A degree in agricultural studies, a post-graduate specialization school in phytopathology and a PhD in plant virology gave me the tools to master viral diseases from field to lab.
My main research interests include the identification and molecular characterization of plant viruses, with particular focus on horticultural crops such as Tomato, Pepper and Cucurbits. I was the first to identify tomato brown rugose fruit virus, the current major threat to tomato crops at a world-wide scale. Recently I characterized a new blunerivirus in the Kitaviridae family in tomato.
I am also interested in virus-host interactions, including anti-viral silencing response, and the Identification of Avr genes in the interaction between TSWV and resistant tomato and pepper cultivars.
I am also involved in the improvement/simplification of detection methods for viruses and phytoplasma, particularly those present in the quarantine lists.
Characterization of some TSWV strains not competent for transmission by thrips allowed me to identify the NSs as a new determinant for virus transmission; My knowledge of the techniques to design infectious clones allowed me to use virus induced gene silencing (VIGS) as a tool for functional genomic studies for insects and possibly new strategies to limit insect direct and indirect damage. Plant ourmiaviruses are also studied through reverse genetics. Recently in collaboration with MUT I performed the characterization of mycoviruses from a collection of filamentous marine fungi isolated from the seagrass Posidonia oceanica and the invertebrate Holothuria polii. In collaboration with DiBIOS of UniTO, I also characterized the viromes of arbuscular, ericoid and orchid mycorrhizal fungi; In the context of the VIROPLANT H2020 project that I coordinate, I am involved in phage therapy for bacterial plant diseases and in characterizing the viromes associated to obligatory biotrophic fungi.
I also organized the first effort to describe the persistent virome associated to thrips insect vectors of tospoviruses, resulting in the description of different persistent viromes with a geographical fingerprint.
Recently I discovered a number of ORFan RNA viruses that can not be assigned to any taxonomic group or phylogenetic trajectory and that are at the root of RNA virus evolution, and likely the remnant of the very first enzymatic activity.
Project leader for: VIROPLANT