Line 1 - Basic research on the biology of model species and organisms of agricultural and natural interests
This research focuses on the molecular mechanisms underlying the following processes: the development and differentiation, the degeneration and senescence, the reproduction, the evolutionary adaptation, the defence from endogenous and exogenous stresses, the maintainance of genomic integrity and fuctionality, the apoptosis, the protein stability, transfer and metabolism, the genetic expression and the signal transduction. The study of the above mechanisms is carried out adopting a multisciplinary, genetic and biochemical approach with the aim of:
i.better understanding complex systems such as living organisms
ii.providing the basic knowledge for improving animal and plant productivity
iii.supporting with basic investigations the study of impacts of climate change and pollution.
Line 2 - Conservation, management, sustainable use and evolution of natural, agricultural and forest bioresources
This research aim at: (i) tracing, monitoring, preserving, characterizing and exploiting the biodiversity of species of interest for the agri-food sector, and the natural and agroforestry ecosistems (including non-plant organisms) with the goal of securing their sustanability; (ii) enhancing the knowledge on the evolution of bioresources and their distribution and functional role, with the goal of securing their adaptive potential against stress factors generated by the climate change, and defining effective strategies of genetic improvement in the long run.
In particular, main research is focused on the following topics:
i.Ex-situ management of plant genetic resources (PGR), and floristic-vegetation survey of rural systems with the purpose of conservation in situ / on farm / on garden / in vitro of agri-biodiversity.
ii.Morphological, physiological, biochemical and qualitative characterization through "-omic" approaches of PGR of (a) cultivated species, (b) primary and derived gene pools, and (c) species' biodiversity found in natural and forest ecosystems;
iii.In-depth analysis of the molecular basis of adaptation to climate and environmental changes and to biotic stresses, as well as analysis of physiological and biochemical mechanisms driving the production of plant and fungal species.
iv.Development and utilization of new and efficient methods for genotyping, phenotyping, isolation of new allelic variants aimed at defining strategies for collection, conservation and identification of natural, forest and fungal PGR to be submitted to specific protection and tutelage.
v.Bioinformatics approaches for the analysis and management of biological data.
Outcomes of the above activites allow to achieve optimal tools and strategies for an harmonized characterization and management of plant genetic diversity (mainly with adaptive significance), and to develop adequate methods for its certification, traceability, appraisal and sustainable use.
Line 3 - Improvement of species and production in agri-food, forestry and industry by biotechnological and genetic tools
This research focuses on:
i.the investigation of molecular, genetic and epigenetic mechanisms underlying plant fitness and the quality of their products;
ii.transfer of basic knowledge from model species to species of natural and agricultural interest though translational approaches;
iii.translate into practice the basic knowledge obtained from both biological studies and PGR assessment through biotechnological or "precision" breeding activities.
Combining "omics" and bioinformatics platforms and analyzing the structure and function of specific genes, studies are carried out on complex processes and their relevance for ensuring quality and stability of production yield, such as development and reproduction, responses to endogenous / exogenous and biotic / abiotic stimuli. All the available methodologies are used for the creation of new variability and the selection of superior genotypes. As for methods of selection, activities focus in particular on the individuation and set-up of new technologies and methodologies allowing a faster and simpler selection process of improved genotypes, as well as on the application of methodologies aimed at extending the partecipation of farmers, agri-food industries and consumers.
Line 4 - Characterization and engineering of biomolecules and biotechnologies for agriculture, industry and analysis
This research focuses on the molecular mechanisms of biological systems involved in agri-food and biotechnological progress, human health and eco-sustainable development. Multidisciplinary investigations in this line deal with functional and molecular studies on proteins, enzymes and microorganisms (archaea and bacteria as a source of hyperstable biocatalizers), and with physiological studies of eucaryotes (plants, algae, filamentous fungi, polar marine organisms, insect host/parasitoid systems). Practical applications and deliverables of the above studies are important for the green chemistry (biocatalysis, biotransformations, biofuel production and high-valuable molecules from wastes, microoganisms and plants as cell factories) and for the sustainable development of agri-food (weed control, growth enhancement of leguminosae and cereals, biorefinery).
Line 5 - Nutraceutics, functional food, genomic variability and their role for human health and disease prevention
This reseach focuses on:
i.the comprehension of extant relations among biochemical features of food, nutrition and cellular functions for the assessment of their effects on human and animal health, and their possible role in the disease prevention;
ii.the identification of interactions of genetic, epigenetic, nutritional and environmental factors with human health, and their impacts on growth regulation, homeostasis and cellular differentiation both along development and in physiological and pathological processes.
The study of stem cells from model animal species (including rodents), the analysis of large cohorts of individuals, the investigations related to ethnobotany, and the use of "omic" methodologies will provide a significant and distinguishing support for the realization of the activities dealing with this line. Deliverables from this research will include:
a.the increase of nutraceutics availability;
b.the preparation of new functional food;
c.the development of systems for disease diagnosis and prognosis;
d.the development of biocompatible polymers useful for conveying and preserve bioactive molecules
e.the identification of bioactive molecules as food quality / typicality markers.
The study of potential allergens, the use of new technologies (including nanotechnologies), and the development of methodologies and systems for the quality assessment and management in labs are a fundamental part of the proposed activities.