Introduction

The Institute of Plant Biochemistry and Photosynthesis (IBVF) is a Joint Center of the National Research Council (CSIC) and the University of Sevilla (US). It is located in the Centro de Investigaciones Científicas Isla de la Cartuja (cicCartuja), where it shares facilities with two other Joint Centers, the Institute for Chemical Research (IIQ) and the Institute of Materials Science of Sevilla (ICMS).

The IBVF currently employs approximately 110 people, of which 16 are scientific staff of the CSIC and 17 are professors from the US. The members of the Institute are distributed between General Services and Research Groups. The services available in the IBVF include a Protein Analysis Facility, a Chromatography Facility, a Confocal Microscopy and Flow Cytometry Facilitya Radioactive Laboratory and excellent facilities for the cultivation of bacteria, algae and plants, including a greenhouse. The 18 research groups are divided into two areas: Gene expression and cellular regulation and Redox biology, metabolism and signalling.

The IBVF makes a commitment to excellence in scientific research, with a strong component of basic research, but it is also involved in applied research and always considers the possible applications of the most innovative research. In addition, the IBVF has a clear training role, with a key objective in the training of new researchers: our goal is to conduct quality science and to teach the new generation of scientists. Lastly, we want to inform the general public of the progress of scientific research through our outreach activities.

 

Scientific objectives

Life on Earth is strictly dependent on phototrophy. The biosphere, as we know it, relies on oxygenic photosynthesis, which provides us with the oxygen we breathe and eliminates (“fixes”) CO2from the atmosphere ( “autotrophic” metabolism). The IBVF is devoted to the study of phototrophic biology, and we carry this out through the investigation of key aspects of the biology of organisms that are model systems for photoautotrophy: cyanobacteria, algae and higher plants. The widely accepted concept that ancestors of extant cyanobacteria were the evolutionary precursors of algal and plant chloroplasts, the organelles in which photosynthesis takes place, is essential for understanding our approach. Our goal is to advance in a few well-defined lines of evidence that can be viewed as strongly interdependent. Through our activity, we intend to achieve a solid position in this field at an international level. An increasingly solid position in these areas should be reflected in a higher impact of our publications and should result in an increase of our biotechnological contributions.

Initially, we intend to gain a wide understanding of the responses of cyanobacteria to environmental cues, from nutrient (C and N) availability to stress factors, such as high light and heavy metal stresses. The response of cyanobacteria to these factors ranges from the modification of gene expression patterns to the modulation of enzyme activity and results in fascinating processes, such as the development of bacterial filaments containing two different, interdependent cell types. In addition, two processes for which cyanobacteria represent good models are of interest in chloroplast biology and include gene translation and essential photosynthetic bioenergetics, which are addressed by different groups at the IBVF both at the gene regulation and protein structure/function levels.

Furthermore, oxidative stress, which is related to redox biology and is the focus of several groups that have recently attained relevant results, is also of common interest to the study of cyanobacteria and chloroplasts. Two key metabolic aspects of the plant, which involve the chloroplast as an essential actor and to which IBVF groups are making significant contributions, are starch accumulation and cysteine metabolism.We are also currently approaching general growth regulation (as in Chlamydomonas), flowering, programmed plant cell death and the plant response to biotic stress at the whole-cell or whole-plant level.

Through these activities, we intend to advance our understanding of the general principles that can be applied to phototrophy in diverse organisms and to explain how basic phototrophic metabolism can support biological systems apparently as distant as cyanobacteria, algae and plants. Hence, we will also contribute to a better understanding of the evolution of phototrophic organisms, which represents a key aspect of the evolution of life in our planet.