The “Plant cIRES Bitotech” Project 
Founded by the ERC Starting Grant 260468


The ERC “Starting Grant” Program

The ERC's mandate is to encourage the highest quality research in Europe through competitive funding and to support investigator-initiated frontier research across all fields of research, on the basis of scientific excellence. In the case of ERC Starting Independent Researcher Grants (ERC Starting Grants) this funding aims to support up-and-coming research leaders who are about to establish or consolidate a proper research team and to start conducting independent research in Europe.

Scientific excellence, being the sole criterion to assess and select proposals, is applied to the evaluation of both the Principal Investigator and the research project. Therefore, on one hand the research proposal that are selected need to be ground-breaking in nature, addressing important challenges at the frontiers of the field and should be focused on suitably ambitious objectives, which go substantially beyond the current state of the art. On the other hand, the Principal Investigator should have previously demonstrated his/her independent creative thinking and capacity to go significantly beyond the state of the art.

In this third prestigious 'Starting Grant' competition 23 Spanish researchers were awarded to carry out scientific projects related to 'Physical Sciences and Engineering', 'Life Sciences' and 'Social Sciences and Humanities'. Only five Spanish proposals were selected in 'Life Sciences', and only one, the project Plant cIRES Biotech, was selected in Biotechnology.

The “Plant cIRES Biotech” project


According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Agriculture faces the big challenge of producing enough food to feed an increasing population.


Environmental related stresses such as drought, high and low temperatures, saline soils, excess of UV light, etc., seriously affect plant development and growth, not only by reducing crop yield and quality, which causes millionaire losses in crops every year, but also by limiting the arable land area and the use of varieties to crop.



Plants are sessile organisms, which means that they remain physically attached to the substrate where they grow. For this reason, and in contrast to humans that can change their location looking for nicer weather, plants are forced to adapt to the environmental stressful situations they are exposed to in order to survive. Since plants cannot run away from the environmental stresses, plants have evolved molecular strategies that allow them to survive under such adverse conditions.



One of the earliest responses of plants to abiotic stress is the global inhibition of protein synthesis allowing only the specific translation of some mRNAs involved in the response to stress. The main goal of this project is to study the molecular mechanisms that allow the efficient translation of such proteins in response to the stress. In that sense, the results of this project will constitute a breakthrough in the knowledge of how plants adapt to environmental stresses. In addition, the characterization of the molecular mechanisms underlying this process will allow their use as biotechnological tools to enable the expression of proteins of interest under such conditions.


The research is being carried out at the Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics (Centro de Biotecnología y Genómica de Plantas, CBGP), an Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) and Instituto de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA) joint research centre.

Plant cIRES Biotech derived publications


Sesma A., Castresana C. and Castellano M. M.. “Regulation of Translation by TOR, eIF4E and eIF2α in Plants: Current Knowledge, Challenges and Future Perspectives”. Frontiers in Plant Science. 2017 26;8:644. doi: 10.3389/fpls.2017.00644.

Fernández-Bautista N.*, Fernández-Calvino L*., Muñoz A. and Castellano M. M. “HOP3, a member of the HOP family in Arabidopsis, interacts with BiP and plays a major role in the ER stress response”. 2017. Plant Cell and Environment. Feb 2. doi: 10.1111/pce.12927.

Fernández-Bautista N.*, Fernández-Calvino L*., Muñoz A. and Castellano M.M. “HOP3 a new regulator of the ER stress response in Arabidopsis with possible implications in plant development and response to biotic and abiotic stresses”. Plant Signaling Behaviour. 2017 doi: 10.1080/15592324.2017.1317421.

Toribio, R; Muñoz, A; Castro-Sanz, AB; Ferrando, A; Berrocal-Lobo, M and Castellano, M.M. "Evolutionary aspects of translation regulation during abiotic stress and development in plants". 2016. Springer International Publishing, Cham. p. 477-490. In G. Hernández and R. Jagus (eds.). Evolution of the Protein Synthesis Machinery and Its Regulation. doi: 10.1007/978-3-319-39468-8_18.

Echevarría-Zomeño S.*, Fernández-Calvino L*, Castro-Sanz A. B., López J. A., Vázquez J. and Castellano M. M. “Dissecting the proteome dynamics of the early heat stress response leading to plant survival or death in Arabidopsis”. 2016. Plant Cell and Environment. Jun; 39(6):1264-78. doi: 10.1111/pce.12664.

Fernández-Bautista N., Domínguez-Núñez J. A., Castellano M. M., Berrocal-Lobo M. “Plant Tissue Trypan Blue Staining During Phytopathogen Infection”. 2016. Bio-protocols. DOI:

Echevarria-Zomeño, S., Belda- Palazón B., Castellano M.M., Ferrando A. “Translation as response to abiotic stress”. 2014. CRC Press/Taylor and Francis Group. In R. K. Gaur, P. Sharma. Molecular Approaches in Plant Abiotic Stress Regulation.

Yángüez E.; Castro Sanz A. B.; Fernández Bautista N.; Oliveros J. C. and Castellano M. M. “Analysis of genome-wide changes in the translatome of Arabidopsis seedlings subjected to heat stress”. 2013. PloS ONE, 8(8): e71425.

Echevarría-Zomeño S.; Yángüez E.; Fernández-Bautista N.; Castro-Sanz A.B.; Ferrando A. and Castellano M.M. “Regulation of Translation Initiation under Biotic and Abiotic Stresses”. 2013. International Journal of Molecular Science. 14(3): 4670-4683.

Munoz, A. and Castellano, M M. “Regulation of Translation Initiation under Abiotic Stress Conditions in Plants: Is It a Conserved or Not so Conserved Process among Eukaryotes?”. 2012. Comparative and Functional Genomics :406357. doi: 10.1155/2012/406357.

The former “Plant cIRES Biotech” team



PhD Students:

Ana B. Castro Sanz
Nuria Fernández Bautista




Postdoctoral researchers:

Dr. Emilio Yángüez (2011- 2013)
Dr. Sira Echevarría (2011- 2013)
Dr. Lourdes Fernández (2013- 2016)
Dr. Alfonso Muñoz (2013- 2016)
Dr. Fco. René Toribio (2014- 2017)


Research assistant:

Patricia Olivares (2011- 2016)
Cristina Prieto (2016- 2017)



Dr Marta Berrcal Lobo
(UPM Assistant Professor)


The Principal Investigator



The project is led by the INIA researcher Mar Castellano. This young scientist, who obtained her PhD in Science at Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM), has developed her career working on different research projects in both national and international prestigious research centers.


During her scientific career, she has been awarded with different prestigious and competitive grants as the EMBO long term fellowship, the Marie Curie fellowship and one contract from the Ramon y Cajal Program. Mar Castellano who obtained an award for excellence in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology PhD studies from UAM in 2003 has published different articles in high impact SCI journals as Plant Cell or Nature.

About CBGP

The Centre for Plant Biotechnology and Genomics is a joint Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM) and Instituto de Investigación y Tecnología Agraria y Alimentaria (INIA) research centre. Its main goal is to carry out excellent research in the areas of developmental plant biology, plant-microbe interactions and plant response to abiotic stress areas, with the objective of making possible the development of knowledge based on bio-economy and to improve the agro-forestry production. Created in 2005 and fully operative from 2008 with the opening of the new headquarters, the researchers are organized into 20 research groups with 65 post-doctoral researchers, 35 PhD students and 22 technicians. It’s located at UPM Montegancedo Campus which recently won recognition of International Campus of Excellence.


Centro de Biotecnología y Genómica de Plantas UPM – INIA Parque Científico y Tecnológico de la U.P.M. Campus de Montegancedo
Autopista M-40, Km 38 - 28223 Pozuelo de Alarcón (Madrid) Tel.: +34 91 0679100 ext. 79100  Fax: +34 91 7157721. Localización y Contacto

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