The project on apomixis was started in Perugia in 1987 by Prof. Mario Falcinelli in Poa pratensis L (Kentucky bluegrass). Why P. pratensis? Because Prof. Falcinelli has a huge background in forage species and Kentucky bluegrass is one of the most important forage and turf grasses in temperate climates. Moreover it has a versatile and dynamic mode of reproduction that ranges naturally from nearly obligate apomixis to complete sexuality. The project was carried out by Prof. Falcinelli together with his PhD students (Andrea Mazzucato, Gianni Barcaccia, Alessandro Belardinelli and myself). Apomixis was first studied from a population genetic point of view, then the group attempted to map the apomixis trait looking for molecular markers linked to the putative apo-locus. On the last 5 years we are focused on the elucidation of the genetic control of apomixis and we are trying to clone candidate genes for both apomixis "as a whole" and its "elements" (i.e. apomeiosis and parthenogenesis) in the apomictic Poa pratensis. The adoption of a model sexual species such Arabidopsis thaliana could help in investigating meiosis and its mutations which in natural apomicts prime the process of fertilization-independent (parthenogenesis) seed formation.

Members:
Prof. Mario Falcinelli - Project Coordinator
Dr. Gianpiero Marconi - PostDoc
Dr. Lorenzo Raggi - PhD Student

Collaboration with:
Prof. Gianni Barcaccia and Prof. Margherita Lucchin, University of Padova
Dr. Lucia Colombo, University of Milan
Dr. Angela Errico and Dr. Clara Conicella, University of Naples, Italy
Prof. Hans de Jong, Wageningen University, The Netherlands
Prof. Peggy Ozias-Akins, University of Tifton, GA, USA.



The project aim is to express both transiently and stablely the human proinsulin cDNA and its partial peptide in plants of the Nicotiana genus. This is pursued through two approaches:
1) transient transformation through plant-based virus vectors;
2) stable transformation of nuclear DNA.
Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (T1DM) is the most frequent chronic disease of childhood, but all ages may be affected. Due to the complete destruction of insulin-producing pancreatic tissue, histological and metabolic hallmark of the disease, life-long insulin replacement is mandatory. Although insulin therapy protocols have recently become much more physiologically appropriate, late-onset complications of T1DM are still common, and have a strong social impact. Therefore, preventing T1DM would be a major contribution to public health. The development of safe, low cost, effective and specific strategies to prevent T1DM in the general population (primary prevention) has, therefore, become mandatory. Recently, proinsulin has gained the role of key autoantigen in autoimmune diabetes.



The aim of this study is to characterize 48 accessions of Poa pratensis L. collected in 24 countries. Most of the accessions (38) represents wild material whereas the other 10 are either the most cultivated varieties (such as, Banff, Midnight, and Princeton) or the most used for breeding purposes (e.g. Nugget). Thirty plants per accession were grown and are maintained to study morphological traits over a period of three years. Genomic DNA from single plants will be analyzed using SSR markers and also other molecular markers such as AFLP, M-AFLP, SAMPL and TRAP.




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