The Plant Nutrition Group research interests
Continued rapid growth of the global population is raising concerns over future food security. Availability of nutrients in soil, particularly nitrogen (N) sources, represents a major bottleneck in crop yield. Therefore, current crop productivity relies heavily on the use of commercial fertilizers. Intensive use of fertilizers, however, often leads to billions of pounds in losses annually and significant environmental impact.
In Frungillo Lab we use a range of genetic, genomic, proteomic, and biochemical techniques to identify and synthetically manipulate regulatory nodes that feedback nitrate assimilation in plants. Ultimately, we aim to reveal novel chemical and genetic targets that can be used in crop improvement strategies. Specifically, we are tackling this challenge though the following different angles:
- Fine-tuning plant nutrition with protein post-translational modifications.
Previously, our work revealed that plants evolved feedback mechanisms to balance N assimilation accordingly to its availability in soil and their metabolic status. Specifically, we showed that N assimilation and protein post-translational modifications are tightly connected, allowing plants to fine-tune cellular signalling and metabolic fluxes. These findings suggest that control of protein post-translational modifications represents an attractive way of improving nutrient use efficiency to sustainably increase crop yield per unit of land. In Frungillo Lab, we are interested in understanding fundamental cellular mechanisms of protein post-translational modifications employed during nutrient assimilation in plants.
- Manipulation of metabolic trade-offs between plant vigour and stress responses.
Plants swiftly integrate multiple external stimuli to adapt to environmental changes. Immunity, light and nutrient availability in soil are major external inputs fine-tuning plant growth and development. Despite their impact on plant performance, the crosstalk between these stimuli is still poorly understood. We aim to uncover and rewire molecular mechanisms by which plant metabolism is reprogrammed in response to environmental stimuli.
- Translational research into crops.
In intensive farming, crop varieties are often planted in rotation, with much of the farmland remaining fallow during the fall to spring months. Despite that cover crops limit nutrients loss, suppress weeds, and reduce soil erosion, only a small fraction of farm fields is planted with a winter. Reluctance in using cover crops stems mainly from the fact that traditional cover crops provide little economic return and can be costly to establish and terminate. Field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense), a flowering plant from the Brassicaceae family, has attracted attention due its potential as a winter annual cash cover crop to reduce soil erosion and nutrients leaching while producing an economically valuable oilseed. We are currently assessing feasibility of pennycress cultivation in UK farms by determining its economic potential in UK environmental conditions.