Plant development, flower, developmental boundaries, pattern formation, morphogenesis
I am a plant developmental biologist, with a background in molecular biology and genetics (Msc) and a PhD in Life Sciences – specialization in plant development (La Sapienza, University of Rome).
I have been always fascinated by how things work and by how they become what they are. In this sense, nature is a source of beauty and inspiration as so many different shapes and patterns can be found in it, from the simplest to the most complex. As a research associate in the lab of Edwige Moyroud at the Sainsbury laboratory, I investigate at the molecular level how petals in flowering plants (specifically in Hibiscus trionum) develop their features, i.e. what are the hormones, the genes and the proteins involved in shaping colourful and functional patterns on petal surfaces. What excites me the most is that apparently unrelated organs and tissues in plants share the same core molecular elements and the same gene networks to develop, with some slight – but fundamental- variations that make them different. I undertook the challenge of identifying these core elements and the gene regulatory networks they operate in, and then understanding why their outputs can be so diverse in different developmental contexts. Acquiring these insights means getting closer to understanding how evolution tinkers with what already exists to generate endless forms and a panoply of astonishing organisms. Petals of flowering plants, moreover, are not only a model system for EVO-DEVO (evolutionary developmental biology) studies: one of their main functions is to facilitate pollination by attracting pollinators, so they are perfect also for such studies with an ecological perspective. Thus, I recently became interested in investigating the relevance of petal patterns for pollinators. In the long term, this knowledge will help us to take action at different scales to improve plant-pollinators interactions.