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Scientific & cultural excursion 5

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Scientific visit :

INRA Versailles public research center 



Plant biology, agroecology, food, and economic and social sciences in the Île-de-France region

The Versailles-Grignon Research Centre is one of INRA's 17 regional centres. Based in the heart of the Île-de-France (Paris region), its different units generate knowledge and know-how in the fields of plant biology, agriculture and ecology, nutrition and food sciences.Activities at the Versailles-Grignon Research Centre focus on four themes:- Integrative plant biology, biotechnologies and bioresources- Agroecology and the sustainable management of plant production in different territories- The economics and sociology of agriculture and nutrition - Foods, nutrition and health.

The Versailles-Grignon Research Centre comprises 25 research, service or research support units, and one experimental unit, spread between two principal sites - in Versailles and Thiverval-Grignon - with satellites in Evry, Gif-sur-Yvette, Ivry-sur-Seine, Paris and Marne-la-Vallée. At present, slightly more than 1400 people work for INRA's Versailles-Grignon Research Centre.

The Centre is based in the heart of the Île-de-France region, which is a focus for cutting-edge science and technology driven by numerous research and higher education institutions and is therefore in the forefront of European clusters in terms of technological performance measured by the number of European patent filings, also ranking second in Europe for its scientific publications.

The visit will mainly concern The Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin which is one of the largest research centers in Plant Sciences in Europe. It gathers a unique ensemble of experimental resources and pluridisciplinary expertise in biology, chemistry and mathematics. The IJPB is a joint research unit under the supervision of INRA and AgroParisTech and is also supported by the CNRS as an associated research team. The Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin, unit associated to INRA-AgroParisTech, is affiliated to the Research Departments Plant Biology & Breeding and Science & process Engineering of Agricultural Products.

The IJPB : key figures

  • 5 poles of research,
  • 25 research groups
  • 360 people, in which 230 permanent (INRA, CNRS, CIRAD, INA-PG)
  • 135 researchers & engineers,
  • 120 post-docs, PhD students and other students






The Institut Jean-Pierre Bourgin, headed by David Bouchez, comprises four thematic poles:

Morphogenesis, Signaling, Modeling (Contact: Patrick Laufs)


The activities of the MSM department "morphogenesis, signaling, modeling" are dedicated to the study of the mechanisms of plant morphogenesis. Our studies are focused primarily on the cellular level (control of cell division, cell polarity ...) but also extend to the whole plant (eg signaling between organs). We are interested in the issues of totipotency and cell differentiation in the plant but also in vitro. We use modeling approaches to better understand these complex phenomena. The teams from the MSM department not only work on biological models such as Arabidopsis thaliana, Brachypodium or the moss Physcomitrella patens but also on species of agronomic interest such as pea or cotton. We mainly use classical approaches of genetics and functional genomics complemented by methods of biochemistry and chemistry. We exploit many imaging techniques for which we develop novel quantitative approaches. The purpose of our work is a better understanding of plant development in order to propose innovative strategies to improve plant resources and their uses. This happens, for example by modifying plant architecture, and further upstream, by improving processing techniques and regeneration.

Dynamics and Expression of the Genome (Contact: Mathilde Grelon)


The department “Dynamics and Expression of the Genome” employs genetics, cytology, molecular biology and protein biochemistry to investigate the essential mechanisms controlling the structure and function of the genome during meiosis (recombination) and genomic shock (polyploidism), and following biotic and abiotic stresses (control of transposable elements and variations in the epigenetic state of genes implicated in stress responses). Our department also studies the transcriptional (chromatin dynamics and the stability of epigenetic states) and posttranscriptional (processing of endogenous and exogenous aberrant RNAs by RNA Quality Control and RNA silencing pathways) mechanisms controlling gene expression. These studies are carried out in several model plants including the crucifers Arabidopsis thaliana and Brassica napus, the solanaceous species Nicotiana tabacum and Solanum esculentum and basal land plants such as the moss Physcomitrella patens.

Adaptation of Plants to the Environment (Contact: Sylvie Dinant)


Teams of the APE department « Adaptation of Plants to the Environment » study the answers to environmental restraints on the physiological, metabolic and developmental point of view using mainly genetic, genomic and molecular approaches. The department is focussed on physical (abiotic) restraints as nitrogen availability limitation and/or water, cold, osmotic stress… Our department is also interested in biotic stress, in particular concerning the relatively unclear relationship between nitrogen metabolism and necrotrophic infection processes of phytopathogenic bacteria and fungi. Our aim is to understand what is the onset of mechanisms responding to these restraints and what genes are controlling these answers and its natural variability. Integration analysis of these regulations at the whole plant level and the following of parameters which govern plant growth (leaf or root level) and also the onset of productivity or fitness are studied. We are mainly working on the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana and on the agronomical important crop: maize. APE possess competences at different levels and particularly on nitrogen metabolism and its recycling, water use efficiency, quantitative genetics, natural variation analysis and phloem signalisation…

Reproduction and Seeds (Contact: Helen North)


The RG “reproduction and seeds” thematic pole is interested in the sexual part of the plant life cycle; gametophyte development, seed formation and quality. Our groups combine approaches of forward and reverse genetics, functional genomics, biochemistry and structural biology. They aim to identify the genes implicated in these different processes, to elucidate the structure and biological function of proteins and metabolites produced, and to explore network interactions. These questions are addressed essentially in Brassicacea species, either model (Arabidopsis thaliana) or cultivated (Oilseed rape, Brassica napus). We are looking to improved our basic knowledge of sexual reproduction, seed composition and germination capacity in order to provide solutions for the improvement of seed quality for agriculture, the food industry and “green chemistry” (notably the production of hybrid seeds, assuring germination vigour, oil, protein and secondary metabolite contents, improving reserve extraction…).

Plant cell wall, function and utilization (Contact: Herman Höfte)


The activities of the department « Plant cell wall, function and utilization » (with the french abbreviation PAVE) are focused on the synthesis and utilization of the plant cell wall. Research groups of the department work on biological models as Arabidopsis thaliana and Brachypodium distachyon, as well as maize. In addition to  genetics and functional genomics approaches that are shared with the other departments of the Institute, the PAVE research groups use a broad variety of other approaches:  quantitative live cell microscopy, biochemistry, analytical and synthetic chemistry, biophysics, biomimetic systems and modelling. The applied objectives of PAVE are the improvement of non-food usage properties of crop plants. This includes improving plant biomass composition for its utilization as renewable source of energy field, fibbers and synthons for green chemistry.

After the visit of the research facilities and equipment of this large research unit, different talks different talks will be given by IJPB outstanding researchers.  


Cultural visit :

King's Kitchen Garden (guided tour)



To supply his table, Louis XIV ordered his gardener, J.-B. de La Quintinye, to create a vast kitchen garden on the edge of what would later become the Saint Louis district.
Work began in 1678 and the king's garden began to produce in 1683, in spite of exceptionally unproductive earth. La Quintinye even managed the feat of growing fresh fruit and vegetables, such as lettuce in January, strawberries in March, and melons in June …
Another famous product from the kitchen garden was fresh peas, a novelty at the time and considered special treats. But the king's greatest pride was its fruit trees, and he sometimes would show his garden to his guests, taking them through the superb gate on the Pièce d’Eau des Suisses side.The Kitchen Garden, covering 9 hectares, retains its original subdivisions, but its spectacularly shaped fruit trees are the fruit of Nineteenth Century know-how. At the time, the garden had become the headquarters of the Ecole Nationale d’Horticulture, which has since given way to the Ecole Nationale Supérieure du Paysage.

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