Point of contact at UniTrento
prof. Fabrizio Costa (coordinator)
prof. Fulvio Mattivi
prof.ssa Flavia Gasperi
prof. Eugenio Aprea

Point of contact at FEM
dr. Nicola Busatto
dr. Francesca Populin

The World Health Organization has been recommending a continuous and regular consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables in the human diet, due to the well-known role that these products have in safeguarding and promoting human health through an important prevention in the development of chronic diseases. Human health globally is also promoted by FAO through compliance with Food Security. These important concepts are made possible by a series of important qualitative-nutritional-nutraceutical characteristics of the fruits that develop during the physiological process of ripening, and which differ in quantity and ratio between the different varieties of the same species. The production of fruit, in particular apple, must nowadays face important challenges and overcome new obstacles. Agricultural crops, especially fruit and vegetables, must now consider important climatic changes capable of negatively influencing the environmental and territorial suitability, limiting or even preventing their cultivation. In addition to this aspect, the cultivation of plants of intensive agricultural interest must today respect the sustainability and environmental impact that cultivation techniques can have on the entire ecosystem.
Fruit growing therefore must face these challenges while considering the quality expectations of consumers, in constant search for new products or properties. For this reason, today more than ever, there is a real and concrete need for varietal renewal of main fruit species. The new varieties must be able to provide higher nutritional and nutraceutical quality standards in compliance with environmental sustainability. This can only be achieved through the creation of new varieties capable of associating high qualitative performances with genetic resistance to the main diseases. Today, in fact, almost all the horticultural varieties grown in the open field are susceptible to various pathogens, requiring the necessary application of agro-chemicals for their control. Another important aspect to consider, as illustrated in the recent FAO guidelines, is the needed effort to reduce food waste, which in fresh produce (fruit and vegetables) can reach up to 50% of the entire production. This aspect must also be taken into consideration in the design of the new varieties, improving the intrinsic conservation capacity of the fruits and their resistance to the physiological processes typical of the late ripening phase. For this objective, in fact, a deep and precise knowledge of the physiological and genetic bases of fruit ripening is necessary, a physiological phenomenon on which the various qualitative properties important for fruit technologist and consumer depend.

An integrated multidisciplinary approach will be essential to achieve these results. The technologies available today make it possible to study the composition of entire genomes and the analysis of the related variome in different individuals, whether they belong to cross-breeding or germplasm populations. Genetic analysis about the definition of allelic variants will allow, together with the characterization of various phenotypes, including metabolic characterizations, to identify the regions of the genome involved in the control of these properties. Subsequent approaches to System Genetics, including Genetical Genomics, will also allow the definition of the various genes responsible for controlling and regulating these processes.

The multidisciplinarity and integration between the various parties and partners will represent the success of this research articulation. Given the complexity and multiple disciplines required, collaborations with C3A colleagues with experience in the field of metabolomics and the evaluation of various qualitative parameters will be fundamental, also considering the important role of the consumer. This research will also have to take advantage of colleagues and internal structures of FEM, which have long been involved in the study of the quality and ripening of the fruits.

Research lines:

  • Analysis of the genetic variability available in the collections and breeding programs of the main fruit tree species;
  • Identification of gene networks involved in the regulation of the processes of interest;
  • Characterization of the main qualitative properties of the fruit, functional for both consumer satisfaction and sustainable conservation;
  • Characterization of metabolites with an active role in human health;
  • Identification of QTLs and genomic regions responsible for controlling these properties;
  • Development of new molecular-genetic investigation tools useful for the selection of new accessions in breeding programs.