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Vanessa Castro-Rodríguez

I’m a molecular biologist with a Ph.D. and over 14 years of lab experience. My expertise lies in nitrogen (N) signaling and metabolism in plants ecologically and economically relevant. Beyond research, I’m passionate about scientific outreach and mentoring students. Recently, I am working on monitoring N and C metabolites, with the potential to significantly contribute to our understanding of nitrogen signaling and metabolism in forest plants.
Improving nitrogen uptake and distribution in plants

Enhancing nitrogen efficiency for sustainable agriculture

Nitrogen (N) is a key essential nutrient for plants, and crop yields heavily rely on a substantial input of nitrogen fertilizers. However, the annual production of nitrogen fertilizers consumes a significant portion of global energy production and contributes to environmental pollution. To promote more efficient uptake and utilization of nitrogen by cultivated plants, we need a better understanding of the cellular basis of nitrogen acquisition and distribution from roots to the rest of the plant.

Key questions

Where, when, and how do roots acquire nitrogen?
How do plants control the uptake and distribution of nitrogen?
What technologies can provide the necessary spatial and temporal resolution
to monitor nitrogen acquisition and regulation?

Our Approach

This project aims to enhance these tools, implement them in plants, and directly monitor nitrogen acquisition. Additionally, we will integrate knowledge from various sources of plant biology to create a spatial-temporal map of nitrogen acquisition in roots under different nitrogen regimes. This project will also train the next generation of scientists, with a focus on improving plant root efficiency to reduce fertilizer usage.

Development of new nitrogen biosensors for real-time monitoring in forest-
related plantsreal en las plantas de interés forestal

Uncovering the secrets of nitrogen distribution

Understanding nitrogen transport and assimilation in plants is a complex challenge with many unanswered questions. We are developing biosensors based on «Matryoshka», a minimally invasive tool that has proven valuable for monitoring ion and metabolite levels with high spatial and temporal resolution.

Key questions

Which nitrogen transporter is active in which root cell?
Under what conditions is the transporter active?
What is the path that nitrogen follows in the roots from the soil to the vascular

Use of N biosensors in advanced plant research

Deciphering the role of glutamate in nitrogen distribution

Nitrogen uptake in plants is controlled by multiple factors, such as N levels, the plant’s energy state, and N assimilation capacity, depending on soil limitations. Mobile signals play a role in coordinating the distribution of this N. New Glu biosensors will allow us to address intriguing questions about the role of glutamate as a signaling molecule in plants and its potential involvement in signal generation or decoding.


1. Sadoine M*, De Michele R, Župunski M, Grossmann G, and Castro-Rodríguez V*. (2023) Monitoring nutrients in plants with genetically encoded sensors: Achievements and perspectives. Plant Physiology.

2. Ávila C, Llebrés MT, Castro-Rodríguez V, Lobato-Fernández C, Reymond I, Harvengt, L, Trontin JF, Canovas F. (2022) Identification of Metabolic Pathways Differentially Regulated in Somatic and Zygotic Embryos of Maritime Pine. Frontiers.

3. Castro-Rodríguez V, Kleist TJ, Gappel, NM, Atanjaoui F, Okumoto S, Machado M, Denyer T, Timmermans MCP, Frommer, WB, and Wudick, MM. (2021) Sponging of glutamate at the outer plasma membrane surface reveals roles for glutamate in development. The Plant Journal.

4. Llebrés MT, Castro-Rodríguez V, Pascual MB, Avila C, Canovas FM. (2021) PpAAP1, a novel amino acid transporter involved in arginine uptake in maritime pine. Tree Physiology, tpab089,

5. Ávila C, Cañas RA, de la Torre FN, Pascual MB, Castro-Rodríguez V, Cantón F, Cánovas FM. Functional genomics of Mediterranean pines (2021). In: De La Torre A. (eds). The Pine Genomes. Compendium of Plant Genomes. Springer, Cham, Berlin, Germany, 193-218 pp.

6. Sadoine M, Castro-Rodríguez V, Poloczeck T, Javot H, Sunal E and Frommer WB. Purification of genetically encoded His-tagged GO-Matryoshka biosensors for analysis of ligand-protein interactions by using in vitro binding assays (2020) Bio-protocols DOI: 10.21769/BioProtoc.3773.

7. Castro-Rodríguez V, Ávila C, Cánovas FM. Getting more bark for your buck: nitrogen economy of deciduous forest trees (2020) Journal of Experimental Botany 71; 15, 25: 4369–4372,

8. Cánovas FM, Cañas RA, de la Torre FN, Pascual MB, Castro-Rodríguez V, Avila C. Nitrogen metabolism and biomass production in forest trees (2018) Frontiers in Plant Science. 28; 9:1449.

9. Castro-Rodríguez V, Cañas RA, de la Torre FN, Pascual MB, Ávila C, Cánovas FM. Molecular fundamentals of nitrogen uptake and transport in trees (2017) Journal of Experimental Botany. 68; 2489-2500.

10. Cañas RA, Pascual MB, Castro-Rodríguez V, Ávila C, Sterck L, Van de Peer Y. The gene expression landscape of pine seedling tissues (2017) Plant Journal. 91;1064-1087.

11. Castro-Rodríguez V, Assaf Casals I, Pérez Tienda J, Fan X, Ávila C, Miller A, Cánovas FM. Deciphering the molecular basis of ammonium uptake and transport in maritime pine (2016) Plant, Cell and Environment. 39;1669-1682.

12. Castro-Rodríguez V, García-Gutiérrez A, Cañas RA, Pascual MB, Ávila C, Cánovas FM. Poplar trees for phytoremediation of high levels of nitrate and applications in bioenergy (2016) Plant Biotechnology Journal. 14;299-312.

13. Castro-Rodríguez V, García-Gutiérrez A, Cañas RA, Pascual MB, Ávila C, Cánovas FM. Redundancy and metabolic function of the glutamine synthetase gene family in poplar (2015) BMC Plant Biology. 15-20.

14. Canales J, Bautista R, Label Philippe L; et al; De novo assembly of maritime pine transcriptome: implications for forest breeding and biotechnology (2013) Plant Biotechnology Journal. 12;286-299.

15. Castro-Rodríguez V, García-Gutiérrez A, Canales J, Ávila C, Cánovas FM. The glutamine synthetase gene family in Populus (2015) BMC Plant Biology. 11-119.

16. Castro-Rodríguez V, Cánovas FM, García-Gutiérrez A. Avances en el metabolismo del nitrógeno: De la genómica y la proteómica a las aplicaciones agronómicas, industriales y medioambientales (2009) Coordinación de la expresión génica durante la síntesis de la lignina en álamo (Populus sp). Editorial Club Universitario. pp.147-157.