Research fields

Responsible: Sabina Vidal

Members of the research Group:


Dr. Sabina Vidal, full time Associate Professor,


MSc. Marcel Bentancor, PhD student, Research Assistant Grade 2


MSc. Alexandra Castro, PhD student, Research Assistant Grade 1


MSc. Cecilia Ruibal, Master student, Research Assistant Grade 1


MSc. Juan Pablo Gallino, Ph D student.



Lucía Blixen, undergraduate student



Physcomitrella patens as a model plant to study mechanisms of salt and osmotic stress tolerance: identification and functional characterization of stress induced genes

 Abiotic stress, especially the stress caused by drought and high salinity, is an important cause for suboptimal yields in agriculture. Understanding the mechanisms that govern stress adaptation in plants may provide aid in selection of strategies within breeding programs as well as tools for biotechnological approaches, where the overproduction of key proteins could render a substantial improvement in stress tolerance.

This line of research aims at the study of the molecular mechanisms underlying abiotic stress tolerance in plants using a reverse genetics to carry out functional studies of genes.


Drought tolerance is an ancient adaptation in plant evolution and bryophytes were among the first plants that colonized the terrestrial environment. Physcomitrella patens is a highly dehydration tolerant bryophyte that has recently become a model plant to study gene function by reverse genetics. P. patens has a high frequency of homologous recombination, which allows successful targeted gene disruption, and the haploid dominant stage of the plant life cycle facilitates the phenotypic characterization of knockout mutants.

Physcomitrella patens's colony

Recent studies from our group and others have revealed that many stress responses are conserved among P. patens and higher plants (Saavedra et al 2006, Ponce de León et al 2007). In this context, we have isolated and functionally characterized several genes from P. patens with a possible function in abiotic stress tolerance. Our studies implicated a fundamental role of a dehydrin-like gene in stress tolerance, providing the first direct evidence in any plant species for a dehydrin exerting a protective role during cellular dehydration.


Functional studies of Physcomitrella patens genes and their role as central regulators of programmed cell death in plants 

In plants, programmed cell death (PCD) with apoptotic characteristics can be observed during the hypersensitive response and after abiotic stress. In animals, caspases are key components of the apoptotic machinery, and although caspase-like activities have been detected in plants, no orthologous sequences have been found in their genomes. Metacaspases belong to a family of predicted caspase-related proteases present in yeast, fungi and plants. Recent studies suggested a role for metacaspases in different forms of cell death, although a direct involvement on PCD is unclear.  This line of research is focused on the study of the functional relevance of plant metacaspases in the development of programmed cell death in response to pathogen attack, abiotic stress and plant development, using as a model the bryophyte Physcomitrella patens.