genetic modifications.
-Functional interactions between micro-organisms and plants: molecular mechanisms, effects on biodiversity, environmental impact evaluation.
-Study of the biological-reproductive and genetic structure, as well as of the evolution of the domestic animal population, for the preservation of its germplasm through in vivo, in vitro and in silico models.
-Development of technologies and biotechnologies of agrarian and industrial interest, including molecular techniques for gene sequence engineering suited to the production of metabolites and proteins.
-Improvement of non-food plants for biofuel production.
-Impact evaluation of chemical compounds, used in the Agro-Alimentary industries, under toxicological and environmental profiles. Analysis of the products of plant metabolism present in the diet and their protective role in the oxidative stress.
-Bioinformatics for the analysis of molecular and quantitative data relating to animal, plant and microbial species; information systems for agricultural research.

Scientific interaction within the Institute
The individual sections making up IBBA have maintained their specific scope of action and scientific focus. In spite of the diverse biological material studied in each section (animals, plants, mycorrhizas), all of them share common scientific themes (such as the development and adjustment of biosoftware; the analysis of biodiversity; a basic knowledge of the regulation of gene and protein expression, the intracellular transport of proteins; the physiological role of gene sequences; the identification of control points for metabolic and signal transduction pathways; genetic analysis) with the use of common methodological approaches (isolation and characterization of gene sequences; site-specific mutagenesis; protein and metabolite analysis; microarrays, techniques of microscopy and cytogenetics; utilisation of bioinformatic facilities; cell cultures).

Staff working in the facilities of the Institute
Staff on the roll: 36 researchers; 12 technicians; 6 administrative employees; 6 researchers on temporary position, 5 associate scientists. The staff is allocated as follows:
Headquarter and Plant Biosynthesis labs in Milan: 4 head of research; 3 senior researchers; 11 researchers; 8 technicians ( one of them working for the CNR Research Area Milan 1); 5 administrative employees (one working for the CNR Research Area Milan 1), 4 researchers on temporary contracts, 1 associate scientist.
Lodi Unit: one senior researcher, 5 researchers, 1 researcher on temporary contract, 2 associate scientists.
Pisa Unit: one senior researcher, 6 researchers; 4 technicians; 2 associate scientists.
Rome Unit: one senior researcher; 4 researchers; 1 administrative employee, 1 associate scientist.
Trainees (graduate and undergraduates working on their thesis) and young researchers working in the various locations: an average of 30 people.

Institute Committee.
The Institute Committee assists the Director in developing the general guidelines related to the planning and coordination of the Institute's research projects as well as to the Institute management policy. The Institute Committee is made of: a) The Director at the head of it; b) five members appointed by the Institute researchers and technologists; c) one representative of the Institute's technical and administrative staff.
Current composition of the Institute Committee: Dr. Roberto Bollini (IBBA Director); Dr. Silvia Gianì, Dr. Giovanna Frugis, Dr. Vincenzo Longo; Dr. Paolo Leone; Dr. Francesca Sparvoli; Mr. Sergio Mapelli.

Funding sources
-CNR central administration; -Competitive projects funded and co-funded by Government departments;
-Competitive projects funded and co-funded by the European Community and International Organisations;
-Research contracts and agreements with Regions, Provinces, Local authorities, Foundations;
-Research contracts with Companies and SMEs.

Funding allocation
The CNR Central Administration provides for the following: payroll costs; real estate expenses for maintenance, cleaning and caretaking; funds (ordinary endowment funds) for part of ordinary operating expenses (electricity, heating, telephone, maintenance of equipment and machinery, mail, service suits) and the purchase of few consumables. In the past years the Institute's ordinary endowment funds have decreased so dramatically that no longer support basic research projects. Research is now supported by competitive grants gained by IBBA researchers. These funds come from competitive projects funded by Government departments, by the European Community as well as by International bodies, along with the research contracts and agreements with Regions, Provinces, Local authorities, Foundations, Companies and SMEs. Beside research, these founds support ordinary operating costs, temporary staff, scholarships, research allowances, doctorate scholarships.


IBBA Headquarter and Plant Biosynthesis Laboratories
Via Bassini 15, 20133 Milano
Director: dr. Roberto Bollini
tel. +39 0223699 430
fax. +39 0223699 411

Lodi Unit, Responsible dr. Flavia Pizzi
c/o PTP, Via Einstein 26900 Lodi, (LO)
tel. +39 0371 4662 505
fax. +39 0371 4662 501

Pisa Unit, Responsible dr. Chiara Geri
CNR Research Area, Via Moruzzi 1, 56124 Pisa
tel. +39 0503153089
fax. +39 0503153328

Rome Unit, Responsible dr. Donato Giannino
CNR Research Area of Montelibretti, Via Salaria km 29,300, 00016 Monterotondo Scalo (Rome)
tel. +39 0690672529
fax. +39 0690672842