Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection

On May 1st 2014 the merger between the Institute of Plant Virology (IVV) and the Institute for Plant Protection (IPP) of the National Research Council of Italy (CNR) led to the new Institute for Sustainable Plant Protection (IPSP), directed by Dr. Gian Paolo Accotto. Both the former Institutes were already involved in the development of sustainable strategies for plant protection. The new Institute counts nearly 110 people and it is made up of 5 Research Units: the Turin Headquarter, the Turin Unit, the Florence Unit, the Portici Unit (Naples) and the Bari Unit. Such Italy-wide distribution represents an unprecedented opportunity to involve different social, economic and environmental situations. IPSP represents the most important CNR research group dedicated to plant protection in agriculture and forestry and it also acknowledged as one of the most renowned in Europe. It is part of the Department of Bio Agro-Food Sciences.

Here is the mission of the new Institute:

“IPSP studies plant response to biotic and abiotic stress factors, with the aim of identifying mechanisms of resistance and adaptation, to promote plant health in agriculture and forestry. This implies strengthening the use of natural enemies and beneficial microorganisms in integrated pest management, selecting and recovering valuable plant germplasm, identifying bio-molecules of agricultural or industrial interest, and ultimately promoting a sustainable and environmentally friendly growth.”

Why is it important to protect plants? Why using sustainable technologies to do it?

We often tend to forget that what we eat comes from the fields and that crops depend heavily on many environmental factors that could limit the food production. Diseases, pests and weeds cause a dramatic decrease in the crop production, which accounts for an estimated 50% of  the potential productivity. Not to mention all the problems caused by atmospheric agents, such as drought and overheating.

We all know that human diseases travel very easily around the world. Just think about the Ebola virus and the Avian Influenza. The same  happens to plants: globalization and climate changes are constantly posing new emergencies.  The most recent example is the death of olive trees in Southern Italy (Apulia Region) caused by Xylella fastidiosa, which has represented the first report of this bacterium in Europe. This disease poses a very serious threat and raises a lot of concern not only in the Apulia Region, but also in  the Italian government and in the European Union. Both Institutions are now financing IPSP to gain more insights into this disease. There are many pests that come from other countries and spread without any control: some are pathogens (viruses, phytoplasmas, bacteria, fungi), others are insects, mites, nematodes and weeds. Part of these invasive species with relevant economic importance are studied at IPSP: insect vectors, such as whiteflies and thrips, which are vectors of geminiviruess and tosposviruses, the chestnut gall wasp, the Flavescence dorée phytoplasma, fungi that cause the cypress bark canker, etc…

The mission of the Institute  is not only to identify plant pests and diseases, but also to provide sustainable and eco-friendly defense (or at least containment) strategies against them. For the specific purpose, our research is focused on: the biological control of plant diseases by the application of insects and antagonistic fungi, the improvement of the interactions among plants/mycorrhizal fungi/beneficial soil bacteria, the selection of resistant cultivars and the recovery of economically important species. Many of these scientific activities are carried out in collaboration with private companies, such as seed producers, nurseries and diagnostics services.