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Plant, Food & Climate

The Science Team Plant, Food & Climate

The major scope of our team is an integrated approach aimed at explaining plant responses to climate change and the optimized growth of high value crops (vegetables, medicinal, and ornamental plants) under protected production. In practical terms, our goals are to:

  • Optimize environments for protected growth of crop, ornamental, and medicinal plants
  • Adapt plant cultivation protocols to a changing climate
  • Contribute to plant breeding by identifying genotypes that can thrive in adverse conditions

Plant responses and their genetic ability to acclimate and adapt to different climatic conditions (temperature extremes, carbon dioxide, light, salt, drought, and flooding) are clearly important for plants grown outdoors and in protected environments, such as greenhouses, plastic tunnels, and plant factories. In protected environments, we can select the best genotypes for a specific environment, while also optimizing environmental conditions for those genotypes. The crosstalk between the physiological and molecular regulatory mechanisms in plants and plant products in response to environmental is one of our focuses. Our optimization of production of high-value crops centers on their growth and nutritional quality, including the production of primary and secondary metabolites that have sensory, health-promoting, and antimicrobial properties.

We have a specific emphasis on plant phenotyping by several novel approaches, including the use of photosynthesis, stomatal conductance, and chlorophyll fluorescence, the optimization of environments for growth of aboveground plant parts (light intensity and spectrum, CO2 concentration, temperature) and the rhizosphere (organic nutrition, hydroponics, aeroponics). Understanding the mechanisms by which plants and fresh produce adapt to or cope with different environmental factors and multiple stresses by altering growth and metabolism are key areas of the research carried out by our team. For example, we investigate the role of phytohormones in adaptive processes and the regulation of plant metabolites (e.g., phenolics, polyacetylenes, and volatile compounds) in response to abiotic stress.

 

Research facilities

The science team has ultramodern greenhouses, climate chambers (with different light spectra produced by LED lights), and storage rooms with controlled conditions that allow simulation of different environmental conditions. The group possesses equipment and laboratories for analysis of photosynthesis and chlorophyll fluorescence and and fruit and vegetable quality. Climate controlled conditions allow plant growth under a wide range of light intensities and spectra and different CO2, and relative humidity levels. Different types of hydroponics systems optimize plant nutrition while allowing investigation of root exudates.