Drought greatly reduces crop productivity and global food security, and is becoming more frequent and severe under climate change. Excessive nitrate fertilization is the main source of water pollution, and due to the enormous energy and carbon cost of industrial fertilizer production, is a major cause of global warming. Therefore, it is critical to understand how to optimize the use of water and nitrogen for plant production and crop yield. Chloride (Cl−), although traditionally considered a toxic ion for agriculture, has emerged as a beneficial macronutrient for plant growth due to its roles in water relations and photosynthesis, recently discovered by the host group. The current project proposes a unique integration of approaches (from molecular to ecophysiological) in tomato, a model crop of great economic value, with the aim to enhance fundamental knowledge of how Cl− modulates the effects of water management on plant development, photosynthesis, turgor maintenance, yield and drought resistance. Our major objectives are to provide new knowledge on i) the role of Cl− homeostasis on plant development, and ii) its relevance on plant improvement of water- and nitrogen-use efficiency, and iii) transfer this knowledge to the practical management of a crop. These objectives will integrate state-of-the-art process-based models of photosynthesis and stomatal conductance into a mechanistic whole-plant model that includes frontline phenotyping. This novel and multidisciplinary project will be carried out by an applicant with strong scientific expertise in plant molecular physiology and agriculture, who perfectly matches the proposed project, and it will be implemented in a laboratory with an internationally recognized excellence in the study of crop water stress and precision agriculture. This combination provides a unique scientific platform for the research training of the applicant and the development of frontline research in Plant Sciences and Agriculture.
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