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Biotechnology, Ecology and Sustainability (BES) Unit

The Biotechnology, Ecology and Sustainability (BES) area is an interdisciplinary group that guarantees the environmental, economic and biotechnological skills necessary for teaching, research and technology transfer according to the fundamental principles of sustainability the provisions of art.1 of the University Statute.

The BES staff deal with research and innovation in various scientific sectors, namely: Environmental Economy;  Agricultural Genetics, Zoology, Ecology, Applied Biology, Environmental Microbiology

The main reasearch topics are:

  • populations and community ecology in aquatic and forest ecosystems
  • biogeochemistry and ecological processes in aquatic ecosystems along gradients of environmental conditions and anthropogenic pressures
  • long-term ecological research in lakes and high-altitude forest environments
  • biology and ecology of the edaphic fauna in forest, agricultural and anthropogenic ecosystems
  • ecotoxicology of aquatic and terrestrial environments
  • network analysis applied to natural, urban and social systems
  • scientific support to management and restoration  of aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems
  • modeling  for environmental impact studies
  • resilience and sustainability of natural and anthropized ecosystems: genetic and molecular bases of genotype-environment interactions
  • environmental contamination from nanomaterials and nanoparticles, including aspects related to human health,  sustainable and safe production systems
  • assessment of quality, sustainability and safety at the production level along the entire agri-food chain, with particular reference to low-input managments, precision farming, conservation agriculture
  • applied biotechnologies for decontamination and monitoring: phytoremediation and bioremediation, studies on genetic and molecular bases in plants and microorganisms
  • integrated and sustainable management of processes for recovering  energy and materials from waste and residues deriving from agri-food production;
  • food safety a and quality:  rapid and effective diagnostic methods to identify unwanted components (contaminants, GMOs, ingredients, allergens)
  • molecular traceability for safety, quality and protection of the authenticity of food production;
  • environmental economics: sustainable management in agriculture, life cycle analysis and circular economy



Biogeochemical approach to the study of biodiversity-ecosystem functioning relationships in shallow aquatic environments.

Study of the interactions between geochemical and microbial processes and the influence of meio and macrofauna, and of plant communities on the biogeochemical cycles of the main biogenic elements.

Analysis and assessment of transport, transformation and budgeting of carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and silica in the path from the inland waters to marine-coastal environments. Evaluation of their effects on cyanobacteria and macroalgae.

Comparison of ecosystem processes along latitudinal gradients (Baltic-Mediterranean).


Complex ecological and socio ecological systems investigated through qualitative analysis to understand how the structure of the interactions affects their response to environmental drivers: climate change, management policies, social traps.

Human and ecological systems as flow networks to highlight growth and development features searching for early signs of stress in ecosystem and the propensity to sustainability of human systems.


Applied microbiology: use of different molecular systems to study the genotoxicity of pharmaceutical drugs on different yeast species, evaluation of the target and off-target effects using mutant libraries, transcriptomics and proteomic analysis. Studies performed on planktonic cells and biofilms.

Circular economy: functionalization of biochar: Biotechnological research focused on the possibility to functionalize biochar, often consider only a waste product, with different PGPB. Analysis of the material generated to test its use as a possible fertilizer.

Sustainable innovation of microbiome applications in food system: European research project with the aim to deepen our understanding of microbes in soil and sea, and the study of their exploitation for a sustainable food production. 

Evaluation of the impact of engineered nanomaterials: Genomic, transcriptomic and proteomics studies to assess their effects on the model organisms S.cerevisiae.


Analysis of the agro-environmental policies. Common agricultural policy (CAP) measures are evaluated  according to ex-ante and ex-post perspectives using positive mathematical programming (PMP) approach, widely used at EU level for agricultural policy analysis.

Sustainability assessment in agri-food supply chains. Evaluation of sustainability levels of agri-food supply chains, both in terms of production and consumption, by applying hybrid economic and environmental models based on mathematical programming and life cycle assessment (LCA).


Study of the genetic and molecular bases of genotype-environment interactions in plant organisms, and in particular the response to abiotic stresses, such high temperatures and drought stress, both in model species and in species of agronomic interest.

Study of the effect of environmental conditions (cultivation methods, water regime, fertilization methods) on the quality of cereal reserve proteins.

Development of molecular markers for assisted selection and for functional genomics applications in species of agronomic interest (tomato, wheat, rice, maize).

Molecular traceability along food chains for the safety and protection of the authenticity of food production. Development of traceability methods based on DNA analysis for the detection of the presence of allergenic species and GMOs in food for human use.


Population biology of forest trees

Analyses of effects of climate change, forest management and habitat fragmentation on genetic structure of forest populations

Micro-spatial genetic structure in beech, poplar, salix and silver fir and Norway spruce

Reproductive patters in forest trees and gene flow via pollen and seeds

Relationship between genetics and eco-physiology in forest trees

Modelling of evolutionary and growth dynamics in forest trees


Application of biotechnologies to environmental problems. Higher plants to monitoring, prevention and remediation of pollution, particularly heavy metals, nanomaterials, air pollutants.

Molecular traceability for food safety and protection of authenticity. Application of molecular markers and genomics to analysis of food products in order to identify the components of biological origin in qualitative and quantitative terms, for identification of origin and authenticity of materials.

Study of the genetic and molecular bases of genotype-environment interaction. Study in model plants and crop plants to define the genetic and molecular bases of response to environmental stress, also through the isolation of mutants, transcriptomics, proteomics. The focus is on heat stress, drought stress, presence of metal pollutants and nanomaterials.

Circular economy and biotechnologies. Production of biochar and amendments from waste and biomass, for sustainable intensification of agriculture.


Chemical and physical analysis of biochar from pyrolysis and gasification of residual biomass in order to use it as soil amendment and building material. Study of its practical application within the concept of the circular economy and sustainable development as defined by the UN Agenda 2030. Analysis of food chain sustainability in the face of the global warming threat.


Studies of the physiological, biochemical and molecular effects of engineered nanomaterials on plants (model plants such as Arabidopsis thaliana, and crop plants such as tomato) and on the yeast Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Investigation of the physiological and molecular effects of arsenic and silicon on tomato. Analysis and characterization of different types of biochar to be used as agricultural amendments and fertilizers.


Research topics are developed in the Soil Biology and Ecology fields, in areas with different degrees of naturalness and anthropic impact: 

Characterization of soil microarthropod biodiversity in areas with different impact and degradation levels (woods, grasslands, agricultural ecosystems, degraded areas).

Evaluation of the effects of agriculture practices (tillage-no till, pesticides, fertilization etc.) on soil microarthropod community. 

Relationship between soil fungi (truffles) and soil microarthropods in areas for the truffle production.

Effects of toxic substances on Folsomia candida springtail: toxicity test, effects on survival and reproduction.

Application of Soil Biological Quality index (QBS-ar) (national reference).


Engineered Nanomaterials (ENMs) risk assessment, ecotoxicological impact and trophic transfer.

Physiological and molecular response of plant model organism A. thaliana and crop species exposed to ENMs.

Physiological and molecular response of eukaryotic model system S. cerevisiae exposed to ENMs and Systems Biology.

Effects of biochar and metal or ENMs on crop plant.


Main research topics are focused on the analysis of populations and communities of aquatic invertebrates and on the structure and functioning of freshwater ecosystems:

Long term ecological research in lentic ecosystems of the Northern Apennines within the LTER Network.

Distribution of zooplankton species in Northern Apennine lakes and ponds.

Ecological and biogeographical studies in mountain springs.

Hydrobiological investigations in lentic and lotic lowland ecosystems (fontanili, quarry lakes, potamal stretches, etc).

Research on taxonomy and ecology of non-marine recent ostracods.

Systematics and evolution of the family Darwinulidae (Ostracoda: Crustacea).

Alien freshwater invertebrates in Italy: colonization patterns and impacts on aquatic ecosystems.


Populations biology and evolutionary ecology of aquatic invertebrates are the main topics of  research. Specific issues are

evolution of life history traits and evolutionary genetics, with special reference to reproductive modes, dormancy and maternal effects;

basic and applied aspects of ecology, with special focus on the dynamics of natural populations and their genetic variability (investigated by enzymatic and molecular markers);

investigation in nature and in the laboratory of biological and ecological features of different genotypes


Study of the molecular mechanisms underlying the toxicity of nanomaterials in different model systems (bacteria, yeasts and human cell lines).

Chemogenomic approaches in yeast for the study of the cellular response to environmental stress and for the identification of mechanisms of action of small molecule xenobiotics.

Development of screening platforms in yeast for the identification of bioactive natural compounds for biomedical applications.


Application of molecular tools to the assessment of microbial biodiversity in soils, groundwater and surface waters.

Isolation and characterization of hydrocarbon oxidizing bacteria from contaminated sites and their possible application to Bioremediation.

Studies on well clogging in the processes of securing and remediation of contaminated sites.

Production of functional biochar and possible applications in Bioremediation

Bacterial phytases characterization


Processes, functions and services of inland and transitional aquatic ecosystems

Evaluation of anthropogenic pressures in river basins in relation to water eutrophication

Study of the development of biogeochemical cycles in quarry lakes

Interactions between anthropogenic pressures, climate change, trophic status and redox conditions in lakes with different depths.

Responses of benthic communities and biogeochemical processes to hydrological regime changes in canals, streams and rivers


Proteomic studies assessing quality in cereals, in particular durum wheat subjected to low input managements (leaf fertilization, precision farming techniques)

Phenotypic plasticity and molecular response of plants to environmental stresses (contamination of heavy metals in soil, water and thermal stress)

Interaction between plants and soil microorganisms, with particular emphasis on plant growth promoting bacteria for their applications as biofertilizers with the aim to reduce the use of chemical fertilizers

Application of phytotoxicity tests to evaluate soil quality, degradation and contaminants present in the environment.

Pubblicato Wednesday, 27 February, 2019 - 12:29 | ultima modifica Monday, 4 March, 2019 - 08:26