Center of Plant Systems Biology and Biotechnology (CPSBB), Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The Center of Plant Systems Biology and Biotechnology (CPSBB) was established as an autonomous legal research entity in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, in 2015 with the help of the H2020 Teaming project PlantaSYST. The CPSBB has five major partner organizations, as well as the support of the Bulgarian Government, Plovdiv Municipality, and several universities, research institutes, and companies across the world. The strategic objectives of the CPSBB are:

  • Highest research quality and productivity in the field of plant systems biology and biotechnology (up to the highest international standards). The CPSBB will conduct cutting-edge basic and applied research using the latest genetics, functional genomics, metabolomics and bioinformatics technologies for unravelling the intricate gene regulatory networks and metabolite pathways governing plant development, stress physiology, and production of valuable metabolites with potential market applications.
  • New products for the Bulgarian and the global market (breeders, farmers, end-users), in particular new diagnostic tools and technologies for plant breeding, new vegetable varieties resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses, cultivars of vegetable crops with improved yield stability and nutritional, harvesting or processing qualities, and plant-derived products with new pharmaceutical properties for innovative applications in medicine.
  • Retaining and re-gaining the best specialists in the fields of plant science and bioinformatics, in coherence with the goal of Bulgaria’s Innovation Strategy for Smart Specialisation (IS3) to secure skilled labour, as well as the attraction of excellent foreign researchers.
  • Educating next-generation researchers in the fields of plant systems biology and biotechnology.
  • Bringing sectors together (policy, science, industry) for social and economic development.

Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB) (Coordinator), Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (IMBB) Plovdiv (Partner 1, P1) is a recently established research institute with an aim to conduct cutting-edge basic research in plant science with particular emphasis on plant stress physiology and development. Research is focused on deciphering the reactive oxygen species (ROS) signalling network in Arabidopsis thaliana, the molecular mechanisms of desiccation tolerance in Haberlea rhodopensis, abiotic stresses (drought, low temperatures, heavy metals), and development (senescence). Scientists at IMBB have many years of research and teaching experience, including supervision of MSc and PhD students. Scientists from IMBB have at their disposal fully equipped laboratories for molecular biology and biochemistry, equipment for high throughput sequencing and metabolomics, a confocal laser scanning microscope (Carl Zeiss LSM 710), and plant growth facilities. The Director of IMBB (Prof. DSc. Ivan Minkov) and the Coordinator of the project (Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tsanko Gechev) have managed more than 20 international or national research projects (as Coordinators or Participants), including projects funded by FP6, FP7, NATO, IAEA, Bulgarian NSF, Swiss NSF, and others. In fact, Prof. I. Minkov has received the prestigious national award “Pythagoras” for the most successful project leader in Bulgaria. Currently, IMBB (Dr. Gechev) coordinates one FP7 project (Grant 612630 “PlantAgeing”, with Prof. Dr. B. Mueller-Roeber from the University of Potsdam and Assoc. Prof. Dr. P. Dijkwel from Massey University, New Zealand, as partners) and one project co-funded by the Swiss NSF and the Bulgarian Ministry of Education and Science (Grant IZEBZ0_143003/1, “Identification of genes that regulate plant tolerance to adverse abiotic factors and determine plant aging”, with Prof. Dr. Stefan Hörtensteiner from University of Zurich). Of note, Dr. T. Gechev has long-standing collaboration with P2 and with the partners from Potsdam (both P4 and P5) over the past 7 years. Highlights of this collaboration are the current joint FP7 project, two other projects in the past, and seven co-authored papers (T. Gechev, B. Mueller-Roeber, A. Fernie, and other scientists from the three institutes). This, the proposed Teaming partnership between Plovdiv and Potsdam is the next step to further develop this successful collaboration and create a long-lasting platform for enhancing science in both Plovdiv and Potsdam.

Maritsa Vegetable Crops Research Institute (VCRI), Plovdiv, Bulgaria

Maritsa Vegetable Crops Research Institute (VCRI) Plovdiv (P2) is one of the oldest (established in 1930), the largest, and of utmost national significance research institutes in the system of the Bulgarian Agricultural Academy (BAA). It conducts both basic and applied research dedicated to vegetables breeding. The main structural sections of the institute are (1) Selection, introduction and seed production, and (2) Technologies in vegetable production. In these sections is carried out the main research activity of VCRI which on one hand aims at the creation of new highly productive varieties and F1 hybrids in accordance with the current requirements of consumers, producers and manufacturers and on the other hand – at the establishment of technologies for optimal growth and development of the new varieties and hybrids with minimum impact on the environment and human health. An important unit within VCRI is the Centre for Technology Transfer, which realizes the contact between researchers and producers. It is no coincidence that the logo of the institute is “Scientia cum praxis” – science directed towards practice. VCRI (Director Prof. Dr. Stoyka Masheva) possesses fields in the open and cultivation facilities (greenhouses) with a total area of 180 ha. In addition, growth chambers allowing full control of temperature, light and irrigation as well as a vegetation house for in vitro experiments with control of the microclimate by means of green energy are also available. There is also a germplasm-bank for short-term conservation of vegetable crop seeds at 40С. Due to a number of successful European and national projects in the recent 10 years, the institute owns modern research facilities which meet the criteria of the European research community. The team of Assoc. Prof. Dr. Dimitrina Kostova is a blend of young and experienced scientific personnel, who have specialized in leading European universities and institutes and apply the newly acquired know-how in the laboratories of VCRI. The newly created varieties and technologies for many vegetable crop species may serve as an evidence for the successful application of this scientific knowledge. The PI Dr. Kostova herself is a scientist with many years of research and administrative experience. She has specialized in leading labs in UK and Italy and has been the coordinator of several big research and infrastructural projects, including a 1 000 000 EUR-project within the REGPOT frame of FP7. She is the current director of the Division for International Cooperation of VCRI.

Institute of Microbiology, Laboratory of Applied Biotechnology (IM-LAB), Plovdiv, Bulgaria

The Stefan Angeloff Institute of Microbiology, Laboratory of Applied Biotechnology (IM-LAB) Plovdiv (P3) of the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences is a national research center part of the Stephan Angeloff Institute of Microbiology (IM). IM conducts basic and applied research in the fields of common, practical and infectious microbiology, immunology, virology and biotechnologies. Since 2004 IM is associated with the family of Pasteur institutes (Paris, France). Groups from IM participate in the realization of projects financed by national, bilateral and international scientific programmes (EU, NATO, UNESCO). The IM provides governmental and private organizations with expert valuations and assessments concerning healthcare, agriculture, food industry and environment preservation. The P3 itself (PI: Assoc. Prof. Dr. Milen Georgiev) is dedicated to plant biotechnology and metabolomics, with two main research foci: (1) identification of new plant metabolites with potential applications in biotechnology and medicine and (2) production of natural compounds with pharmaceutical relevance. Dr. M. Georgiev is a young but highly experienced and decorated scientist, with 80+ scientific publications and 4 monographs, as well as postdoc positions in Germany and The Netherlands (including three Marie Curie fellowships). Dr. M. Georgiev received several awards, including the prestigious national prize “Pythagoras” in 2011 (for the best young Bulgarian scientist) and in 2015 (for the established scientist), the only Bulgarian scientist to receive this award two times.

University of Potsdam (UP), Potsdam, Germany

Potsdam University (UP) in Potsdam (P4) is the largest university in the federal state of Brandenburg today combining its own research capacities with a whole range of non-university research institutes in town or in the proximity. The University of Potsdam was designed as a classical university with five faculties: Philosophical Faculty, Humanities, Law, Economics and Social Sciences and the Science Faculty. With the establishment of supra-faculty, interdisciplinary research areas, the University of Potsdam places special emphasis on areas beyond the teaching and research activities of the individual institutes. In January 2009, the University of Potsdam and 20 non-university research institutions created the “Potsdam Research Network - PEARLS”. The objective of these 21 “pearls of research” is to become even more successful in the national and global competition for research funds and excellent junior academics. PEARLS simplifies multilateral cooperation across the boundaries of institutions and specializations, particularly in the fields of geo and life sciences. This focus is the source of the acronym “pearls” - Potsdam earth and life sciences. Prof. Dr. Bernd Mueller-Roeber (PI of P4) and his team study the function of transcription factors and other nuclear proteins and their role in the control of gene regulatory networks (GRNs) in plants, using a wide spectrum of molecular-biological and genomics technologies, in combination with bioinformatics. Particular focus is given on regulatory networks that underlie leaf senescence, organ growth (leaves and recently tomato fruits), and abiotic stress tolerance with an emphasis on H2O2-/ROS-triggered processes. Model species are Arabidopsis thaliana, rice, tomato. In addition, part of his University department has initiated research in the field of synthetic biology (chromosome engineering, biofuel enzymes). Professor Mueller-Roeber is involved in many research consortia and programs in the plant genomics field. For the last 5 years he headed the 13 Mio. EUR systems biology program GoFORSYS, that included 17 research groups from the University of Potsdam, the Max-Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and the MPI of Colloids and Interfaces, and a company from the metabolomics field as partners. As a result of this ministry-funded research initiative, systems biology became a central activity at the Science Campus Potsdam. In this vein, the University has established “Plant Genomics and Systems Biology” as one of its four Priority Research Centers, of which Prof. Mueller-Roeber is the head. He is also partner in a number of other national and international research consortia, including e.g. the Brandenburg-funded LIGNOS project to identify novel biomass conversion enzymes, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF)-funded PopMass project to enhance biomass production in poplar through changing gene regulatory networks, a DFG-funded Cooperative Research Center on priming responses in plants in relation to abiotic and biotic stress, a DFG-funded national Research Unit on plant senescence and nitrogen use, and the EU-funded ALLBIO project (to extend bioinformatics facilities in plant and microbial sciences). Previously, Prof. Mueller-Roeber coordinated two EU Research Training Networks (VATEP and NICIP, in FP6 and FP7, respectively) and he has recently been invited for contract negotiation for a EU MSC European Industrial Doctorate (EID) training network. Prof. Mueller-Roeber is elected member of two German academies, i.e. the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences (BBAW; since 2003) and the National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech; since 2006). In acatech he is member of the steering committee of the biotechnology competence network, which he also headed for three years. In the BBAW he heads an Interdisciplinary Study Group on Gene Technology, which studies the medium- to long-term development of gene technology in Germany and formulates recommendations to the government for its further national implementation. Prof. Mueller-Roeber was also member of Germany´s Bio-Economy Council (2010-2012) that makes recommendations to the German government in the bioeconomy field; he also served as the Deputy Speaker of the council for three years. Since 2012 he is Vice President of Germany´s Life Sciences Association vbio (representing more than 30,000 biologists and biomedical researchers). Prof. Mueller-Roeber has a track record in plant research with an h-factor of 56 and more than 9700 citations. Priority Research Center “Plant Genomics and Systems Biology”: 17 professors of the University´s Faculty of Science are members of the Research Center. It is also part of a wider network that includes various non-university institutions such as the MPI of Molecular Plant Physiology, the MPI of Colloids and Interfaces, the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research, the Leibniz Institute for Vegetable and Ornamental Crops in Großbeeren and others. The Institute of Biochemistry and Biology (IBB), where Prof. Mueller-Roeber´s Department is located, is the largest institute within the Science Faculty. Currently, IBB includes 18 full professors, two professors having joint affiliations with institutions outside the University, and a series of young and emeritus groups. The directors of the neighbouring Max-Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, including Prof. Dr. Mark Stitt, Prof. Dr. Lothar Willmitzer and Prof. Dr. Ralph Bock, are also IBB members. The University´s IBB and the MPI jointly run an International Max-Planck Research School on “Primary Metabolism and Plant Growth” (IMPRS-PMPG); speakers are Prof. Mark Stitt and Prof. Mueller-Roeber.

Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology (MPIMP), Potsdam-Golm, Germany

The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology (MPIMP) Potsdam-Golm (P5), part of the larger Max Planck Society for the advancement of science, is located in Potsdam-Golm and currently employs about 360 people from all over the world. The MPI-MP investigates metabolic and molecular processes in cells, tissues, organs and whole plants. The overall goal is to understand how growth and metabolism are regulated, to learn how they respond to environmental factors, and to unravel genetic factors that underlie these processes and responses. Since the institute was founded, the main emphasis of the institute has shifted from the analysis of central metabolic pathways combined with the analysis of gene function to the development and implementation of phenotyping technologies and system approaches in order to understand how these different processes interact in networks. MPI has state-of-the-art laboratories and plan growth facilities on about 6,000 square meters of floor space. In addition to the 1,000 m² fully climate controlled greenhouse (run by a dedicated green team), there is also 500 m² phytotron area plus a summer greenhouse and a 5 ha field side. The Plant Cultivation Facility Group provides services including development of plant cultivation protocols, practical assistance during experiments, biometric advice, and assistance with Agrobacterium-mediated plant transformation. Three rooms and three staff members are devoted exclusively to media and lab ware preparation. Arabidopsis thaliana, tobacco, tomato, potato, rice, maize, Cucurbitaceae, sugar cane, Medicago, Lotus, Oenothera and Thellunginella species are routinely cultivated throughout the year.

PlantaSYST has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (SGA-CSA No 664621 and No 739582 under FPA No. 664620)

Calls: H2020-WIDESPREAD-2014-2015, Topic: WIDESPREAD-1-2014: Teaming, and H2020-WIDESPREAD-2016-2017, Topic: H2020-WIDESPREAD-01-2016-2017: TeamingPhase2