Plant-soil interaction at the rhizosphere, plant nutrition and stress response


Team leader
Prof. Roberto Pinton, professor of plant and soil chemistry


Plant-soil interaction at the rhizosphere1     Plant-soil interaction at the rhizosphere2     Plant-soil interaction at the rhizosphere3

From left: Prof. Roberto Pinton, Dott. Nicola Tommasi, Dott. Simonetta Santi


Scientists and student tutors
Dott. Simonetta Santi, scientist, molecular biochemistry and physiology
Dott. Nicola Tommasi, scientist, molecular biochemistry and physiology

Dott. Simone Grisan,Dott. Gottardi Stefano,Dott. Schnell-Ramos Magali



  • The fundamental processes underlying and regulating the acquisition and utilization of mineral elements in plants, with the aim to improve our knowledge on nutrient use efficiency by crops in order to increase the yield of agricultural production in term of quantity and food quality. Nutritional processes are described at the biochemical, physiological and molecular level, considering the role of membrane activities (enzymes and ions transporters) and the signalling functions of mineral nutrients with special emphasis on conditions of nutritional unbalance.
  • Plant-soil relationship are investigated particularly with respect to the plant-induced modifications of rhizospheric environment and the role of natural effectors (e.g. humic substances); mechanisms of root exudation and its impact on rhizosphere biochemistry and microbiology are studied by using chemical, biochemical and molecular biological approaches.
  • Stress response. How environmental signals are perceived and translated to restore cellular homeostasis and/or change function is investigated by focusing on plant cell or tissue response. In particular, cell-specific resolution of gene expression analysis is optimised to study interactions between plant and pathogen at the infection site (eg phytoplasma-infected phloem in grapevine), or to understand how plant roots control cellular homeostasis in the response to low availability (e.g. iron shortage) or excess (e.g. salt stress) of mineral elements.

Lab facilities
Climate controlled growth chamber and hydroponic equipment 
Biochemical and physiological methodology
Inductively coupled plasma atomic emission spectrometry (ICP-AES)
PCR Systems (Real Time PCR)
Lab for utilization of radioactive tracers with liquid scintillation analyser
High Performance Liquid Chromatography Mass Spectrometer (HPLC-MS)
Protein electrophoresis casting and western blotting

Access through collaboration with external (national and foreign lab):
Cloning and heterologous expression facilities
X-Ray fluorescence synchrotron and Particle Induced X-ray Emission microscopy
Confocal microscopy
Microarray platform (Combimatrix)
Laser microdissection
Next-generation sequencing 

Topics offered for thesis

  • Physiological and molecular bases of nutrient efficiency in plants: release of root exudates and sulphate acquisition (supervisor Prof. Roberto Pinton)
  • Increasing the food quality and yield of ready-to-eat products via improvement of the nutrient content of growth media (supervisor Prof. Roberto Pinton)
  • Ground breaking methods to study the mechanisms of mobilization and acquisition of trace metals in the soil-plant system (supervisor Dott. Nicola Tomasi)
  • Dissecting the mechanisms of plant response to stress by means of expression profiling (RNA-seq) of specific cell types (supervisor Dott. Simonetta Santi)