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TOPICS for XXXIV Cycle

 

1) Research topic: ROLE AND APPLICATION OF HORTICULTURAL THERAPY FOR CHILDREN AND ADOLESCENT WITH SPECIAL EDUCATIONAL NEEDS

1 (one) position reserved for high level training apprenticeship contract (funded by TICE Cooperativa Sociale)

Scientific tutor: Dr. Laura Arru

Horticultural Therapy (HT) is a professionally conducted client-centered therapy able to gradually improve health related issues of the users such as their physical, psychological, and social health through the taking care of flowers, vegetables and plants. The therapeutic benefits have been proved since ancient times and they relate to alleviate social, cognitive, physical and/or psychological distress. The multidisciplinary project will be carried out with the cooperation between Plant Physiologists and the people of the social cooperative TICE.

Required skills: MSc degree in Biology, Herbal Medicine, Natural Sciences, Agricultural Sciences or similar. Background and experience in plant cultivation, micropropagation, agricultural techniques; knowledge of plants and related life cycles together with a natural inclination to team work and a strong personal motivation.

 

2) Research topic: SEARCH FOR NEW AGRONOMIC TECHNIQUES FOR IMPROVING SEED YIELD AND QUALITY OF FIELD CROPS

1 (one) position reserved for industrial doctorate (employee of Pioneer Hi-Bred Italia Sementi S.r.l.)

Scientific tutor: Dr. Enrico Francia

Candidates should hold a MSc in Agricultural Sciences and demonstrate some experience in: organization and management of field trials, experimental activities related seed quality measurements, and agronomic production processes of field crops. Data processing, reporting and data presentation in an international context is also recommended.

 

3) Research topic: ANTIOXIDANTS IN LIVESTOCK DIET AND IN PROCESSING OF ANIMAL ORIGIN PRODUCTS

1 (one) position with grant

Scientific tutor: Prof. Domenico Pietro Lo Fiego; Co-tutor: Dr. Giovanna Minelli

The use of natural antioxidant substances from plant extracts in animal diet or during meat processing can contribute to improve the nutritional and health characteristics of derived food.

The proposed research project will address some aspects of the use of natural antioxidant substances as supplement in the animal diet and/or as additive during preparation of meat products. The main focus will be on their effect on products quality and oxidative stability, especially during thermal treatments and storage period.

Expected background of the ideal candidate: basic knowledge of animal production; basic knowledge of food quality and safety practices; experience in laboratory practice.

 

4) Research topic: PLANTS AS SOURCE OF BIOACTIVE COMPOUNDS

1 (one) position with grant

Scientific tutor: Prof. Stefania Benvenuti

The secondary metabolites of plant origin play an important role in the research and development of new active compounds: they can, in fact, be used directly as drugs, as precursors for semi-synthesis processes and as leads for the development of new substances for human and animal health. In this context the proposed research for PhD program aims to select, starting from selected plants or drugs based on ethnopharmacological or chemo-taxonomic investigations, the best condition to extract enriched fractions of active metabolites to be screened in vitro for the evaluation of biological activity (mainly antioxidant, anti-mutagenic, antiproliferative). Based on the preliminary results, the research will be carried out to bioassay-guided fractionation: from the active fractions the components, chemically characterized, will be subjected to biological tests and to evaluation of the structure-activity correlations in order to identify the pharmacophore to be subjected to possible structural changes.

 

5) Research topic: STUDY ON THE CIRCULATION OF MULTIDRUG-RESISTANT BACTERIA (MDR) IN FOOD OF ANIMAL ORIGIN AND USE OF NATURAL ANTIMICROBIALS AGAINST BOTH SESSILE (BIOFILM) AND PLANKTONIC MDR/FOOD-BORNE PATHOGENS

1 (one) position with grant

Scientific tutor: Prof. Patrizia Messi: Co-tutor: Dr. Carla Sabia

Study on the circulation of multidrug-resistant bacteria (MDR), as vancomycin-resistant enterococci (VRE), methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) and broad-spectrum β-lactamase-producing Enterobacteria (ESBL and KPC) in food of animal origin and analysis of the genetic profile as evidence of the role of the food chain in human infections. Study of the antibacterial activity of natural antimicrobial substances (bacteriocins, spice extracts, essential oils, lysozyme, chitosan) against sessile (biofilm) or planktonic MDR and food-borne pathogens.

 

6) Research topic: IMPROVEMENT OF SEED QUALITY AND CONTROL OF SEED TRANSMITTED PATHOGENS

1 (one) position with grant (funded by CORA SEEDS S.r.l.)

Scientific tutor: Prof. Emilio Stefani; Co-tutor: Dr. Davide Giovanardi

Summary of research. Healthy seed are key to high crop yields, underpinning European and global food security. A range of pathogens are carried by seed: therefore, a set of diseases are spreading through contaminated or infected seeds.  There are currently opportunities to improve seed quality by implementing methods and protocols for seed sanitation and treatment: most of them rely on the use of chemicals or physical treatments. Very little is currently known on the possible use of microbial bio-control agents to enhance the phytosanitary quality of seeds and, additionally, improve seed germination and quality of transplants. The research project focuses on: 1) search and select microbial agents to improve seed germination, viability and strength of seedlings; 2) search and identify beneficial microorganisms able to colonise the seedlings/plants endophytically and serve as growth promoters; 3) search and identify microbial agents able to colonise the rhizosphere making the plants more resistant to abiotic stress (salt, temperature and drought stress); 3) search and identify microbial agents suitable to control a set of bacterial and fungal soilborne diseases; 4) develop seed priming protocols for a few, selected vegetable crops to enhance quality of seedlings/transplants.

The prospective candidate should possess following skills: ability to work with microorganisms (isolation, identification, DNA-based technologies); have a good knowledge of seed biology and pathology (e.g. dormancy, germination, vigour, seed-borne and seed-transmitted diseases); able to design and follow field experiments, collecting field data and analyse them statistically; willingness to collaborate and visit research groups outside Italy. Additionally, the prospective candidate has excellent communication skills and happy to work in a team, also taking responsibility over graduate students. Ability to: write scientific reports, analyse data critically and prepare scientific manuscripts for publication will complete the candidate’s profile.

Expected background: Seed biology, Plant pathology, Applied microbiology, Molecular biology, Statistics.

 

7) Research topic: OMICS AND MOLECULAR TECHNOLOGIES FOR THE ANALYSIS OF COMPLEX MICROBIAL COMMUNITIES

1 (one) position with grant

Scientific tutor: Prof. Maddalena Rossi; Co-tutor: Dr. Lara Maistrello

The focus of this call is the analysis of composition and function of complex microbial communities, such as those associated to food matrices and to human gut. Major areas of the topic are microbiology and Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) techniques. The approaches aim to unveil the composition of microbiota but also to taxonomically and functionally characterize single strains. Omics technologies will applied to profile microbiome of different communities impacting on safety of novel foods such as insect-based ingredients, on spoilage of selected food matrices, or on biotransformations of health relevant compounds.

 

8) Research topic: GUT MICROBIOTA AND HEALTH: FROM THE OMIC APPROACH TO THE ROLE OF SINGLE STRAINS

1 (one) position with grant

Scientific tutor: Prof. Maddalena Rossi; Co-tutor: Dr. Stefano Raimondi

The focus of this call is the investigation of the functions of human gut microbiota. Major areas of the topic are microbiology, fermentation technology, omic and molecular techniques. The project aims to utilize omic techniques (such as metataxonomic analysis, metabolomics, WGS, etc) to study the composition of the gut microbiota and its interaction with endogenous and exogenous compounds that can affect health status. The physiology of single strains, isolated from the microbiota and /or selected as potential probiotics, will be investigated with the aim to improve the knowledge of the determinants of health and develop new intervention approaches.

 

9) Research topic: DEVELOPMENT OF HIGH-TECH BIOPOLYMERS AND INGREDIENTS FROM FOOD WASTE TO IMPROVE FOOD SAFETY

1 (one) position with grant

Scientific tutor: Prof. Andrea Pulvirenti

Development of new materials with a high technological content, which can convey natural antimicrobial to improve the shelf life of foods. The way in which the food industry is moving towards a more environmental friendly and sustainable products is worldwide known. This position has the aim to focus on active and innovative compounds derived from food waste matrixes to be included in food packaging. Specifically, the Ph.D. Student will focus on the study of the most recent technologies to extract and apply the valuable molecules still present in the waste that the industries produce.

The candidate must have knowledge of microbiology and food hygiene and have a basic experience of biodegradable polymers

 

10) Research topic: DEVELOPMENT OF NEW ANALYTICAL METHODS FOR DETERMINATION OF KNOWN AND UNKNOWN TOXIC AGENTS IN FOOD CHAIN

1 (one) position without grant

Scientific tutor: Prof. Andrea Pulvirenti

Qualitative and quantitative determination of chemical toxic contaminants which may be present in food. Development and validation of analytical methods.  Collection of occurrence data of these contaminants.

Possible research lines

1) masked mycotoxins and their metabolites

2) algal biotoxins and new transmission vectors in food chain

3) process contaminants (acrylamide, etc)

 

11) Research topic: EVALUATION OF NEW TRANSMISSION VECTORS OF BIOTOXINS IN FOOD CHAIN

1 (one) position without grant

Scientific tutor: Prof. Andrea Pulvirenti

Qualitative and quantitative determination of biotoxin contaminants which may be present in different food species. Development and validation of analytical methods.  Collection of occurrence data of these contaminants.

Possible research lines

1) masked mycotoxins and their metabolites

2) algal biotoxins and new  transmission vectors in food chain

 

12) Research topic: CIRCULAR ECONOMY APPLIED TO THE AGRIFOOD INDUSTRY

1 (one) position without grant

Scientific tutor: Prof. Andrea Antonelli; Co-tutor: Dr. Giuseppe Montevecchi

Circular economy is a new approach to the economy-environment pairing that has the potential of a revolution in the history of economic development models, comprising an integral approach to a resource efficient future, necessitating cooperation of all stakeholders along the value chain.

New technologies, innovative industrial processes and different markets should be developed to seize the opportunity that the Circular Economy paradigm provides.

The main objective of the proposed PhD Curriculum is to develop a highly specialized and innovative training program focused on an interdisciplinary approach to Circular Economy in research, policy and business. It aims to train professional profiles with technical and economic expertise, especially in re-design of biotechnological processes, preservation of natural resources, zero waste solutions and use of renewable sources applied to agrifood sector.

The main aims of this research can be summarised as follows:

•          study of best available technologies, supply chain models and management;

•          study of Circular business model design e.g. through research and advisory services

•          study of Development of product-service roadmaps

•          study and assessment of socio-economic and environmental aspects

Required skills: preference will give to the candidates with experience in Research and Development policies and models in the field of BioBased Industries and Circular Economy. Good skills in English and in team-working are highly valued, as well. It is also mandatory the availability to spend a period in a European/American lab to refine skills useful for the research project.

 

13) Research topic: Traceability systems for animal and plant food supply chains based on blockchain technologies

1 (one) position with grant funded by Regione Emilia Romagna “Progetti di formazione alla ricerca”

Scientific tutor: Prof. Mauro Mandrioli; Co-tutor: Prof. Michele Colajanni

Summary of research:
Agrifood supply chains have been extensively studied in the last years and many researchers are now considering the application of advanced technologies in supply-chain-management. The technological developments in the areas of networking devices, sensors and communication technology can play a significant role in sustainability of animal products. In particular, the blockchain and related technologies have drawn considerable attention for their disruptive applications in many different domains.
The proposed research project will focus on the design, development, testing and evaluation of traceability systems for food supply chains based on blockchain technology. The initial experimental scenarios will be on pork and tomato supply chains with the goal of testing the applicability of blockchain related technologies and whether and how they can improve the traceability of food stuffs. The overall goal of the research is to identify the most convenient and secure platforms and protocols for traceability based on blockchain modules.

Expected background of the ideal candidate
This is a cross-domain research project, hence we are interested to two profiles of candidates:
•    ICT-based, with knowledge on design and management of Internet-based applications, and data protection protocols;
•    Biotech-based, with knowledge on food chains and interests to learn crypto and blockchain protocols.

 

 

General Topics of the School

 

The research topics of the PhD course aim to provide PhD students with advanced training in the fields of production, processing, quality control and safety of raw materials and of foods.

In the field of agricultural sciences, the topics include the various sectors of plant and animal production, with particular attention to the techniques of cultivation, of breeding, of diseases and pest management, paying utmost attention to the environment, to the consumer, to the needs of the agri-food industry and to product quality. Molecular genetics, a powerful innovative means for the selection of varieties able to respond to these needs, completes the skills.

In the field of food science, research is focused on process and product innovation, through the integrated use of food technologies, microbiology, biochemistry, chemistry, molecular biology, advanced optimization techniques, product and process monitoring, quality assessment of raw materials and evaluation of their attitude to transformation, innovative technologies in food packaging.

 

Food packaging design and validation

Food packaging is a crucial unit operation in the entire food production process, preventing physical damage and chemical deterioration from mechanical and environmental hazards, as well as changes caused by microorganism. Modern packaging systems must face up to another challenge: they must be environmentally sustainable. Indeed, packaging contributes to the sustainability of a food product and should be designed holistically together with that product to optimize the overall environmental performance and minimize the risk of product spoilage, damage and wastage. A great deal of effort must be addressed to make the packaging system “greener”, but still able to protect food and to retard degradation phenomena. Research and development topics, therefore, are focused on: the design of active (antimicrobial and antioxidant) materials and intelligent systems; the study of the shelf-life and its prediction models; the design of food packaging systems that guarantee protection, but also a rapid and efficient end-of-life disposal; strategies involving packaging addressed to the reduction of food wastage; the development and application of biobased and biodegradable polymers for food packaging.

 

Multidrug-resistant bacteria (MDR) in the food chain: use of natural antimicrobials, a developing perspective

The extensive use of antibiotics administered in food animals not only as therapy, but also as metaphylactics and growth promoters, has contributed to the magnitude of the global challenge of antibiotic resistance (ABR). Foods of animal origin, in particular, are considered as key reservoirs of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, and the emergence of ABR bacteria in the food chain is exacerbated by the fact that antibiotic-resistant genes can easily spread to other opportunistic or pathogenic bacteria at each stage of the food production chain and cause infections in humans, often difficult to treat. The aim of the project is to investigate the capability of natural compounds (bacteriocins, essential oils, plant extracts) to combat the problems of antibiotic resistance in bacteria, by modifying the resistance pattern and/or acting as synergistic agent in combination with antibiotics.

 

Development of mathematical models supporting sustainable agriculture in Europe

Development and use of mathematical models in crop protection is becoming an important field of research and application for the implementation of the Directive 2009/128/EC. Model development is a complex procedure and requires knowledge in various sectors (e.g., plant and pest biology, applied ecology, population dynamics and epidemiology, mathematics etc.): Model characteristics have to be suitable for the development of practical solutions in sustainable agriculture.
PhD Student will focus on some of aspect of modelling to support sustainable pest management. This will include mechanistic models development and parametrization, use of the plant and environmental information to model the pest population dynamics, use of model in the context of Decision Support Systems (DSS). The research will also consider methods to evaluate and quantify cost/benefit analysis associated to the use of DSS in sustainable pest management.

 

Quantitative models supporting risk assessment in the food chain

Statistical and / or mathematical models can contribute in all the phases of risk assessment: hazard identification, hazard characterization, exposure assessment, risk characterization. The aim of the research is to develop, analyze and evaluate options for implementation of quantitative approaches to risk assessment in the food chain.
PhD Student will focus on some of the current criticalities of quantitative approaches including the proper consideration of the variability of the analyzed processes, the use of different information sources, the elaboration and presentation of the model results to be easily interpreted by end users, the integration of these models with other approaches used in the risk analysis.

 

Characterization and winemaking of ancient grape cultivars

In Italy many ancient cvs are neglected or not fully exploited despite they have high potentiality. The cv composition (manly flavours and polyphenols) and the best technological approach will be the aim of this study with the involvement of different concerns operating in oenological field.

 

Bacterial cellulose synthesis by acetic acid bacteria

Bacterial cellulose (BC) is an extracellular polysaccharide produced by bacteria of different genera, the most known of which are acetic acid bacteria. BC is a highly pure form of cellulose with the same chemical structure as plant cellulose, but it exhibits superior physical and chemical properties (e.g. high mechanical tensile strength, strong stability at high temperature, purity, biodegradability and water holding capacity).
The aim of this project is to select new acetic acid bacteria strains for BC synthesis and to enhance BC productivity. The approach will include microbiology, molecular biology and analytical tools.
Key steps of the project are: the evaluation of synthetic media and byproducts of food industry as substrates enhancing BC yield; genome sequencing of the best BC producers as well as the analysis of the gene regions involved in BC synthesis; scale-up of BC production by the best strains.
Required skills: working in a team, academic writing, critical thinking, recognizing research problems. Essential Background: microbiology, molecular biology and biological data management.

 

Innovative strategies for the sustainable management of the brown marmorated stink bug Halyomorpha halys, an invasive pest of horticultural crops in southern Europe

The invasive brown marmorated stink bug Halyomorpha halys is a serious pest of many agricultural crops and also a household nuisance, that is rapidly spreading in Italy and many European countries. The project aims to develop innovative sustainable solutions for its improved management both in the field and in urban contexts. The PhD student will focus on the insect-plants relationships, explore the potential of native biocontrol agents, investigate the stimuli to be used in behavioral manipulation strategies.

 

Crop physiology: research of crop plant ideotype for low-input farming

The need to reduce inputs in modern farming systems must necessarily go together either the maintenance or the increase of yields for crop plants, because of the increasing world demand of commodities. It is asked to agronomic research not only to find ways to optimize and save inputs, but also to design new physiological ideotypes of crop plants that are more responding in the field to this double objective. This is the object of the research, to individuate physiological types that are more suitable to stabilize yields in low input conditions, in a chosen species, and for the Italian environments.

 

Product innovation for diversification strategies and business development in agribusiness

The international trade liberalization of agricultural products cuts down the business income of European farmers. It is necessary to develop diversification strategies in farm productions in order to have new opportunities, for example different uses of agricultural commodities and new particular consumer demands. Product innovation is increasingly important for the European agriculture. This is a very complex subject, a lot of elements are involved in it: technical knowledge, management, marketing, business strategies, political decisions, agricultural policy. The first purpose of this research is to analyse these arguments using economic theory and empirical analysis in the agricultural sector. The second purpose is to give indications and to define operating rules to indentify, check, transfer, implement the product innovations in the agricultural sector.

 

Fine mapping of resistance genes to root-knot nematodes

The goal of the ph.D project will be the study of the genes involved in the resistance to Root-Knot Nematodes (RKN, Meloidogyne spp.) in common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.). Starting point of the research will be the genetic materials (breeding lines, segregating progenies, etc.) developed by the Centro per le Colture Industriali di Bologna (CRA-CIN, Research Center for Industrial Crops) and the derived molecular markers associated to the different resistance sources studied during the last years. The multidisciplinary project will try to connect breeding experience and different genomic tools with the final aim to identify the genes that are regulating the nematode resistance, for example by saturating the flanking regions surrounding the genes with different molecular markers, and trying to clarify the regulation and the expression of those resistance genes.

 

Construction of a high resolution map of wheat chromosome 5A

The goal of the project is the construction of a high density molecular map that is needed for anchoring BAC contigs to a genetic map, in order to obtain a physical map for sequencing. Several mapping populations will be used during the project, and different parallel marker development approaches. The model species Brachypodium dystachion will be used for searching orthologous sequences. The computational effort for the map construction, together with the association of markers found with agronomically relevant traits will be part of the project.

 

Quality Improvement of fruit productions

The aim of the research is to understand the critical environmental and physiological factors that can improve the fruit productions, through the interaction with the agronomic management. This will include the study of how such factors affect the fruit quality. The results of the action of the key factors will be analyzed, as quality traits as well as compounds with nutraceutical value, not only on the fresh product of the chosen species, but also on the transformed products.

 

Innovation and quality in organic zootechny

PhD students activity will be carried out in the agro-zootechnical field, with particular attention to the effects of innovative farming technologies, alternative to the current conventional ones, on animal products quality. In detail, the attitude of raw materials to be processed into highly safe and high value added products will be investigated. Further, attention will be paid to the relationships between organic pig farming and the quality of the finished products. Finally, the characteristics of carcass and meat obtained from local swine breeds, reared according to the organic system, will be defined.

 

Increase of anthocyanin production in tomato

Anthocyanins are water-soluble pigments widely distributed throughout the plant kingdom. Beside their physiological roles in plants, several positive effects of anthocyanins in the diet have been described, and interest grew in anthocyanin pigments, and in food plants containing anthocyanins, because of their possible health benefits as antioxidants. The main objective of the research will be the study of the role of anthocyanins in the response to biotic and abiotic stresses. In particular, it will be evaluated the tolerance/susceptibility to abiotic (chilling) and biotic (Alternaria infection) stresses of single and double mutants of an available collection of mutants impaired in anthocyanin content. The research will also deal with the identification of the alleles of candidate genes that could explain the mutations, selected among regulatory elements of the anthocyanin biosynthesis pathway.

 

Fast and non-destructive characterization of complex food matrices

The application of innovative methods of multivariate analysis in the interpretation of instrumental analytical data is a strategic research area, due to the great importance concerning its strong interdisciplinary nature. In fact, the knowledge led by the multivariate analysis is transversal to many research and work topics in science and agri-food technologies. The topics of the present research work will deal with the analysis of raw food matrices in their complex form, i.e. without the need of extraction of the compounds of interest. In addition to classical wet analyses, that will be performed as reference methods, also fast and non-destructive determinations will be conducted, by spectroscopic methods and through the acquisition of digital  images (RGB, multispectral, hyperspectral). The information contained in data measured with different analytical techniques will be extracted by means of blind analysis methods that will be developed ad-hoc, aiming to model the chemical, physical and technological characteristics of the samples and to evaluate their changes with time, such as during leavening, ripening, seasoning or degradation processes.

 

Food Microbiology

The research activity of Food Microbiology group focuses microbial ecology associated to safety and stability of foods. The research activity includes: i) the knowledge of food ecosystems; ii) the transformation and preservation techniques; iii) the microbial activities to obtain metabolites useful for biotechnological applications. Our experimental approaches include the integration of classical methodology and metabolomics and metagenomics to characterise the microbial diversity in food ecosystems as well as their potential exploitation in innovative microbial processes. Yeasts, acetic acid bacteria and lactic acid bacteria involved in fermented foods production are the main microbial groups investigated through poliphasic identification and technological characterisation, and about 2,000 strains have been collected as bioresource for selection and genetic improvement of strains useful for wine, vinegar, beer, sourdough and cheese production.

 

Biochemistry

Biological activity and metabolism of naturally occurring compounds. In particular, their protection against oxidative stress and protein glycation and their ability to modulate the biochemical activity of digestive enzymes.

 

Evaluation of the food flavour profile with an electronic nose

Food flavours have been traditionally studied by gas chromatography. More recently, the use of electronic sensors is gaining interest in this field. The study of relationships among composition, food quality, and the response of an electronic nose to several foodstuffs is the main objective of this research topic. In addition, the problem of off-flavours and taints can be considered as well for its great concern in food industry. Among the others, food taints could derive from technological process, poor storage conditions, and occasional contamination. The study of relationships among composition, food quality, and the response of an electronic nose is the main objective of this research topic. The correlations among sensory analysis, GC determinations, and electronic nose responses applied to different matrices (food, raw materials and packaging materials) will be considered.

 

Meat production, meat processing and quality assessment.

Pork production requires high standards of quality to meet the consumers’ expatiations and the need of transformation industry. The former requires healthy product, with low levels of fat and cholesterol; the latter look at the fatty acid composition, which is a matter of great concern for its implication in curing for its higher oxidability. In addition, the outbreak of defects in pig thighs (superficial veining, red skin, blood splash etc.) can cause a high incidence of rejects at seasoning. Hybrids and genetic selection for leaner carcasses modify lipid characteristics, becoming richer of unsaturated fatty acids. Although favourable for human nutrition, an increase of these substances may cause oxidation problems, especially for long-seasoned products such as Italian seasoned ham. Chemical composition of fat, sensory and rheological attributes of final products, the influence of farm factors, the characteristics of backfat and intramuscular fat for the improvement of ham quality in PDO dry-curing, and the study of the qualitative characteristics of the carcass and meat of farm animals are the main research objectives.