Principal Investigator: Jose A. Abelenda Vila - Young Investigator Researcher (YIR)

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The effects of climate change have been well documented and have gained widespread awareness. Both for societal and economic reasons, the urgency to adapt cropping systems to the expected temperature extremes is accepted by current public policies (Fig 1). We aim at generating knowledge and tools to improve the performance of the European premium crop Brassica napus (rapeseed) under fluctuating environmental cues. New insights into the mechanisms that mediate adaptations to climate change will optimize the crop performance, being such developments of paramount agro-economic importance.


Fig 1. The map represents the observed change in surface temperature 1901-2012 (Source: IPCC, 2013).


Description of the Research

The stability of crop production depends on the adaptive response of key developmental traits to fluctuating environmental cues associated with climate change. Delayed or accelerated flowering is a typical response to a higher average seasonal temperature. However, and despite their relevance, the molecular mechanisms underlying flowering adaptive response remain largely unknown in crops. In our group, we aim at generating new insights and tools to improve the performance of the European premium plant Brassica napus (rapeseed) under fluctuating environmental cues. The main goal is to dissect regulatory mechanisms that mediate the adaptation of developmental programs with an impact on crop yield to a higher temperature. For this, as a descriptive preamble, we are assessing the influence of warm temperature on rapeseed flowering and reproductive development traits (Fig 2).


Fig 2. Warm temperatures affect rapeseed flowering time. In the picture, the different blossoming of the same rapeseed variety under low and high-temperature regimes.


Chromatin remodeling

In model species, several chromatin processes have been shown to mediate flowering responses to temperature. Epigenetic regulation has been widely implicated in plant responses to stress, compelling evidence supporting that epigenetic mechanism mediate gene-environment interactions. We are now exploring this research line by analyzing the involvement of H3K36me3 and H3Ac dynamics in the transcriptional regulation of the adaptation of Brassicaceae development to warmer temperatures. Moreover, we are performing integrative computational analysis of epigenomic features and transcriptomic data from different tissues and environmental conditions to unravel regulatory networks in yield-related developmental traits in response to rising temperatures. Our final goal will be the use of large integrative datasets and generated knowledge to identify new breeding targets to enhance sustainable crop production and related biotechnological tools.

Rationale breeding for stress-tolerant varieties

Transcriptomic experiments, for instance, with biparental mapping population in different stress conditions; and network and correlation analysis of the results, could be used for the identification of stress core components affecting yield outputs (Fig 3). We aim to use this insight to enable the rationalized breeding of diverse crop types with positive knock-on effects on yield stability and abiotic stress tolerance. To achieve this, we investigate new signaling pathways that precede vegetative to reproductive phase change using tailor-made bioinformatics tools, as well as proceed to develop biotechnological and breeding approaches implementing this expanded knowledge in crops.


Fig 3. Matrix with the Module-Trait Relationships (MTRs) and corresponding p-values between the detected modules in the transcriptional analysis of 110 individuals of a biparental segregating mapping population. The color legend indicates the level of correlation between gene co-expression with a trait specific expression. It is possible to find relevant and irrelevant modules using molecular marker 2 kME versus the molecular marker 1, a flowering target output used as a trait module at 21ºC and 28ºC. Note that kME correlation only exists at low temperatures indicating the lack of homeostatic transcriptional control of the module at 28ºC. The sequential module correlation with different output markers finds a relevant module with putative transcriptional regulators at high temperatures.


Speed breeding and new molecular tools for crop improvement

Compared with model organisms, crops usually have incredibly long generation times, making difficult a fast translational of the know-how between research and the industry. Recently the concept of fast breeding was introduced in the field, described as those methodologies to shorten the life period of a crop, speeding up research and technology transfer. Essentially, any plant is susceptible to speed breeding with a minimal environmental adaptation to light, temperature, or canopy. Moreover, we are developing new molecular tools and protocols to transform crops. Combining both speed breeding and optimized molecular apps, we hope to acquire and set up a fast-tracking system for candidate genes, traits, and varieties in crops like rapeseed.


Fig 4. Planting rapeseed under different canopy regimes speeds up its life cycle. A new set of in-home and tailor-made T-DNA plasmids improve suboptimal transformation efficiency in rapeseed.



Programa 2018-T1/BIO-11380 Atracción de Talento. Ayudas destinadas a la atracción de talento investigador a la Comunidad de Madrid en centros de I+D 2019-2023

Representative Publications

Gonzales, L.R., Shi, L., Bergonzi, S., Oortwijn, M., Franco‐Zorrilla, J.M., Solano‐Tavira, R., Visser, R.G.F., Abelenda, J.A., Bachem, C.W.B. 2020. Potato CYCLING DOF FACTOR1 and its lncRNA counterpart StFLORE, link tuber development and drought response. The Plant Journal. DOI:

Abelenda, J.A., Bergonzi, S., Oortwijn, M., Sonnewald, S., Du, M., Visser, R.G.F., Sonnewald, U., Bachem, C.W.B. 2019. Source-Sink Regulation Is Mediated by Interaction of an FT Homolog with a SWEET Protein in Potato. Current Biology 29, 1178-1186.e6. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2019.02.018

Plantenga, F.D.M., Bergonzi, S., Abelenda, J.A., Bachem, C.W.B., Visser, R.G.F., Heuvelink, E., Marcelis, L.F.M. 2019. The tuberization signal StSP6A represses flower bud development in potato. Journal of Experimental Botany 70, 937–948. DOI: 10.1093/jxb/ery420

Prusova, A., Abelenda, J.A. 2016. MRI characterisation of phloem transport in potato plant, in: Light on Phloem Transport (an MRI Approach). Wageningen University Press, pp. 89–102.

Abelenda, J.A., Cruz-Oró, E., Franco-Zorrilla, J.M., Prat, S. 2016. Potato StCONSTANS-like1 Suppresses Storage Organ Formation by Directly Activating the FT-like StSP5G Repressor. Current Biology 26, 872–881. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.01.066

Taurino, M., Abelenda, J.A., Río‐Alvarez, I., Navarro, C., Vicedo, B., Farmaki, T., Jiménez, P., García‐Agustín, P., López‐Solanilla, E., Prat, S., Rojo, E., Sánchez‐Serrano, J.J., Sanmartín, M. 2014. Jasmonate-dependent modifications of the pectin matrix during potato development function as a defense mechanism targeted by Dickeya dadantii virulence factors. The Plant Journal 77, 418–429. DOI: 10.1111/tpj.12393

Abelenda, J.A., Navarro, C., Prat, S. 2014. Flowering and tuberization: a tale of two nightshades. Trends in Plant Science 19, 115–122. DOI: 10.1016/j.tplants.2013.09.010

Kloosterman, B., Abelenda, J.A., Gomez, M. del M.C., Oortwijn, M., Boer, J.M. de, Kowitwanich, K., Horvath, B.M., Eck, H.J. van, Smaczniak, C., Prat, S., Visser, R.G.F., Bachem, C.W.B. 2013. Naturally occurring allele diversity allows potato cultivation in northern latitudes. Nature 495, 246–250. DOI: 10.1038/nature11912

Abelenda, J.A., Prat, S. 2013. Cytokinins: Determinants of Sink Storage Ability. Current Biology 23, R561–R563. DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2013.05.020