TRANSAUTOPHAGY (COST Action CA15138) is a European Network for Multidisciplinary Research on Autophagy with emphasis on Translation of knowledge to applications. It comprises more than 200 members among which are researchers from public and private Institutions as well as small-medium sized enterprises (SMEs) from 28 countries across Europe and the neighbouring regions. The main challenge of TRANSAUTOPHAGY is to extend multidisciplinary knowledge about Autophagy and to accelerate its translation: i) for biomedical purposes, particularly prevention, accurate disease diagnosis and therapy development, and ii) for biotechnological applications, such as enhanced crop production and bioenergy generation.
Autophagy, a lysosomal degradation pathway by which the cell self-digests its own components, has over the past decade been recognized as an essential process of cellular metabolism and a main contributor to homeostasis. Autophagy rids the cell of excessive or damaged organelles, misfolded proteins, and invading microorganisms, provides nutrients to maintain crucial cellular functions, and serves as biomembrane manufacturer. Modulation of autophagy is linked to numerous fundamental physiological functions. Its dysfunction is an important common denominator in many diseases affecting a wide range of organs and systems. The omnipresence of autophagy in eukaryotic cells makes studies of this pathway relevant from unicellular organisms and plants to humans.
The role of autophagy is crucial in the fine balance between health and disease: a certain level of autophagy is needed for metabolic homeostasis, immunity and longevity, yet excessive or insufficient autophagy results in abnormalities and diseases. Consequently, the ability to manipulate autophagy has tremendous therapeutic potential. The past two decades have witnessed an explosion of research on the molecular mechanisms of autophagy and its roles in physiology and disease. Through genetic approaches in yeast, mice, and other model organisms including plants, we have learned that autophagy plays crucial roles in differentiation and development, cellular and tissue homeostasis, protein and organelle quality control, metabolism, immunity, and protection against aging and diverse diseases (e.g., heart failure, liver inflammation, impaired long-term humoral immunity, Parkinson’s disease). Moreover, an increasing number of human diseases are being linked to polymorphisms or mutations in autophagy genes or autophagy deficiency (e.g., Danon’s cardiomyopathy, Crohn’s disease, asthma, breast cancer, colon cancer).
The molecular mechanisms and physiology of autophagy in the plant cell are less clear compared to yeast and metazoa. The details of how autophagy functions in pathogen-triggered programmed cell death in plants, seed protein accumulation, senescence, tolerance to nutrient deficiency, abiotic stresses, and redox homeostasis are not well understood.
Autophagy is a key process in the regulation of ripening and the quality of fruit, allowing the design of new strategies to improve the nutritional properties of crops. Mechanistic understanding of the importance and contribution of autophagy to plant growth and development under unfavourable environmental conditions such as mineral and nutrient deficiency, water limitation (drought, osmotic stress), and pathogen infection is a prerequisite to manipulating this pathway chemically or genetically with the aim of enhancing plant productivity.