Group leader: Mónica Pernas Ochoa - Researcher INIA

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One of the key challenges that plant scientist has to address is how to improve crop production in a planet with increasing challenging environmental conditions. Roots are are in charge of delivering the nutrients and water that are usually a limiting factor in many lands. Additionally, they are also in the first line to respond to stresses produced by drought, flooding, heat or nutrient limitations. The development of an efficient root system better adapted to different soil conditions is crucial for the plant survival. A better understanding of the genetic and molecular factors regulating this developmental process will allow us to design crops with enhanced productivity and adaptation to new climate environments. In this context, our group is focused in developing new genetic and molecular tools to address this challenge. Our research program involved three main fields:

Analysis of Stem Cell Development in the Brassicaceae Family


Roots are crucial for the uptake of water and nutrients. Root growth adapts to changes in the environmental conditions through changes in their physiological and developmental programs. The stem cells are the heart of the machinery that drives the growth of the roots. Understanding the molecular mechanisms behind this plastic growth requires a better understanding of root stem cell biology. SCZ is a recently identified transcription factor that regulates stem cell development in the Arabidopsis roots. We are using SCZ gene as a molecular tool to uncover new molecular mechanism regulating stem cell fate transitions during root development in different species of the Brassicaceae family with special attention to species of potential agronomic interest.

Using a combination of genomic, genetic, biochemical and molecular approaches we are trying to unravel fundamental questions in stem cell biology: how do stem cells organize, how they acquire stem cell identity and how a stem cell makes the transition to a differentiated cell. Addressing all these questions will help us to understand how from a group of stem cells a whole organ like the root grows. A better knowledge of the developmental controlled processes that regulate root growth may enable researchers to produce crops with the potential to confront successfully the production and environmental challenges of the future. To see a catalogue of representative images illustrating the architecture of the root of different species of the Brassicaceae family at cellular and tissue level visit The BrassRoot Gallery

Tissue Complexity Acquisition in Roots and Their Adaptation to Soil Conditions during Plant Evolution


The formation of the plant body requires the assembly of different tissue systems in an organized pattern to make organs. Our objective is to understand how the formation of complex tissue systems is genetically regulated and how has been acquired during plant evolution. A preliminary analysis of the variation in ground tissue anatomies in different species across the Brassicaceae has showed that there is a remarkable diversity of ground tissue phenotypes in this family. We are going to use this diversity to investigate the developmental and evolutionary mechanisms underlying tissue complexity in plants.

Additionally, an initial analysis of the variability in the organization of the root systems in the Brassicaceae family and their correlation with their growth in environmental stressed soils have been performed. In this analysis we have identified several species with unique root phenotypes that are more adapted to these severe habitats. Uncovering the genetic and evolutionary bases of this developmental trait open the interesting possibility to use them to produce crops better adapted to climate change.

Evolutionary Origin of Roots in Land Plants


One of the major events in the history of our planet was the colonization of land by plants. This colonization not only allowed subsequent animal invasion but produced radical changes on the biosphere. One of the crucial developmental innovations for the establishment of plants was the development of roots. The formation of roots allowed plant colonization of land and altered geochemical cycles by reducing CO2 levels due to soil erosion. Despite the significance of this process, little is know about the evolutionary, genetic and molecular bases of root origins. In our group we are interested in identifying key molecular and genetic regulators of root acquisition during land plant evolution. For that purpose, we are studying the role of regulators of root meristem development in the earliest diverging land plant lineages, the Bryophytas. Plants with better adapted roots are more efficient in nutrient and water acquisition as well as more resistant to pathogens and adverse environmental conditions.

A better understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms that controlled root formation has a clear biotechnological potential. Not only it will assist agriculture to design better adapted crops but also it will help us to understand and evaluate the consequences of current and future adverse environmental conditions on plant growth.

  • Marie Curie Career Integration Grant. Development and evolution of tissue complexity in plants: the Brassicaceae stem cell development. FP7-PEOPLE-2011-CIG-303831 (2012-2015).


Representative Publications

Calleja-Cabrera, J., Boter, M., Oñate-Sánchez, L., Pernas, M. 2020. Root Growth Adaptation to Climate Change in Crops. Frontiers in Plant Science 11, 544. DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2020.00544

Carrera-Castaño, G., Calleja-Cabrera, J., Pernas, M., Gómez, L., Oñate-Sánchez, L. 2020. An Updated Overview on the Regulation of Seed Germination. Plants 9, 703. DOI: 10.3390/plants9060703

Boter, M., Calleja-Cabrera, J., Carrera-Castaño, G., Wagner, G., Hatzig, S.V., Snowdon, R.J., Legoahec, L., Bianchetti, G., Bouchereau, A., Nesi, N., Pernas, M., Oñate-Sánchez, L. 2019. An Integrative Approach to Analyze Seed Germination in Brassica napus. Frontiers in Plant Science 10. DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2019.01342

Martinka M, Dolan L, Pernas M, Abe J, and Lux A.2012. Endodermal cell-to-cell contact is required for the spatial control of Casparian band development in Arabidopsis thaliana. Annals of Botany, May, 1-11.

Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics UPM – INIA Parque Científico y Tecnológico de la U.P.M. Campus de Montegancedo
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