Agricultural biochemistry and physiology of medicinal plants

A.Y. 2020/2021
Overall hours
Learning objectives
The teaching aims to provide students with basic knowledge of the main biochemical and physiological processes in higher plants, addressing aspects related to plant primary and secondary metabolism, to plant physiology and to plant-environment interactions. These topics are discussed in relation to the productivity and quality of medicinal plants.
Expected learning outcomes
At the end of the teaching, students will have to know the fundamental biochemical processes related to plant physiology and to adaptation of plant to the environment. Students will have to be able to recognize the main agro-environmental factors that determine plant productivity, and to understand how these factors can influence the content of metabolites of interest in medicinal plants. Students will have to acquire basic criteria for evaluating the sustainability of production and the quality of medicinal plants.
Course syllabus and organization

Single session

Lesson period
Second semester
The lessons are scheduled in the second semester. If the situation will allow, the lessons will be performed as classroom lectures. If the emergency situation will persist, the lessons will be performed online through the Microsoft Teams platform in synchronous mode, according to the same schedule. Lesson recordings will be available on the same platform.

If the emergency situation will persist, the programme and the reference material will be not changed. The slides displayed during the lessons will be available (in .pdf format) in the Ariel platform in the section dedicated to the teaching.

If the emergency situation will persist, exams will be performed as an oral interview online through the Microsoft Teams platform in synchronous mode. The exam will consist in open questions on the topics addressed during the course, for a total duration of about 30 minutes. The evaluation criteria will not change. The vote will be expressed in thirtieths (30/30).
Course syllabus
WATER AND SOLUTE TRANSPORT IN PLANT - The chemo-physical properties of water. The concept of water potential and cell-water relations in plant. Water balance in plants. Water in soil. Water uptake by roots. Water transport through the xylem. Leaf transpiration. Plant mineral nutrition. Macro- and micro- nutrients. The concept of rhizosphere and the soil-plant-microorganism interactions. The chemical potential and the active and passive transport of solutes. The plant cell membrane potential. Transport systems: pumps, channels and carriers. The kinetic properties of transport systems.

PHOTOSYNTHESIS IN HIGHER PLANTS - The properties of light. Photosynthetic pigments and photosynthetic light reactions. The organization of the photosynthetic apparatus. The light-harvesting complexes. The electron and proton transfer systems: the roles of photosystems II and I, cytochrome b6f complex, the cycle of the ubiquinone pool. Photophosphorylation. The Calvin cycle and its regulation. The synthesis of starch and sucrose. Photorespiration. The C4 carbon cycle and the crassulacean acid metabolism. Plant adaptation to light conditions. The responses to oxidative stress in chloroplasts. Case studies regarding environmental effects on production and quality of medicinal plants.

PLANT NUTRITIONAL STATUS: PHOTOSYNTHATE DISTRIBUTION AND ASSIMILATION OF MINERAL NUTRIENTS - Sink-source relations in plant organs. Phloem translocation: characteristics and the mechanisms of loading and unloading. The biogeochemical cycle of nitrogen. Nitrate reduction and ammonium assimilation. Case studies regarding nitrogen nutrition in medicinal plants. Biological nitrogen fixation. Sulfur assimilation. Iron acquisition. Summary of the peculiarities of respiratory metabolism in plants. Summary of amino acid metabolism in plants. Biochemical roles of cysteine, methionine and glutathione. The shikimate pathway.

SEED, PHOTOMORPHOGENESIS AND PLANT RESPONSES TO SUN LIGHT - Seed: characteristics, germination and utilization of reserves. Plant responses to red-light: phytochromes. Plant responses to blue-light. Stomatal opening. The concept of photoperiod and the flowering control.

PLANT GROWTH REGULATORS - Main concepts about plant hormones. Auxin: transport, actions and effects on plant development. Gibberellins: effects on plant growth and development and on seed germination. Cytokinins: regulators of cell proliferation. Ethylene: roles in foliar abscission e in plant responses to flooding, roles in fruit ripening. Abscisic acid: roles in plant responses to drought stress and in seed maturation.

PLANT SECONDARY METABOLISM - Eco-physiological aspects of secondary metabolism: defence and communication. Biosynthetic pathways and physiological functions of terpenes. Biosynthesis and physiological roles of phenolic compounds (lignin, coumarins, flavonoids, phytoalexins and tannins). Biosynthesis and physiological roles of nitrogen-containing secondary compounds (alkaloids, cyanogenic glycosides, and nonprotein amino acids). Experimental strategies to improve secondary metabolite production.
Prerequisites for admission
Prescribed foundation courses:
- General and inorganic chemistry
- Plant biology and pharmaceutical botany
- Organic chemistry
Teaching methods
Classroom lectures.
Teaching Resources
a. Teacher slides: provided in .pdf format in ARIEL.
b. Reference book:
₋ Taiz L., Zeiger E. Møller I.M., Murphy A. ELEMENTI DI FISIOLOGIA VEGETALE. 2016. Piccin Nuova Libraria. ISBN: 978-88-299-2787-6.
₋ Rascio N. ELEMENTI DI FISIOLOGIA VEGETALE - II edizione. 2017. EdiSES. ISBN: 978-88-7959-9207.
c. Further recommended readings (optional)
₋ Taiz L., Zeiger E. FISIOLOGIA VEGETALE. IV edizione italiana sulla V inglese. 2012. Piccin Nuova Libraria. ISBN: 978-88-299-2157-7.
₋ Catizone P., Barbanti L., Marotti I., Dinelli G. PRODUZIONE ED IMPIEGO DELLE PIANTE OFFICINALI. 2013. Pàtron Editore.
Assessment methods and Criteria
Student learning is evaluated by mean of an oral interview, through 4-6 questions on different topics of the course. The purpose of the examination is to ascertain:
- the achievement of the objectives of the course in terms of knowledge and understanding;
- the independent judgement of the student;
- the mastery of the specific terminology and the ability of oral exposure of the student;
- the student's ability to apply knowledge and understanding in application contexts.
The exam grading is expressed in 30/30.
AGR/13 - AGRICULTURAL CHEMISTRY - University credits: 6
Lessons: 48 hours
Professor: Prinsi Bhakti
Tuesday 14:00 - 17:00. Friday 14:00 - 16:00. By appointment for other days and times. You are kindly requested to send an email to schedule the appointment.
To be arranged, in person at the office or on-line on Microsoft Teams.