Plant Biology and Biotechnology

Crop Improvement

The Crop Improvement Group (Reddy) in New Delhi focuses on translational research in the area of agricultural biotechnology and crop improvement, using transgenic and targeted genome-editing technology in the indica rice cultivar to improve rice plant architecture for enhanced productivity. The intention is to simultaneously engineer resistance to multiple herbicides as well as biotic stresses with different modes of action to control weeds, and to promote the cultivation of direct-seeded rice (DSR). In addition, engineering via genome editing is pursued in order to improve the nutritional quality of rice. The Nutritional Improvement Group (Kaul) in New Delhi continues to use the latest genetic engineering technologies to improve traits and the nutritional value of cereals, legumes and tomatoes. The Bacteriology Group in Trieste (Venturi) focuses on bacterial interspecies signaling in plant-associated microbiomes and the identification and development of plant bacterial probiotics. The newly formed Plant Systems Biology Group (Donaldson) in Cape Town is studying salinity stress adaptation using Arabidopsis as a model as well as economically important crops, such as maize and sorghum. In addition, it is initiating studies on the role of the microbiome in biotic stress tolerance in sorghum.


The Crop Improvement Group has reported the antifungal and defense elicitor activity of glyphosate against Magnaporthe oryzae on transgenic rice overexpressing the glyphosate resistance gene (Mehta et al, Plant Sci, 2021). In addition, via genome editing, knock-out mutants of the GW2 locus have resulted in the improvement of the grain nutritional quality of rice (Achary et al Sci Rep, 2021). The Nutritional Improvement of Crops Group has perfected the genotype-independent regeneration of, and transformation protocols for, rice cultivars (Kaul et al., Meth Mol Biol, 2021) and contributed to the understanding the role of the ascorbate-glutathione pathway in tolerance to drought and salinity stresses (Raja et al., Plant Cell Rep, 2021). The Bacteriology Group has studied how the microbiome of rice changes upon pathogen attack by Dickeya which causes foot rot, showing cooperation between the pathogen and members of the microbiome (Bez et al, Environ Microbiol, 2021). In addition, they continue to study the role of the LuxR solo regulators in interspecies signaling in the microbiome (Bez et al., mSphere 2021), and have reported a beneficial plant probiotic Pseudomonas strain (Bertani et al., Planta, 2021) and has hypothesized on the role of cell-cell interaction in the plant microbiome (Venturi et al, Trends Plant Sci, 2021). The Plant Systems Biology group reported how auxin levels are affected in saline conditions, using Arabidopsis as model (Cackett et al., Front Plant Sci, 2022). Methods 16:47, 2020). The Bacteriology Group reported on the role of the microbiome in a rice plant disease (Musonerimana et al., Microb Ecol 80:637-642, 2020), and on the mechanisms of plant colonization by novel plant-beneficial bacteria (Mosquito et al., Appl Environ Microbiol, 2020; Mosquito et al., Mol Plant Microb Interact 2020), thereby opening the way for the development of novel biofertilisers.