Paola Bonfante

From Top Italian Scientists Wiki

Paola Bonfante is a Professor Emerita of plant biology at the University of Turin[1], she has studied symbiosis between fungi and plants (mycorrhizae), associations that involve 90% of plants with significant impacts on ecosystems, as well as on agriculture. Using cellular and molecular biology investigated the biological-functional diversity of mycorrhizal fungi and how they communicate and interact with the host plant. She discovered endobacteria living inside mycorrhizal fungi and with omic approaches she described how they modulate some functional traits of fungal hosts.[2] She belongs to Rome Accademia dei Lincei,[3] Turin Academy of Sciences,[4] French Academy of Agriculture,[5] and Academia Europaea[6]. She has been among the most cited researchers in the world Highly Cited Researchers 2017, 2018, 2020 Clarivate Analitcs and is in the list of top Italian scientists[7]. As professor Emerita, she dedicates herself to scientific dissemination, holding lectures and seminars both in schools and on public occasions. She has written a book for Il Mulino (A Plant is not an Island, 2021) in which she talks about the scientific themes that fascinated her, placing them in the context of her life and her cultural references[8].

Paola Bonfante
Paola Bonfante in Feb 2022
Born May 7, 1947
Turin, Italy
Nationality Italian
Education University of Turin (Italy)
Fields Plant biology
Plant microbe interactions[9]
Institutions National Council of Research (1970-1985)
University of Turin (1985-2017)
Professor Emerita (Present)
Top Italian Scientist in Natural & Environmental Sciences[10][7]

Early life

Paola Bonfante was grown up in the countryside of the North-West of Italy. As a child, Paola liked to collect flowers in the field, but never envisioned becoming a scientist. She attended a very severe Classic Lyceum in Torino (Liceo Cavour) where Latin and Greek were among the most relevant courses. She mostly loved History of Art course.

Education and Career

Paola Bonfante graduated from the University of Torino in Biology in 1970. She got a three-year fellowship from the Italian National Council of Research with a research project on the biology of symbiotic fungi corresponding to a Ph.D. training-period. The studies were done under the mentoring of Professor Arturo Ceruti and Anna Fontana in the Centre of Soil Mycology (CNR). She got a position of CNR researcher in 1973, spent a post-doc period in 1980-1981 at the Ecole Normale Superieure (Paris) under the supervision of Professor Jean Claude Roland and Brigitte Vian. In 1984 she rose to the rank of Full Professor of Botany at the University of Torino.

Over the years, she has hold numerous teaching courses of Plant biology for Natural Sciences, Biology and Biotechnology Courses, and has held many institutional roles (Director of Department, Coordinator of Doctoral Programs, Head of research groups). As Emerita, she continues some research work, but dedicates most of her time to editorial activities, scientific evaluations and scientific dissemination.

Present and Previous Positions

  • 2018 Professor Emerita, University of Torino, Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology
  • 1984 - 2017 Full Professor of Plant Biology at the University of Torino
  • 2006 - 2011 Head of the Department of Plant Biology, University of Torino
  • 2006 - 2013 Coordinator of the PhD school in Biological and Biotechnological Sciences, University of Torino
  • 2000 - 2005 Coordinator the PhD Course in Biology and Biotechnology of Fungi
  • 1995 - 2009 Responsible of the Centro di Studio sulla Micologia del Terreno del CNR- Torino, currently named Sezione di Torino dell'Istituto di Protezione per le Piante
  • 1980 - 1981 Post doc stage at the Ecole Normale Superieure, Paris (six months)
  • 1973 - 1984 Researcher at the Centro di Studio sulla Micologia del Terreno del CNR- Torino
  • 1970 - 1973 Fellowship , PhD equivalent at the Centro di Studio sulla Micologia del Terreno del CNR- Torino
  • 1984 - 2017 Teaching positions: Natural Sciences (Botany, Plant-Microbe interactions), Biology (Plant-Microbe interactions), Plant Biotechnology

Fields of Scholarship

  • Plant-Microorganism interactions
  • Genomics and Functional genomics in mycorrhizal fungi;
  • Cellular and molecular interactions between plants and mycorrhizal fungi
  • Signalling and colonization process in Arbuscular mycorrhizas
  • Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi as biofertilisers and bioprotectors
  • Endobacteria in Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Rice, wheat and tomato responses to Arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi
  • Bacterial and fungal microbiota in tomato and wheat


A catalogue of mycorrhizas directly from the field

Early in Bonfante's career she studied mycorrhizas collecting samples in the most diverse environments and describing their morphological features at transmission electron microscope. Together with Silvano Scannerini, professor of Botany at the University of Ferrara and then of Torino, she built up a catalogue of plant-fungal interactions in the different types of mycorrhizas. Their collaboration led to one of the first descriptions of plant- fungal interactions, the interface, as a crucial feature of all the endomycorrhizas.[11] Later, together with Vivienne Gianinazzi-Pearson she described the endomycorrhizas of Ericales, revealing the fine structure of their miniaturized hair roots and the impressive dominance of the mycorrhizal fungus.[12] The development of in situ techniques allowed Paola and her team to identify many molecules, which were laid down by the plant at the interface area upon the fungal colonization, providing the first evidences of the plant molecular responses before the advent of molecular biology.[13][14] This knowledge was at the basis of the description of the so called prepenetration apparatus,[15][16] which - thanks to more advanced cell biology techniques- revealed how the plant perceives the presence of the AM fungus before its cell colonization.[17]

Mycorrhizas and Mycorrhizal fungi: the new genomics era

Bonfante was one of the first researchers to apply PCR to mycorrhizal fungi (early in the nineties of the past century),[18] to identify them and to reveal their genetic variability. She contributed to the knowledge of their diversity in natural as well as in cultivated fields. With the improving of molecular and omics approaches, she examined the functionality of plant and fungal genes relevant for mycorrhizal functioning, was involved in international projects aimed to describe the genome of mycorrhizal fungi, from Tuber melanosporum[19] to Rhizophagus irregularis,[20] in addition to the sequencing of Gigaspora margarita, the AM fungus which is the model fungus in her lab.[21] The availability of plant and fungal genomes were the basis for developing many transcriptomics and proteomic analysis of crop plants under different conditions. On the other hand, cell biology coupled to molecular approaches led her group together with David Barker in Toulouse to identify short oligosaccharides as bioactive molecules released by the fungus and perceived by the plant activating calcium spiking responses.[22][17]

Am fungi and their endobacteria

Early in her career and looking at mycorrhizal roots under transmission electron microscope Bonfante observed the presence of endobacteria living in the cytoplasm of many AM fungi collected under natural conditions. Coupling cell biology to PCR amplification of 16 SRNA genes to many AM fungal isolates maintained in culture collections, she identified two groups of endobacteria as Burkolderia- and Mycoplasma related.[23][24] Their genome sequencing revealed a strong genome reduction and the dependency of the endobacteria on their fungal hosts.[25] By developing a cured fungal line, she described how these microbes may modulate some of the functional traits of their fungal hosts[26] as well as of the mycorrhizal plant.[27] These findings have pioneered a new field of research (Fungal-bacterial interactions) which is currently considered relevant in the context of the environmental microbiota.[17][28]

AM fungi as a part of the plant microbiota

In the more recent times, Bonfante has devoted her attention to the beneficial impact of plant microbiota on crop plants by using omics approaches.[29] Starting from the concept that mycorrhizal fungi are a stable component of plant microbiota, together with the colleagues from the Insumbria University, she has demonstrated how AM fungi may modulate their impact on wheat plant growth depending on whether plant growth promoting bacteria are present.[30] AM fungi seem to have a beneficial driving role, when compared to other microbes.[17][31]

Selected publications

Awards and honors

  • 1977: Award Le Scienze devoted to young researchers
  • 2000: Fellow of Academy of Sciences of Torino[4]
  • 2000: Fellow of Academy of Agriculture of Torino[32]
  • 2011: Fellow of Accademia dei Lincei Roma ( November 2021, national membership)[3]
  • 2018: Fellow of Académie d'Agriculture de France, Paris[5]
  • 2019: Fellow of Academia Europaea|Academia Europea, MAE[6]
  • 2019: Appointed Commander (“Commendatore”) of the “Order of Merit of the Italian Republic” by the President of the Italian Republic (“motu proprio”)[33]
  • 2010: Award for the Award for the French Food Spirit- Science – Paris, December 16, 2010
  • 2021: The Adam Kondorosi -Academia Europaea Award for Advanced research, September 2021 [34]

She is in the list of:

  • Top Italian Scientists - Typology Natural sciences[7]
  • In the list of Clarivate Analytics: highly quoted researcher 2017, 2018, 2020[35]
  • One hundred Italian Experts[36]
  • Member of Group 2003[37]


In 2021, one of Bonfante's trainees, Francesco Magurno together with other colleagues, named an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus Dominikia bonfanteae, in recognition of Bonfante's contributions to the field. [38]

Personal life

Paola Bonfante has been married to Aldo Fasolo, a neurobiologist with strong evolutionary interests. She has always acknowledged her husband's support, allowing her to dedicate all the time to her beloved mycorrhizas. Her son, Davide, is a visual artist.


  1. Prof. Paola Bonfante - Department of Life Sciences and Systems Biology - University of Turin
  2. Paola Bonfante. Profile in The New Phytologist
  3. 3.0 3.1 Paola Bonfante - Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei
  4. 4.0 4.1 Paola Bonfante - Accademia delle Scienze di Torino
  5. 5.0 5.1 Paola Bonfante - French Academy of Agriculture
  6. 6.0 6.1 Paola Bonfante - Academia Europaea
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 Top Italian Scientists Natural & Environmental Sciences
  8. A Plant is not an Island, 2021
  9. Paola Bonfante - Fields of Scholarship
  10. Paola Bonfante - Top Italian Scientist in Natural & Environmental Sciences
  11. S Scannerini, P Bonfante, Comparative ultrastructural analysis of mycorrhizal associations. Canadian Journal of Botany, 61 (3), 917-943, March 1983
  12. P Bonfante, V. Gianinazzi-Pearson, Ultrastructural aspects of endomycorrhiza in the Ericaceae: i. naturally infected hair roots of Calluna vulgaris L. Hull, New Phytologist 83 (3), 739-744, November 1979
  13. P Bonfante, At the interface between mycorrhizal fungi and plants: the structural organization of cell wall, plasma membrane and cytoskeleton. In Mycota, Springer Verlag: Fungal associations, 45-61, 2001
  14. P Bonfante, The future has roots in the past: the ideas and scientists that shaped mycorrhizal research, New Phytologist 220 (4), 982-99, December 2018
  15. A Genre, M Chabaud, T Timmers, P Bonfante, DG Barker, Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi Elicit a Novel Intracellular Apparatus in Medicago truncatula Root Epidermal Cells before Infection, The Plant Cell, 17 (12), 3489-3499, 2005
  16. A Genre, M Chabaud, A Faccio, DG Barker, P Bonfante, Prepenetration Apparatus Assembly Precedes and Predicts the Colonization Patterns of Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Fungi within the Root Cortex of Both Medicago truncatula and carrot, The Plant Cell 20 (5), 1407-1420, 2008
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Paola Bonfante - Profile, 220 (4), 979–981, December 2018
  18. P Wyss, P Bonfante, Amplification of genomic DNA of arbuscular-mycorrhizal (AM) fungi by PCR using short arbitrary primers, Mycological Research, 97 (11), 1351-1357, November 1993
  19. F Martin, A Kohler, C Murat, R Balestrini, PM Coutinho, O Jaillon et al., Périgord black truffle genome uncovers evolutionary origins and mechanisms of symbiosis, Nature 464 (7291), 1033-1038, April 2010
  20. E Tisserant, M Malbreil, A Kuo, A Kohler, A Symeonidi, R Balestrini et al., Genome of an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus provides insight into the oldest plant symbiosis, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 110 (50), 20117-20122, 10 December 2013
  21. F Venice, S Ghignone, A Salvioli di Fossalunga, J Amselem, M Novero et al, At the nexus of three kingdoms: the genome of the mycorrhizal fungus Gigaspora margarita provides insights into plant, endobacterial and fungal interactions, Environmental microbiology, 22 (1), 122-141, January 2020]
  22. A Genre, M Chabaud, C Balzergue, V Puech‐Pagès, M Novero, et al., Short‐chain chitin oligomers from arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi trigger nuclear Ca2+ spiking in Medicago truncatula roots and their production is enhanced by strigolactone, New Phytologist 198 (1), 190-202, April 2013
  23. V Bianciotto, C Bandi, D Minerdi, M Sironi, HV Tichy, P Bonfante An obligately endosymbiotic mycorrhizal fungus itself harbors obligately intracellular bacteria, Applied and environmental microbiology, 62 (8), 3005-3010 1996, August 1996
  24. M Naumann, A Schüßler, P Bonfante, The obligate endobacteria of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi are ancient heritable components related to the Mollicutes, The ISME Journal, 4 (7), 862-871, July 2010
  25. S Ghignone, A Salvioli, I Anca, E Lumini, G Ortu, L Petiti, et al. The genome of the obligate endobacterium of an AM fungus reveals an interphylum network of nutritional interactions, The ISME journal, 6 (1), 136-145, January 2012
  26. A Salvioli, S Ghignone, M Novero, L Navazio, F Venice, P Bagnaresi et al. Symbiosis with an endobacterium increases the fitness of a mycorrhizal fungus, raising its bioenergetic potential, The ISME journal, 10 (1), 130-144, January 2016
  27. F Venice, M Chialva, G Domingo, M Novero, A Carpentieri et al. Symbiotic responses of Lotus japonicus to two isogenic lines of a mycorrhizal fungus differing in the presence/absence of an endobacterium, The Plant Journal, 108 (6), 1547-1564, December 2021
  28. Paola Bonfante, Plant Journal webinar - Symbiotic responses of Lotus japonicus to two isogenic lines of a mycorrhizal fungus differing in the presence/absence of an endobacterium
  29. M Chialva, A Salvioli di Fossalunga, S Daghino, S Ghignone, P Bagnaresi, et al. Native soils with their microbiotas elicit a state of alert in tomato plants, New Phytologist, 220 (4), 1296-1308, date=December 2018
  30. C Vannini, G Domingo, V Fiorilli, DG Seco, M Novero, M Marsoni et al. Proteomic analysis reveals how pairing of a Mycorrhizal fungus with plant growth‐promoting bacteria modulates growth and defense in wheat, Plant, Cell & Environment, 44 (6), 1946-1960, June 2021]
  31. A Microbial Revolution in Future of Crops by Paola Bonfante
  32. Paola Bonfante - Academy of Agriculture of Torino
  33. Conferimento di onorificenze dell'Ordine «Al merito della Repubblica italiana»
  34. Paola Bonfante riceve il Premio Adam Kondorosi
  35. Paola Bonfante - Highly Cited Researcher
  36. Paola Bonfante - One hundred Italian Experts
  37. Paola Bonfante - Member of Group 2003
  38. J Błaszkowski et al.Dominikia bonfanteae and Glomus atlanticum, two new species in the Glomeraceae (phylum Glomeromycota) with molecular phylogenies reconstructed from two unlinked loci, Mycological Progress 20(2), 2021

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