Research on the field of molecular-plant-microbe-insect interactions, with special focus of phytoplasmas. These wall-less bacteria are transmitted by phloem feeding hemipterans (cicadellids and psyllids) to several plant species where they cause economically important diseases. Control of phytoplasma diseases relies mainly on insecticide treatments to limit vector population, with deleterious impact on the environment. A better knowledge of these pathogens, their diversity in nature, the mechanism that rule their interactions with plant and insect hosts are important pre-requisites to develop new environmental friendly control strategies for phytoplasmoses.
Research activity in the lab focuses on the interaction among phytoplasma, plant and insect vector to identify phytoplasma genes involved in the determination of vector specificity and symptom development in the infected plant. Chrysanthemum yellows isolate of ‘Candidatus Phytoplasma asteris’ and Flavescence dorée (16SrV-C) phytoplasma are the main focus of the research. For both pathogens we have developed experimental model systems. Phytoplasma membrane genes, known hot spots for positive selection, are the target for our research. The direct and indirect effects of several abiotic and biotic elicitors of plant resistance on the interaction among plant/phytoplasma and vector are also studied, both with a field scale approach, to provide insights on the effects of these elicitors on phytoplasma epidemiology, and a laboratory scale approach, to highlight the molecular aspects of the interaction.