II. Knowledge of plant yield-limiting fundamental processes to optimize our agricultural systems.

Future production systems for agricultural products must be based on the knowledge and optimization of plant fundamental processes. Systems can be developed to increase the quality of agricultural products (more nutritious and healthier food), to decrease the incidence of abiotic stress factors in crops, and to minimize the environmental impact of agricultural fertilization practices. A multidisciplinary approach, using physiological, biochemical, molecular biology and new "-omic" technologies (ionomics, genomics, proteomics, xenomics and metabolomics) will be followed in these studies. The specific objectives are:

II. a.  Fundamental processes in plants: photosynthesis and nitrogen fixation.

To reach the final objective of increasing the quality and yield of agricultural products while decreasing nutrient inputs, it is necessary to improve the state of knowledge of basic carbon assimilation, symbiotic nitrogen fixation and nutrient acquisition processes.

II. b.  Physiology of plants under abiotic stresses.

The characterization of stress tolerance mechanisms will facilitate the establishment of a basis to improve the resistance of crops grown under adverse environmental conditions (e.g. nutrient deficiencies, drought, salinity, excess of light, extreme temperatures, heavy metal toxicity), and to cope with challenges posed by global environment changes.

II. c.  Optimization of plant nutrition in a sustainable agriculture context.

To develop sustainable systems it is necessary to minimize fertilizer inputs, exploiting natural processes as well as renewable resources. Metals are especially important in this context, because metal deficiencies decrease quality and yields of many agricultural products. Also, metal deficiencies cause widespread nutritional problems affecting a high percentage of the population in many areas of the world. Metals are also associated with soil pollution in some areas. The knowledge of the mechanisms of metal acquisition, translocation and storage is essential for the discovery of solutions to these problems.

II. d.  Reproductive biology.

Given the importance of the reproductive phase in fruit-crops production, research in this area will improve the understanding of the causes leading to erratic fruit setting, and the adoption of environment friendly agricultural practices to ensure fruit production.