Sterol and terpenoid metabolism in plant development and stress responses

Group Leaders
Albert Ferrer
UB Full Professor
Teresa Altabella
UB Full Professor
Group Members
Plant sterol metabolism and metabolic engineering of bioactive natural products


Plant sterols are found free (FE) and conjugated as steryl esters (SE), steryl glucosides (SG) and acylated steryl glucosides (ASG). In most plants, SG and ASG are minor components of cell membranes compared to FE. However, some Solanaceae like tomato accumulate large amounts of SG and ASG. Although it is accepted that sterols regulate different plant biological processes, the role of conjugated sterol metabolism in plant growth and development, cell signaling and transport, fruit growth and ripening or the adaptive response of plants to biotic and abiotic stress is far from being understood. The main research line of our group is focused on understanding the role and action mechanisms of conjugated sterols in these processes using biochemical, molecular, cellular and physiological approaches, and Arabidopsis and tomato as model organisms.

Currently, our group is also involved in a collaborative project aimed at exploiting the reservoir of bioactive natural compounds produced by endophytes. We are interested in the isolation and characterization of microorganisms living in aromatic plants of the Mediterranean area to produce new metabolites with antimicrobial activity and aroma compounds of commercial interest. Our research activities are mainly focused on the elucidation of the biosynthetic pathways leading to the production of the targeted compounds, with the goal to reconstruct these pathways in microorganism-based production systems that will untimely be tested for the pilot scale production.

Selected Publications

Chavez A, Castillo N, López-Tubau JM, Atanasov KE, Fernández-Crespo E, Camañes G, Altabella A, Ferrer A.
Tomato STEROL GLYCOSYLTRANSFERASE 1 silencing unveils a major role of steryl glycosides in plant and fruit development.
(2023) Environmental and Experimental Botany, vol. 206, Art. number 1051181

Cisneros AE, Lisón, P, Campos L, López-Tubau JM, Altabella T, Ferrer, A, Darós JA, Carbonell A.
Downregulation of tomato STEROL GLYCOSYLTRANSFERASE 1 perturbs plant development and facilitates viroid infection.
(2022) Journal of Experimental Botany, DOI: 10.1093/jxb/erac361

Burciaga-Monge A, López-Tubau JM, Laibach N, Deng C, Ferrer A, Altabella T.
Effects of impaired steryl ester biosynthesis on tomato growth and developmental processes.
(2022) Frontiers in Plant Science 13:984100. DOI: 10.3389/fpls.2022.984100

Altabella T., Ramirez-Estrada K., Ferrer A.
Phytosterol metabolism in plant positive-strand RNA virus replication
(2021) Plant Cell Reports DOI:10.1007/s00299-021-02799-x

Gutiérrez-García L., Arró M., Altabella T., Ferrer A., Boronat A.
Structural and functional analysis of tomato sterol C22 desaturase
(2021) BMC Plant Biology, vol. 21 (1), Art. number 141

Bergman M.E., Chávez A., Ferrer A., Phillips M.A.
Distinct metabolic pathways drive monoterpenoid biosynthesis in a natural population of Pelargonium graveolens
(2020) Journal of Experimental Botany, vol. 71 (1), pp. 258 -271

Castillo N., Pastor V., Chávez Á., Arró M., Boronat A., Flors V., Ferrer A., Altabella T.
Inactivation of UDP-Glucose Sterol Glucosyltransferases Enhances Arabidopsis Resistance to Botrytis cinerea
(2019) Frontiers in Plant Science, vol. 10 Art. number 1162

Lara, J.A., Burciaga-Monge, A., Chávez, A., Revés, M., Lavilla, R., Arró, M., Boronat, A., Altabella, T., Ferrer, A.
Identification and characterization of sterol acyltransferases responsible for steryl ester biosynthesis in tomato
(2018) Frontiers in Plant Science, vol. 9, Art. number 588 

Andrade, P., Manzano, D., Ramirez-Estrada, K., Caudepon, D., Arro, M., Ferrer, A., Phillips, M.A.
Nerolidol production in agroinfiltrated tobacco: Impact of protein stability and membrane targeting of strawberry (Fragraria ananassa) NEROLIDOL SYNTHASE1
(2018) Plant Science, vol. 267, pp. 112-123

Andrade, P., Caudepón, D., Altabella, T., Arró, M., Ferrer, A., Manzano, D.
Complex interplays between phytosterols and plastid development
(2017) Plant Signaling and Behavior, vol. 12 (11), Art. number e1387708

Ferrer, A., Altabella, T., Arró, M., Boronat, A.
Emerging roles for conjugated sterols in plants
(2017) Progress in Lipid Research, vol. 67, pp. 27-37

Ramirez-Estrada, K., Castillo, N., Lara, J.A., Arró, M., Boronat, A., Ferrer, A., Altabella, T.
Tomato UDP-glucose sterol glycosyltransferases: A family of developmental and stress regulated genes that encode cytosolic and membrane-associated forms of the enzyme
(2017) Frontiers in Plant Science, vol. 8, Art. number 984

Scheler, U., Brandt, W., Porzel, A., Rothe, K., Manzano, D., Bozic, D., Papaefthimiou, D., Balcke, G.U., Henning, A., Lohse, S., Marillonnet, S., Kanellis, A.K., Ferrer, A., Tissier, A.
Elucidation of the biosynthesis of carnosic acid and its reconstitution in yeast
(2016) Nature Communications, vol. 7, Art. number 12942

Manzano, D., Andrade, P., Caudepón, D., Altabella, T., Arró, M., Ferrer, A.
Suppressing farnesyl diphosphate synthase alters chloroplast development and triggers sterol-dependent induction of jasmonate- and Fe-related responses
(2016) Plant Physiology, vol. 172 (1), pp. 93-117

Ramírez-Estrada, K., Altabella, T., Onrubia, M., Moyano, E., Notredame, C., Osuna, L., Vanden Bossche, R., Goossens, A., Cusido, R.M., Palazon, J.
Transcript profiling of jasmonate-elicited Taxus cells reveals a β-phenylalanine-CoA ligase
(2016) Plant Biotechnology Journal, vol. 14 (1), pp. 85-96

Laranjeira, S., Amorim-Silva, V., Esteban, A., Arró, M., Ferrer, A., Tavares, R.M., Botella, M.A., Rosado, A., Azevedo, H.
Arabidopsis Squalene Epoxidase 3 (SQE3) Complements SQE1 and Is Important for Embryo Development and Bulk Squalene Epoxidase Activity
(2015) Molecular Plant, vol. 8 (7), Art. number 93, pp. 1090-1102

Renato, M., Boronat, A., Azcón-Bieto, J.
Respiratory processes in non-photosynthetic plastids
(2015) Frontiers in Plant Science, vol. 6, Art. number 496