- Written by Ivan Dulgerov
- Assoc. Prof. Dr. Tsanko Gechev
- Director of CPSBB
Dr. Gechev, when was CPSBB founded?
The Center of Plant Systems Biology and Biotechnology (CPSBB) was established in Plovdiv in 2015, with the support of the PlantaSYST project. PlantaSYST itself is funded through the Horizon 2020 “Teaming” Programme. The PlantaSYST project consortium consists of six research organisations, four from Bulgaria and two from Germany. These are: the CPSBB (the coordinating institution); the Maritsa Vegetable Crops Research Institute (MVCRI), Plovdiv; the Stefan Angelov Institute of Microbiology, Laboratory of Metabolomics, Plovdiv; the University of Potsdam; the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Potsdam-Golm.
In addition to the Horizon 2020 grant, the CPSBB also received funding from the “Operational Program Science and Education for Smart Growth” for the construction of a new CPSBB research complex, along with state-of-the-art equipment. The CPSBB was also supported by the Plovdiv Municipality, which provided land for the new research complex.
Which are the areas of scientific research realised by your team?
The main research areas of the CPSBB are related to plant development, molecular stress physiology, plant cell biotechnology, plant metabolomics, bioinformatics, and vegetable breeding. The CPSBB also aims to educate young researchers (PhD students, postdocs) in the field of biotechnology, as well as to become a link between universities, research institutes, and companies. Applied research includes: the development of technologies for improving plant growth and stress resistance biotechnological production of valuable metabolites for the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries; the creation of new vegetable crop varieties with improved nutritional value and resistance to diseases and abiotic stress.
We also train PhD students and young scientists. We have the ambition to offer services in the fields of bioinformatics and metabolic analysis in the near future. It is a priority for us to establish cooperation between science and business. In this regard, our team has developed partnerships with Bulgarian and foreign universities, research institutes and private companies.
What are the innovative methods applied for the scientific research of CPSBB?
The top-notch expertise of our research leaders and team members ensures that all of our scientific departments use world-class technology and methods. Our researchers are hard at work on studies in various fields of plant systems biology and biotechnology, already having produced scientific breakthroughs with potential applications in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries.
Our Vegetable Breeding Department is one such good example. In collaboration with the Maritsa Institute of Vegetable Crops, we evaluate the genomes of traditional Bulgarian tomato and pepper varieties in order to improve their sustainability and nutritional qualities. Selection lines, F1 hybrids, as well as new varieties with improved qualities, are created, based on conventional and molecular biological methods.
As another example:CPSBB Department of Molecular Physiology of Stress researchers are working to identify and characterise various plant genes involved in modulating oxidative stress reactions and programmed cell death induced by reactive oxygen species (ROS). We’ve already managed to identify a new, plant-specific gene which regulates oxidative and abiotic stress tolerance. As this gene is homologous in cultivated plants, its discovery may affect stress tolerance management in cultivated species, increasing their productivity under adverse environmental conditions.
In collaboration with the Irish company BioAtlantis and scientists from the University of Potsdam, our team is developing an effective, environmentally friendly technology which uses a seaweed-derived biostimulant to induce the expression of certain plant genes and metabolites with a protective function. The result of this innovative approach is an increase in abiotic stress tolerance in plants.
Last but not least, the work of our colleagues from the Plant Cell Biotechnology Department is revolutionary for Bulgaria. They use in vitro technologies for the isolation and production of value-added plant metabolites. Together with the other departments at the CPSBB, they are investigating innovative methods for sustainable bioproduction of high value molecules. Thanks to the high professional expertise of our colleagues, we have already realized multiple scientific breakthroughs, to be patented and announced at a later date.
What else has been realised since the establishment of CPSBB?
So far, the CPSBB has published over 200 scientific articles in refereed journals with medium and high impact factors, including 70 in just the last year. We are working on several new research projects concurrently. In 2021 we received accreditation for training PhD students in the field of “Biotechnology.” This makes the CPSBB more attractive to young scientists and contributes to its long-term sustainability.
Together with our partners at the MVCRI we organised an international conference on plant systems biology and biotechnology in 2021. Over 150 scientists from 25 countries, along with representatives from 66 organisations (universities, research institutes and biotechnology companies) took part in the event.
CPSBB partners with universities, research institutes, as well as with Bulgarian and foreign biotechnology companies. Partnership with companies is a priority for us, as it allows for rapid transfer of applied research to end users, providing them with high quality products in the pharmaceutical, cosmetic and food industries.
What are the plans for 2022?
We plan to implement scientific projects in collaboration with our partners. We also want to attract experienced scientists from Bulgaria and abroad to our team. Another goal is to generate products that we will patent and transfer to the industry.