The prime goal in this research area is to improve plant performance by exploring and ameliorating metabolism regulatory networks determining the extent of achieving full growth and biomass production potential, focusing on sugarcane. Understanding this complex network is essential for obtaining plants with higher capacity of biomass accumulation in a sustainable manner without agriculture expansion towards environmentally sensitive areas. In addition, elucidating how plants grow in response to environmental stimuli (e.g., water and nutrients), their genetic background and their metabolism could also provide means to simplify biomass conversion into biofuels or bio-products.
By applying functional genomics, metabolomics, physiological analyses and bioinformatics, the Plant Biology Research works on different topics, in collaboration with other research lines within CTBE, breeding programs, Brazilian research institutes and international partners:
1. Metabolic markers as tool for selecting sugarcane varieties
Metabolomics and genomics have great potential to boost plant yield. In collaboration with sugarcane breeding programs (IAC and RIDESA) and geneticists (ESALQ and UNICAMP), CTBE researchers are exploring the capability of metabolite profiles used as biomarkers to predict plant performance. This novel concept opens new perspectives to support sugarcane breeding programs, reducing drastically costs and time of selection. This tool has been also used for assessing important agronomic traits evaluated by the agriculture management such as nitrogen supply.
2. Sugar signaling and carbon partitioning
Due to the fundamental role of sugars in the plant metabolism, CTBE team are interested in unravelling the molecular and biochemical aspects of central regulatory nodes of primary metabolism as a further basis for the biotechnological optimization of plant growth, carbon partitioning and production of bioenergy.
3. Sugarcane sprouting vigor
The main focus is to elucidate the metabolic control of the bud outgrowth, in order to identify key molecules triggering sprouting efficiency. Sugarcane is propagated using stem cutting containing axillary buds that growth out and develop new plants. The efficiency of bud outgrowth plays a pivotal role in the establishment of sugarcane plantlets in the field. This complex process involves genetic and developmental programs, hormonal and metabolic signaling networks in combination with environmental cues. Advances in precision agriculture can improve the homogeneity and vigor of sprouting.