Sustainability and Competitiveness

 

  • Upgrading of byproducts and biotransformation of wastes
    • Bioactive agents from secondary species
    • Biotransformation of wastes
  • Natural products
  • Plant protection and improvement
    • Mycorrhizal associations and forestry application
    • Molecular strategies for control of pine nematode
    • Transcriptomic approach to nutritional crop improvement

Regarding the valorization/up-grading of low-value products, extraction of added value products from agro-food by-products, e.g. fish processing plants (wastewater/by-products) will be explored. Ceramic materials such as hydroxyapatite and calcium phosphate obtained from cod fish bones will be evaluated for application as matrixes for removing metals from wastewaters or as biomaterial in bone replacing.

 

Concerning the studies on plant and human nutrition via plant biotechnology, the molecular, physiological and morphological basis for tolerance to Iron Deficiency Chlorosis (IDC) in soybean is planned to be elucidated over the period in question. This pathology is very relevant both in terms of agriculture and in human nutrition – adequate iron nutrition and optimally regulated plant iron status are central to many aspects of plant growth and development, as well as to the iron concentration of harvested plant products (for human food or animal feed). Further work on plant nutrition will contemplate climatic alterations effects on nutritional impact of plant foods. Climatic alterations have led to the development of extreme environments where an increased competition for water is prevalent, in particular due to human and animal consumption, mismanaged agricultural practices and increased industrialization. These environmental stresses hinder the current need for an increased production of food and feed, and the need to meet food safety criteria. A better understanding will be achieved on the effects of growing conditions on seed yield, and to assess environmental impact on seed nutritional quality and allergenicity potential in chickpea, one of the major legume crops used primarily for its seeds and grown in the West Asia and Mediterranean climates in both northern and southern hemispheres. State of the art ecophysiology methodologies will be applied, focusing on seed proteome subsets and cross-correlating gene expression analysis with seed composition traits such as protein, carbohydrates, fat and minerals.

This multidisciplinary work on the biodegradation of fluorinated compounds address studies, from the isolation of microorganisms to the establishment of granular sludge sequencing batch airlift reactors (SBAR) and rotating biological contactors (RBCs) to treat contaminated water. Regarding soil restoration, the use of growth promoting bacteria and mycorrhizal fungi to promote the growth of plants exposed to metal contamination, e.g. Zn and Cd, will be assessed, aimed at devising strategies for the establishment of plants in degraded soils and sediments, while generating valuable biomass.

The role of ectomycorrhizal fungi for the restoration of postfire soils will be deepened, from laboratory to field studies, promoting its use as biotechnological tools in more sustainable forestry practices. Another issue is the development of biotechnological tools towards combating the pine wilt disease, towards the understanding of the etiology of pine wilt disease, caused by the pine wood nematode (PWN) Bursaphelenchus xylophilus (Steiner and Buhrer) Niclke. Bursaphelenchus xylophilus, the causal agent of the pine wilt disease (PWD), an infirmity affecting mainly pine trees recently introduced into Europe.

Studies on phytoremediation of wastewater will be continued with studies on the application of horizontal flow pilot-scale constructed wetland (CW) for polishing wastewater produced at tourism facilities. This will include assessing efficiency in removing nutrients and in removing microbial pollution of faecal origin.

Concerning enhanced analytical approaches to support competitiveness, in coming years, we will devise low-pressure flow systems capable of performing chromatographic separations using monolithic columns, peristaltic pumps, and low pressure injection valves. It is expected that these systems will be competitive with traditional HPLC systems, which involve a higher investment and maintenance costs. These systems will be used for monitoring different parameters in coffee as a pilot production chain. Another approach on this pilot model will employ IR and NIR measurements, along with chemometric tools, to characterize coffee beans with different origins and establishing tools to detect adulteration of commercial coffee blends. The same instrumental and mathematical tools will be used to characterize the origins of different salts.

Researchers working in the above topics: