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Plant Biology Lab  

Members: Prof. Gelsomina Fico, Prof. Claudia Giuliani
Research collaborators: Dr. Martina Bottoni (PhD student), Dr. Fabrizia Milani (PhD student)

Ethnobotany. Our studies focused on the recovery of the knowledge of the plant uses in folk medicine, for food or ritual purposes and for the animal care fit within the context of the preservation and enhancement of the biodiversity conceived in a wider sense, as cultural biodiversity. Special attention is addressed to the intergenerational transmission of the information. This type of investigations represents the basis for carrying out phytochemical studies on the characterization of plant species never investigated and on the validation/refutation of the detected biological activity.

  • Bottoni M., Milani F., Galimberti P.M., Vignati L., Romanini P.L., Lavezzo L., Martinetti L., Giuliani C., Fico, G. 2021. Ca’Granda, Hortus simplicium: Restoring an Ancient Medicinal Garden of XV–XIX Century in Milan (Italy). Molecules, 26, p.6933.
  • Bottoni M., Milani F., Colombo L., Nallio K., Colombo P.S., Giuliani C., Bruschi P., Fico G. 2020. Using Medicinal Plants in Valmalenco (Italian Alps): From Tradition to Scientific Approaches. Molecules, 25, p.4144.
  • Bruschi P., Sugni M., Moretti A., Signorini M.A., Fico G. 2019. Children’s versus adult’s knowledge of medicinal plants: an ethnobotanical study in Tremezzina (Como, Lombardy, Italy). Brazilian Journal of Pharmacognosy, doi: 10.1016/J.bjp.2019.04.009.
  • Dei Cas L., Pugni F., Fico G. 2015. Tradition of use on medicinal species in Valfurva (Sondrio, Italy). Journal of Ethnopharmacology 163: 113-134.

Morphological and chemical characterization of medicinal and food plants. The research focused on the study of plant biodiversity is aimed at characterizing medicinal and food species from the morphological (my means of light microscopy, as well as scanning and transmission electron microscopy) and chemical (extraction and isolation of secondary metabolites with both qualitative and quantitative analyses) perspectives.

  • Giuliani C., Bottoni M., Ascrizzi R., Milani F., Spada A., Flamini G., Fico, G. 2021. Morphology and phytochemistry of Teucrium chamaedrys L. (Lamiaceae) cultivated at the Ghirardi Botanic Garden (Lombardy, Northern Italy). Flora, 282, p.151898.
  • Giuliani C., Bottoni M., Ascrizzi R., Milani F., Falsini S., Papini A., Flamini, G. Fico, G. 2021. Micromorphological and phytochemical survey of Ballota acetabulosa (L.) Benth. Plant Biology, 23, 643-652.
  • Giuliani C., Bottoni M., Ascrizzi R., Santagostini L., Papini A., Flamini G., Fico G. 2020. A novel study approach on Scutellaria altissima L. cultivated at the Ghirardi Botanic Garden (Lombardy, Italy). Plant Biology, 22, 1013-1021.
  • Giuliani C., Pieraccini G., Santilli C., Tani C., Bottoni M., Schiff S., Fico G., Papini A., Falsini S. 2020. Anatomical investigation and GC/MS analysis of ‘Coco de Mer’, Lodoicea maldivica (Arecaceae). Chemistry & Biodiversity, 17, e2000707.
  • Giuliani C., Bottoni M., Ascrizzi R., Milani F., Papini A., Flamini G., Fico G. 2020. Lavandula dentata L. from Italy: analysis of trichomes and volatiles. Chemistry & Biodiversity, 17, e2000532.

Productivity in secondary metabolites in relation to ecological and physiological aspects. The production of secondary metabolites is investigated in relation to various environmental and/or endogenous factors. The biosynthesis and the accumulation of secondary metabolites can be influenced by different exogenous factors, e.g., climate, edaphic condition, habitat, stress conditions (H2O scarcity, presence of pathogens), or by plant endogenous rhythms that may vary during the ontogenetic cycle. The knowledge of plant responses to these factors are of remarkable practical interest in order to optimize the collection of the plant parts with the highest content in active principles.

  • Najar B., Pistelli L., Cervelli C., Salvatici MC., Fico G., Giuliani C. 2020. Volatilome and micromorphological analysis of two Rosemary hybrids. Scientia Horticulturae, 266, 109284.
  • Nkuimi Wandjou J.G., Sut S., Giuliani C., Fico G., Papa F., Ferraro S., Caprioli G., Maggi F., Dall'Acqua S. 2019. Characterization of nutrients, polyphenols and volatile components of the ancient apple cultivar ‘Mela Rosa Dei Monti Sibillini’from Marche region, central Italy. International Journal of Food Sciences and Nutrition, doi: 10.1080/09637486.2019.1580684
  • Giuliani C., Lazzaro L., Calamassi R., Fico G., Foggi B., Mariotti Lippi M. 2019. Induced water stress affects seed germination response and root anatomy in Robinia pseudoacacia (Fabaceae). Trees, 33, 1627-1638.
  • Giuliani C., Tani C., Bini L.M., Fico G., Colombo R., Martinelli T. 2018. Localization of phenolic compounds in the fruits of characterized by different silymarin chemotype and altered colour. Fitoterapia, 130. 210-218.

Biological activity of compounds of plant origin. Biological tests are aimed at investigating the role of secondary metabolites in the vital economy of the plant and at investigating the therapeutic potential for humans. In particular, the research group performs in vitro tests for the evaluation of antimicrobial, antifungal and antioxidant activity of commercial plant material and of samples obtained from cultivated or spontaneous plan (crude extracts, fractions and pure compounds suitably isolated).

  • Sangiovanni E., Fumagalli M., Santagostini L., Forino M., Piazza S., Colombo E., Taglialatela-Scafati O., Fico G., Dell'Agli M. 2019. A bio-guided assessment of the anti-inflammatory activity of hop extracts (Humulus lupulus L. cv. Cascade) in human gastric epithelial cells. Journal of Functional Foods, 57: 95-102.
  • Maggi F., Giuliani C., Fico G., Ricciutelli M., Bramucci M., Quassinti L., Petrelli D., Vitali L.A., Cianfaglione K., Tirillini B., Sut S., Dall’Acqua S. 2018. Secondary metabolites, secretory structures and biological activity of water celery (Helosciadium nodiflorum (L.) Koch) growing in central Italy. Plant Biosystems, doi. 10.1080/11263504.2018.1492992

Biosystematics. The correct botanical characterization of plant species is of fundamental importance for both the basic scientific research and the applicative perspective, i.e., to avoid confusion between similar species with different contents in active principles, potential sophistications, improper uses of drugs and for a more targeted and aware use of plants. In particular, the research group studies some critical taxa of the Italian Flora in relation to biosystematic aspects with different methodological approaches: morphological, chemical, biomolecular.

  • Colombo S., Flamini G., Rodondi G., Giuliani C., Santagostini L., Fico G. 2017. Phytochemistry of European Primula species. Phytochemistry, 143: 132-144.
  • Giuliani C., Lazzaro L., Calamassi R., Calamai L., Romoli R., Fico G., Foggi B., Mariotti Lippi M. 2016. A volatolomic approach for studying plant variability: the case of selected Mediterranean Helichrysum (Asteraceae). Phytochemistry, 130: 128-143.

Research and experimentation in the open field at the "Giordano Emilio Ghirardi" Botanic Garden. The Ghirardi botanic garden (Scientific director since 2003: Prof. G. Fico; Curator since 2018: Dr. C. Giuliani) is located in Toscolano Maderno (Brescia). The garden was founded in 1964 as an experimental botanical station of the Milan Pharmaceutical company SIMES (Italian Society of Medicines and Synthetics), at the behest of its owner, Giordano Emilio Ghirardi. The aim was the cultivation of medicinal species, difficult to recover, with active cardioactive and anticancer principles, e.g., the species Camptotheca acuminata, symbol of the botanic garden, with antitumoral active principles, and introduced for the first time in Italy in Toscolano Maderno. For the retrieval of the seeds, Ghirardi sent several appointees all over the world and maintained contacts with famous personalities. This testifies to the great variety of species preserved at the garden. When SIMES was sold, the owner kept the botanic garden for scientific research. In 1991, it was donated to the University of Milan, with the clause of maintaining the direction of study and research on medicinal plants. Since 2013, the botanic garden is annexed to the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Its surface is 10,000 square meters and it is located at 70 meters above sea level. The medicinal species amount to about 450. The research activities are focused on different plant species, in particular members of the Lamiaceae, Asteraceae, Myrtaceae and Lauraceae families.
The most recent lines of research are based on a multidisciplinary approach of investigation with respect to all of the topics described above. The primary objective is the enhancement and conservation of the plant heritage of the Ghirardi botanic garden, through the performance of closely related activities.
Primarily, the micromorphology of the secreting structures responsible for the productivity in secondary metabolites is described; secondarily, the chemical profiles in volatile compounds, essential oils, epicuticular depositions and components accumulated in plant tissues are characterized. A further level of investigation is aimed at the study of the interactions that these substances generate with the environmental biotic component; the positive interactions with the pollinators and with the microorganisms that populate the phyllosphere are studied, as well as the interactions with pathogens and pests. These aspects are relevant and place the plant "in the center"; the novelty of this type of research is the double approach (phytocentric / anthropocentric) for a global vision of the target species, in order to correlate these aspects with the potential importance for humans in the therapeutic, food or cosmetic sectors.
These research lines are also linked to Open Science and Citizen Science activities, as part of the Third University Mission, also becoming topics of our scientific production.

  • Giovanetti M., Giuliani C., Fico G., Lupi D. 2020. A botanic garden as a tool to combine public perception of nature and life-science investigations on native/exotic plants interactions with local pollinators. PLOS One, 15, e0228965.
  • Giuliani C., Giovanetti M., Lupi D., Mesiano M.P., Barilli R., Ascrizzi R., Flamini G., Fico G. 2020. Tools to tie: flower characteristics, VOC emission profile, and glandular trichomes of two mexican Salvia species to attract bees. Plants, 9, 1645-1661.
  • Giuliani C., Ascrizzi R., Lupi D., Tassera G., Santagostini L., Giovanetti M., Flamini G., Fico G. 2018. S. verticillata: linking glandular trichomes, volatiles and pollinators. Phytochemistry, 155: 53-60.

ERC panels
LS3_16 Functional imaging of cells
LS8_2 Biodiversity
LS8_3 Conservation biology
LS8_8 Phylogenetics, systematics, comparative biology
LS8_10 Ecology and evolution of species interactions

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