Aim 1: Identification of new components of the Polycomb pathway
Polycomb Group (PcG) proteins are key components of the epigenetic machinery and master regulators of development in plants and animals. The components of this pathway show a high conservation among plants and animals; however, we know that plants have specific developmental requirements and, therefore, plant-specific PcG proteins have appeared during evolution. Among these plant-specific developmental requirements there are traits that have a strong impact in human life, such as flowering and seed development.
The main goal of this project is to unravel the diversity of PcG complexes involved in specific aspects of plant development by the identification of novel PcG components in Arabidopsis and their molecular functions in the regulation of the activities of the PcG pathway.
Aim 2: Evolution of plant-specific PcG components
Plants and animals have completely different developmental requirements: whereas the body of the animal is mostly formed during embryo development, plants mainly develop post-embryonically to be able to adapt to the environmental changes. Therefore, although some components of the PcG pathway are conserved among plants and animals, many other are present only in plants and are involved in covering specific plant developmental requirements.
We are interested in understanding how some of these plant-specific components evolved, when they appeared in the tree of the plant kingdom and how they might contribute to the acquisition of new traits along plant evolution. To carry out this project we use modern and ancient plant species and a combination of phylogenetics and synthetic biology.
Aim 3: Exploring epigenetic tools for seed vigour
We are highly dependent on seeds, because seeds are the main source of food in the planet and, even more considering that we need to secure food for a world population that will reach 9 billion soon. Seeds have also a strong potential to be used as main substitutes of petrol-based fuel in the future. Therefore, seeds are main components of agricultural strategies. On the other hand, climate change has a high influence on plant behaviour and, specially, on seed germination, one of the most vulnerable moments in the plant life-cycle strongly affected by abiotic stresses. We want to understand which epigenetic processes are involved in the regulation of seed vigour and use this knowledge to provide new tools for improving seed vigour and seed adaptability to environmental stresses. To develop this project we use two Brassica crops as our plant models, Brassica napus (rapeseed) and Brassica rapa (field mustard).