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(Settore Concorsuale 07/B2 – SSD AGR/03 “Arboricoltura generale e coltivazioni arboree”)

presso il Centro di Ricerca in Scienze delle Produzioni Vegetali

Sede: Via Alamanni 22 Loc. La Fontina, Ghezzano PI

Tel: 050 883151




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Physiological and molecular interactions among plants and environmental constrains

In this research area, I tried to disclose some of the biological and molecular mechanisms involved in woody plant’s reaction to abiotic stresses, moving from cell/tissue to whole crop level. At cell/tissue level I studied the molecular and biochemical change involved in the reaction to salinity and drought, mineral nutrient stress (Cu, Zn, Ni), pollution effects (heavy metals, ozone stress) and also emerging xenobiotic contaminants (caffeine, erythromycin, SDS, diclofenac, etc.). In these studies, I selected woody plant having an immediate interest for agricultural production such as olive, peach, and poplar but also horticulture crops such as tomato. In particular, I work on olive tree as a crop model for the Mediterranean environmental constraints (salinity, drought) from plant to orchard level. The basic idea was to understand how these crops for fruit (olive, peach, tomato) and wood (poplar) production resist to abiotic stresses and how we can improve by crop management or genetic improvement strategies their resistance traits.


Fruit composition and antioxidant compounds

In the last years I studied apple aimed to prove their health promoting effects. Pharmacological properties of fruit are linked to the abundance of phytochemical constituents (i.e. polyphenolic compounds) having antioxidant activity able to scavenge free radicals, physiologically important and that are involved in numerous pathologies. Results highlighted that apple fruit is a very important source of flavonoids, in particular of procyanidins, catechin, epicatechin, chlorogenic acid and quercetin conjugated compounds. These compounds have been largely studied in order to maximize these compounds in apple fruits or derived products.


Atmospheric pollution. At the start of my carrier, I focused my research activity on the study of an important environmental concern for plant growth and productivity: the ozone (O3) pollution. The global atmospheric ozone concentrations have risen by about 36% since the pre-industrial times, together with a nearly 30% increase in CO2 concentrations over the same period. Ozone is one of the most powerful oxidants and plant cells respond quickly to O3 stress by induced ROS production. By using tomato, trifolium and melissa as herbaceous plant models and poplar (Populus spp.) and liriodendron as woody plant models, I tested the effect of acute and chronic O3 exposures on the physiological, biochemical, and molecular plant defense and adaptation mechanisms. My studies were focused on plant signal transduction in response to O3 stress and on the interactions of these signal with other metabolites and defense mechanisms.


Woody plant germplasm conservation. This research line starts from the consideration that plant biodiversity recovery, conservation and valorization strategies are crucial processes for the preservation of ancient crop varieties in small and marginal agricultural areas. A detailed knowledge of plant genetic variability is crucial to correctly preserve the germplasm and eventually use it for future genetic improvement program. The many systems studied in this research area are located in hilly and mountainous regions in Tuscany (Casentino, Comune di Zeri, Capannori, Elba) that are characterized by a fast population decline and loss of several agricultural activities due to strong international competition, farmer ageing and more attractive economic activities (industry, commerce, and tourism) in the surrounding areas.


Development of Innovative Systems for Environmental Education. This research line has been developed in the last years under the project ACARISS (Accrescere le Conoscenze sull’Ambiente e i Rischi connessi all’Inquinamento Coinvolgendo le Scuole con la Sperimentazione - Projects Funded by PAS FAS-Tuscany) actions. Then continued with FIlo Diretto tra scuole e Università: la ricerCa In clAsse (FIDUCIA) Projects Funded by Ministero dell’Istruzione, dell’Università e della Ricerca Dipartimento per la Formazione Superiore e per la Ricerca Direzione Generale per il Coordinamento, la Promozione e la Valorizzazione della Ricerca (PANN15T3_00469). The aims of these projects are to promote science, starting from education in secondary schools. Using Internet-based communication technologies and Inquiry Based Learning methods, the project allowed to connect the schools with the research laboratories and developed functional approaches useful for easy science learning.


Scientific Publications indexed in SCOPUS/WoS Core Collection


  1. Francini A, Romano D; Toscano S; Ferrante A. 2022. The Contribution of Ornamental Plants to Urban Ecosystem Services. Earth, 3(4):1258-1274.
  2. Francini A, Fidalgo Illesca C, Raffaelli A, Romi M, Cantini C, Sebastiani L. 2022. Cocoa bar antioxidant profile enrichment with underutilized apples varieties. Antioxidants, 11(4):694.
  3. Sodini M, Astolfi S, Francini A*, Sebastiani L. 2022. Multiple linear regression and linear mixed models identify novel traits of salinity tolerance in Olea europaea L. Tree Physiology, 42 (5)1029–1042.
  4. Francini A*, Fidalgo-Illesca C, Raffaelli A, Sebastiani L. 2022. Phenolics and Mineral Elements Composition in Underutilized Apple Varieties. Horticulturae, 8(1), 40;
  5. Francini A, Sodini M, Vicario G, Raffaelli A, Gucci R, Caruso G, Sebastiani L. 2021. Cations and phenolic compounds concentrations in fruits of fig plants exposed to moderate levels of salinity. Antioxidants, 10(12): 1865.
  6. Francini A, Toscano S, Romano D, Ferrini F, Ferrante A. 2021. Biological Contribution of Ornamental Plants for Improving Slope Stability along Urban and Suburban Areas Horticulturae, 7, 310.
  7. Vannucchi F, Francini A*, Raffaelli A, Sebastiani L. 2021. Removal of multi-contaminants from water by association of poplar and brassica plants in a short-term growth chamber experiment. Environmental Science and Pollution Research Int., 28(13):16323-16333.
  8. Neri A, Traversari S, Andreucci A, Francini A*, Sebastiani L. 2021. The Role of Aquaporin Overexpression in the modulation of transcription of heavy metal transporters under cadmium treatment in poplar. Plants (Basel). Dec 29;10(1):54. https://doi: 10.3390/plants10010054
  9. Caselli A, Francini A, Minnocci A, Petacchi R. 2021. Dasineura oleae: morphological and physiological characterization following the midge attack on olive leaves. Journal of Plant Disease and Protection, 128, 173–182
  10. Vicario G, Francini A*, Cifelli M, Domenici V, Sebastiani L. 2020. Near UV-Vis and NMR Spectroscopic Methods for Rapid Screening of Antioxidant Molecules in Extra-Virgin Olive Oil. Antioxidants, 9: 12,
  11. Vannucchi F, Traversari S, Raffaelli A, Francini A*, Sebastiani L. 2020. Populus alba tolerates and efficiently removes caffeine and zinc excesses using an organ allocation strategy. Plant Growth Regulation, 92, 597–606.
  12. Traversari S, De Carlo A, Traversi ML, Minnocci A, Francini A, Sebastiani L, Giovannelli A. 2020. Osmotic adjustments support growth of poplar cultured cells under high concentrations of carbohydrates. Plant Cell Reports, 39:971–982.
  13. Traversari S, Neri A, Traversi ML, Giovannelli A, Francini A*, Sebastiani L. 2020. Daily osmotic adjustments in stem may be good predictors of water stress intensity in poplar. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, 146: 13–22. 10.1016/j.plaphy.2019.10.039
  14. Zulfiqar F, Younis A Abideen Z, Francini A, Ferrante A. 2019. Bioregulators can improve biomass production, photosynthetic efficiency, and ornamental quality of Gazania rigens L. Agronomy, 9(11), 773.
  15. Moretti S, Francini A*, Hernández ML, Martínez-Rivas JM, Sebastiani L. 2019. Effect of saline irrigation on physiological traits, fatty acid composition and desaturase genes expression in olive fruit mesocarp. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, 141 423–430.
  16. Vannucchi F, Francini A*, Pierattini EC, Raffaelli A, Sebastiani L. 2019. Populus alba dioctyl phthalate uptake from contaminated water. Environmental Science and Pollution Research Int., 26(25):25564-25572.
  17. Dalle Carbonare L, White MD., Shukla V, Francini A, Perata P, Flashman E, Sebastiani L,  Licausi F. 2019. Zinc excess induces a hypoxia-like response by inhibiting cysteine oxidases in poplar roots. Plant Physiology, 180, 1614–1628. 10.1104/pp.18.01458
  18. Felice F, Francini A, Domenici V, Cifelli M, Belardinelli E, Sebastiani L, Cantini C, Di Stefano R. 2019. Effects of Extra Virgin Olive Oil and apples enriched-dark chocolate on Endothelial Progenitor Cells in patients with cardiovascular risk factors: a randomized cross-over trial. Antioxidants, 8, 88.
  19. Traversari S, Francini A, Traversi ML, Emiliani G, Sorce C, Sebastiani L, Giovannelli A. 2018. Can sugar metabolism in the cambial region explain the water deficit tolerance in poplar? Journal of Experimental Botany, 69:4083–4097.
  20. Francini A, Mariotti L, Di Gregorio S, Sebastiani L, Andreucci A. 2018. Removal of micro-pollutants from urban wastewater by constructed wetlands with Phragmites australis and Salix matsudana. Environmental Science and Pollution Research Int., 25(36):36474-36484.
  21. Pierattini EC, Francini A, Huber C, Sebastiani L, Schröder P. 2018. Poplar and diclofenac pollution: A focus on physiology, oxidative stress and uptake in plant organs. Science of the Total Environment, 636: 944–952.
  22. Pierattini EC, Francini A*, Raffaelli A, Sebastiani L. 2018. Surfactant and heavy metal interaction in poplar: a focus on SDS and Zn uptake. Tree Physiology, 1:109–118.
  23. Moretti S, Francini A*, Minnocci A, Sebastiani L. 2018. Does salinity modify anatomy and biochemistry of Olea europaea L. fruit during ripening? Scientia Horticulturae, 228: 33–40.
  24. Minnocci A, Francini A*, Romeo S, Sgrignuoli A, Povero G, Sebastiani L 2018. Zn-localization and anatomical changes in leaf tissues of green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) following foliar application of Zn-lignosulfonate and ZnEDTA. Scientia Horticulturae, 231:15-21.
  25. Cantini C, Salusti P, Romi M, Francini A, Sebastiani L. 2018. Sensory profiling and consumer acceptability of new dark cocoa bars containing Tuscan autochthonous food products. Journal Food Science & Nutrition, 6(2): 245–252.
  26. Romeo S, Francini A*, Sebastiani L, Morabito D. 2017. High Zn concentration does not impair biomass, cutting radial growth, and photosynthetic activity traits in Populus alba L. Journal of Soils and Sediments, 17 (5): 1394–1402.
  27. Francini A*, Romeo S, Cifelli M, Gori D, Domenici V, Sebastiani L. 2017. 1HNMR and PCA-based analysis revealed variety dependent changes in phenolic contents of apple fruit after drying. Food Chemistry, 221:1206–1213.
  28. Iqbal N, Khan NA, Ferrante A, Trivellini A, Francini A, Khan MIR. 2017. Ethylene role in plant growth, development and senescence: interaction with other phytohormones. Frontiers in Plant Science,
  29. Pierattini EC, Francini A*, Raffaelli A, Sebastiani L. 2016. Morpho-physiological response of Populus alba to erythromycin: A timeline of the health status of the plant. Science of The Total Environment, 569–570:540-547.
  30. Rossi L, Borghi M, Francini A, Lin X, Xie DY, Sebastiani L. 2016. Salt stress induces differential regulation of the phenylpropanoid pathway in Olea europaea cultivars Frantoio (salt-tolerant) and Leccino (salt-sensitive). Journal of Plant Physiology, 204:8-15.
  31. Pierattini EC, Francini A*, Raffaelli A, Sebastiani L. 2016. Degradation of exogenous caffeine by Populus alba and its effects on endogenous caffeine metabolism. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 23(8) 7298–7307.
  32. Cocetta G, Trivellini A, Ferrante A, Francini A. 2016. Effect of washing treatments on chlorophyll a fluorescence and vitamin C content in minimally processed lamb’s lettuce during storage. Agrochimica, 60:1-14.
  33. Romè C, Romeo S, Francini A*, Andreucci A, Sebastiani L. 2016. Leaves position in Populus alba Villafranca clone reveals a strategy towards cadmium uptake response. Plant Growth Regulation, 79: 355-366.
  34. Ariani A, Francini A*, Andreucci A, Sebastiani L. 2016. Overexpression of AQUA1 in Populus alba Villafranca clone increases relative growth rate and water use efficiency, under Zn excess condition. Plant Cell Reports, 35:289-301.
  35. Khan MR, Trivellini A, Fatma M, Masood A, Francini A, Iqbal N, Ferrante A, Khan NA. 2015. Role of ethylene in responses of plants to nitrogen availability. Frontiers in Plant Science, 6:927.
  36. Pellegrini E, Francini A, Lorenzini G, Nali C. 2015. Ecophysiological and antioxidant traits of Salvia officinalis under ozone stress. Environmental Science and Pollution Research, 22: 13083-13093.
  37. Rossi L, Francini A*, Minnocci A, Sebastiani L. 2015. Salt stress modifies apoplastic barriers in olive (Olea europaea L.): a comparison between a salt-tolerant and a salt-sensitive cultivar. Scientia Horticulturae, 192:38–46.
  38. Romeo S, Francini A*, Ariani A, Sebastiani L. 2014. Phytoremediation of Zn: Identify the diverging resistance, uptake and biomass production behaviours of poplar clones under high zinc stress. Water Air and Soil Pollution, 225: 1813-1825.
  39. Pellegrini E, Trivellini A, Campanella A, Francini A, Lorenzini G, Nali C, Vernieri P. 2013. Signaling molecules and cell death in Melissa officinalis plants exposed to ozone. Plant Cell Reports, 32:1965–1980.
  40. Canale A, Benelli G, Conti B, Lenzi G, Flamini G, Francini A, Cioni PL. 2013. Ingestion toxicity of three Lamiaceae essential oils incorporated in protein baits against the olive fruit fly, Bactrocera oleae (Rossi) (Diptera Tephritidae). Natural Product Research, 27(22):2091-9.
  41. Benelli G, Gennari G, Francini A, Canale A. 2013. Longevity costs of same-sex interactions: first evidence from a parasitic wasp. Invertebrate Biology, 132(2): 156–162.
  42. Francini A, Sebastiani L. 2013. Phenolic compounds in apple (Malus x domestica Borkh.): compounds characterization and stability during postharvest and after processing. Antioxidants, 2:181-193.
  43. Pellegrini E, Cioni PL, Francini A, Lorenzini G, Nali C, Flamini G. 2012. Volatiles emission patterns in poplar clones varying in response to ozone. Journal of Chemical Ecology, 38:924–932.
  44. Di Baccio D, Ederli L, Marabottini R, Badiani M, Francini A, Nali C, Antonelli M, Santangelo E, Sebastiani L, Pasqualini S. 2012. Similar foliar lesions but opposite hormonal patterns in a tomato mutant impaired in ethylene perception and its near isogenic wild type challenged with ozone. Environmental Experimental Botany, 75:286-297.
  45. Pellegrini E, Francini A, Nali C, Lorenzini G. 2011. PSII photochemistry and carboxylation efficiency in Liriodendron tulipifera under ozone exposure. Environmental and Experimental Botany, 70: 217–226.
  46. Francini A, Lorenzini G, Nali C. 2011. The antitranspirant di-1-p-menthene, a potential chemical protectant of ozone damage to plants. Water Air and Soil Pollution, 219:459-472.
  47. Francini A, Sebastiani L. 2010. Copper effects on Prunus persica in two different grafting combination (P. persica x P. amygdalus and P. cerasifera). Journal of Plant Nutrition, 33:1338-1352.
  48. Francini A, Lorenzini G, Nali C, Loppi S. 2010. Leaves of Quercus ilex L., as indicators of airborne trace element distribution in Lucca (Central Italy). Acta Horticulturae, 881: 531-534.
  49. Nali C, Francini A, Pellegrini E, Santarelli S, Lorenzini G. 2010. Ecophysiological and histochemical responses to ozone in tree species are influenced by the provenance. Acta Horticulturae, 881:535-538.
  50. Francini A, Nali C, Lorenzini G, Loppi S. 2010. Leaves of Lolium multiflorum as indicators of airborne trace element distribution in central Italy. International Journal of Environment and Health, 4:151-165.
  51. Pellegrini E, Francini A, Lorenzini G, Nali C. 2010. Ozone, CO2 assimilation and PSII function in urban trees: the case of Tilia americana. Acta Horticulturae, 881:539-542.
  52. Nali C, Francini A, Lorenzini G. 2009. White clover clones as a cost-effective indicator of phytotoxic ozone: 10 years of experience from central Italy. Environmental Pollution, 157:1421-1426. 10.1016/j.envpol.2008.09.014
  53. Francini A, Pellegrini E, Lorenzini G, Nali C. 2009. Non-sampling error in ozone biomonitoring: the role of operator training. Journal of Environmental Monitoring, 11:736-744.
  54. Francini A, Nali C, Pellegrini E, Lorenzini G. 2008. Characterization and isolation of some genes of the shikimate pathway in sensitive and resistant Centaurea jacea plants after ozone exposure. Environmental Pollution, 151(2):272-279.
  55. Antonelli MG, Di Baccio D, Ederli L, Francini A, Marabottini R, Pellegrini E, Ciaffi M, Lorenzini G, Nali C, Pasqualini S, Santangelo E, Sebastiani L, Soressi GP, Badiani M. 2008. Ozone as a tool for studying stress responses in tomato: signalling and defence in normal and mutant lines. Acta Horticulturae, 789:159-166.
  56. Francini A, Nali C, Picchi V, Lorenzini G. 2007. Metabolic changes in white clover clones exposed to ozone. Environmental Experimental Botany, 60: 1-19.
  57. Francini A, Galleschi L, Saviozzi F, Pinzino C, Izzo R, Sgherri C, Navari-Izzo F. 2006. Enzymatic and non-enzymatic protective mechanisms in recalcitrant seeds of Araucaria bidwillii subjected to desiccation. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, 44:556-563.
  58. Nali C, Francini A, Lazzerini E, Lorenzini G, Cioni PL. 2006. Essential oils and volatile compounds in Mentha spicata plants exposed to ozone. Acta Horticulturae, 723:179-184.
  59. Nali C, Francini A, Lorenzini G. 2006. Biological monitoring of ozone: the twenty-year Italian experience. Journal Environmental Monitoring, 8:25-32.
  60. Mills RF, Francini A, Ferreira da Rocha PSC, Baccarini PJ, Aylett M, Krijger GC, Williams LE. 2005. The plant P1B-type ATPase AtHMA4 transports Zn and Cd and plays a role in detoxification of transition metals supplied at elevated levels. FEBS Letters, 579:783-791.
  61. Francini A, Sebastiani L, Vitagliano C. 2004. Physiological effects induced by copper excess in peach rootstock Mr.S 2/5 and GF677 growth in vitro. Acta Horticulturae, 658:1-56.