Genética Vegetal e Biotecnologia (MED)



The group is engaged to strengthen not only innovation in scientific thinking and performance, but also in specific technology development, career building of younger and advanced scientists in project development and coordination, and initiation of proof-of-concept projects.

The group consists actually of 13 integrated researchers from 5 wider teams. All teams act independently, but have overlapping research interest. Common interest is shown by common publications and future research plans.

Overall, two research lines are prevalent:

[RL1] ‘Plant Conservation, Improvement and Propagation’ and

[RL2] ‘AOX Research and Functional Marker Development’. Infrastructure uses relate to Biotechnology, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, specific equipment for AOX research (Calorespirometry, Oxygraph and Carbon Isotope Analyser), Advanced Microscopy (Confocal and Microdissection), Germplasm collection (seed sanitation, curator and chamber, research fields in different climates).

It is physically distributed at 3 sites - Évora (Mitra), Elvas and Funchal.

Linhas de Investigação

RL1: ‘Plant Conservation, Improvement and Propagation’

Research focuses on conservation, selection and propagation of autochthonous plants and tree material. A documentation management system and certification tools will be developed to record agrodiversity and the impact of changes due to global challenges and define and certify quality traits of nursery plant material.

Specifically, short [ST] and long-term [LT] goals in plant conservation are:

(1) in situ programs of selected crop wild relatives (CWRs) or landraces, towards eco-geographic and genetic diversity models [LT];

(2) geno- and phenotyping of model crops using markers linked with agronomic, biochemical or quality traits [ST];

(3) model development of crop adaptability to abiotic stresses (drought and metal toxicity) using field and laboratory approaches [LT];

(4) study adaptability of plants to artificial environments [effect of LED light on plant rooting capacity and growth, ST] and of foreign species (eg Stevia, Gogi) to local conditions [LT].

On improvement and propagation, the goals are:

(1) improve rooting capacity of olive cultivars and explain physiological and genetic interactions controlling adventitious root formation [ST];

(2) in vitro propagation of walnut cultivars and the use of mechanical grafting, towards transferring the technology for commercial use (up to 3 years, ST);

(3) study chickpea genotypes for high environmental responsiveness, high productivity and high stability [LT];

(4) implement sanitation and certification of nursery material for olive and grapevine [pioneering olive certified material of Portuguese cultivars; redirection of grapevine selection criteria for high quality, ST];

(5) achieve wheat varieties tolerant to high temperatures and water stress [LT];

(6) obtain biofortified wheat varieties, by evaluating genetic variability and supplementation, towards zinc and selenium accumulation capacity [ST].

RL2: ‘AOX Research and Functional Marker Development’

Alternative oxidase (AOX) has a crucial role in metabolism for rapid acclimation and adaptation in complex abiotic and biotic environmental contexts. Together with the normal respiration pathway (COX) it is recognized central for controlling homeostasis and metabolic/physiological plasticity.

Short [ST] and long-term goals [LT]:

(1) enhanced knowledge on AOX gene diversity in carrot, in arbuscular mycorrhizal (AMF) and in the microalga Chlorella vulgaris and associated endophytes [ST];

(2) develop software for improved AOX exon, intron, and UTR polymorphisms discovery by advancing bioinformatics and artificial intelligence [ST];

(3) identify functional markers from AOX-polymorphisms for temperature stress and biomass production in carrot [ST] and C. vulgaris  [LT];

(4) develop novel technology application and upgrading for ‘deep trait’ phenotyping for carrot, wheat and C. vulgaris (calorespirometry, carbon isotope analyses) [ST];

(5) establish a new single cell approach for functional marker development in carrot [ST] and algae populations [LT] by ‘body cell-landscaping’ that covers exploiting links between adaptive alternative respiration and adaptive genome organization (copy number/endoploidy variability and epigenetics).

Research addresses the general bottleneck gap between genomics and phenotyping. All projects follow SMART proof-of-concepts strategies. Industry from carrot seed production (MKS (Japanese company)/European Limagrain Cooperative), AMF inoculum production (German SME INOQ GmbH), and microalgae for multipurpose use are involved through running and applied projects and/or fellows. Microalgae research forms part of business plans for future company installations in Abu Dhabi and Évora. Insights achieved for carrot related to phenotype screening will be adapted for the major crop wheat, to raise research outcome to a higher significance level. This will be done in direct collaboration with researchers from conservation and breeding together with international partners from cereal industry.

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