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Nicoletta La Rocca

Membro del Comitato Scientifico

Nicoletta La Rocca is currently Associate Professor in Plant Physiology (05/A2) at the Department of Biology, University of Padova, where she teaches bachelor’s and master’s degrees courses in Geobotany, Plant Biotic Interactions, Ecophysiology and Remote Sensing of Environments.

Habitation for Full Professorship in Plant Physiology (05/A2) obtained on 11-12-2023.



2000 – 2017    Researcher in Plant Physiology at Dept. of Biology, University of Padova, Italy.

2000 – 2001    PostDoc (funded by PNRA). Project title: “Taxonomic and physiological surveys on Antarctic microalgae”. Lab. of Phycology. Dept. of Biology, University of Padova, Italy.

1999 – 2000    Guest Researcher for 5 months. Research Project concerning: “Chlorophyll precursors analysis and their role in the regulation of photosynthesis related gene expression”. Lab. of Phytochemistry, Botanical Institute, LMU, Munich, Germany.

1997 – 2000   Ph.D. in Evolutionary Biology. Thesis title: “Light stress and photodamaging effects on the photosynthetic apparatus of angiosperms”. Lab. of Plant Physiology, Dept. of Biology, University of Padova, Italy.



-       EANA (European Astrobiology Network Association)

-       EAI (European Astrobiology Institute)

-       SIA (Società Italiana di Astrobiologia)

-       CISAS (Interdepartmental Centre of Space Activities and Studies - UNIPD)

-       SIBV (Italian Society of Plant Biology)

-       CONISMA (National Inter-university Consortium for Marine Sciences)

-       Padova Botanical Garden research team



She has been involved in several outreach activities in the field of Space Science. Of note are:

-       Member of the LOC of the Second European Congress on Photosynthesis Research ePS2. Padova, Italy (25 -28 June 2024).

-       Collaborator in the realization of the exhibition “Lo Spazio di Padova. Scienze, tecnologia, arte e storia”, as part of the 800 years UNIPD Events (Galleria Cavour, Padova (3-15 September 2022).

-       Member of the SOC of the scientific event “800 years of the University of Padua in Space” (7-9 September 2022).

-       Collaborator in the realization of the exhibition "Meteorites: journey from deep space to Earth", Padova (1 October - 30 November 2021).

-       Responsible for the dissemination of results of the National Astrobiology Program funded by ASI (2019 – 2023), coordinating and contributing to the realization of the Life in Space website

-       Collaborator in the realization of the exhibition "XTREME: Living in extreme environments", Trieste (29 August - 11 October 2020), as part of the SCIENCE IN THE actions CITY of the European Science Open Forum – (ESOF 2020

-       Member of the LOC “XI Congress of the Italian Society of Plant Biology and 114th Congress of the Italian Botanical Society (VI International Plant Science Conference). Padova, Italy (4- 6 Sept 2019)



Nicoletta La Rocca has 30 years of experience in the study of microorganisms from extreme environments: hot, cold and desert habitats. In this field she contributed to the discovery and characterization of 9 new species.

She coordinates a multidisciplinary research group working in the laboratories of the Biology Department. The group involves biologists, chemists, engineers and astrophysicists and is focused on the astro-biotechnology research field.

The main interests are:

1)    Basic research in astrobiology. Design, realization and optimization of experimental setups to cultivate photosynthetic organisms under simulated extreme terrestrial or non-terrestrial conditions. Principal aim is to study their growth, biochemical and transcriptomic features, gas exchange rates and impact on oxic or anoxic atmospheres when exposed to different simulated star spectra (M- and G-types). The biological data will feed mathematical models to predict the vegetation cover potential as well as surface and atmospheric biosignatures of exoplanets, to better interpret observations coming from future space explorations.

2)    Characterization of extremophiles and their BLSS or biotechnological applications. Exploration of the biodiversity and adaptability to abiotic stresses of photosynthetic organisms from extreme environments. This is obtained through their Isolation, characterization and screening of the best growth conditions leading to higher biomass production (potentially edible) and synthesis of valuable compounds as well as to elevated O2 release and CO2 sequestration, for biotechnological purposes and for supporting human space exploration beyond Low Earth Orbit and life in Moon and Mars outposts.



1)    For basic research in astrobiology:

2023 - 2026 PI of the WP “Photosynthesis of desert and hydrothermal cyanobacteria under simulated planetary conditions” within the ASTERIA project “Adaptability of cyanobacteria from extreme environments to stellar ultraviolet radiation”, funded by ASI

2019 - 2023 PI of the WP “Cyanobacteria responses to simulated M star lights” within the ASI project LIFE IN SPACE “Origin, presence, persistence of life in space: from molecules to extremophiles” just ended. 

2018 - 2019 PI Seed Research Grant DiBio, UNIPD ‘Molecular and physiological responses of cyanobacteria to simulated extraterrestrial atmospheres and stars irradiations’

She is also responsible of a research unit of the EXTREMOON project “Investigating the responses of terrestrial EXTREmophiles and their molecules in MOON environment”, positively selected by ESA within the Reserve Pool of Science Activities for the Moon: A SciSpacE Announcement of Opportunity.

2)    For characterization of extremophiles and their BLSS or biotechnological applications:

2023 - 2025 Co-I of the Project “Extending the red limit of oxygenic photosynthesis: basic principles and implications for future applications” funded by PRIN 2022

2022 - 2025 Co-I of the Spoke 3 research team, of the Natural Biodiversity Future Center, funded by PNRR  

2021 - 2024 PI of the project “Shedding light on anti-inflammatory and antioxidant origin and function of biomolecules from therapeutic thermal muds of the Euganean District” funded by the Centro Studi Pietro D’Abano

2016  -  2019   PI Centro Studi Termali Pietro D’Abano Research Contract “Characterization of Euganean Thermal mud microflora and analysis of bioactive compounds produced by cyanobacteria”

In the past, she has been Co-I in several PRIN (3) and PNRA (5) projects and PI of research projects (3) funded by private companies to select and optimize the growth of microorganism’s cultures for production of high values compounds.



Nicoletta La Rocca published 88 research articles in International Peer Reviewed Journals. Most Q1.

6 Book Chapters, 18 papers in Congress Proceedings.

She gave a total of 24 Congress Oral Presentations and presented 60 abstracts at International Congresses and 62 abstracts at National Congresses.

ORCID ID: 0000-0003-4866-5952

Google Scholar Citations 3983, H-index 37

SCOPUS Citations 2684, H-index 31


SELECTED ARTICLES from the last 8 years, relevant for the ASTRO-BIOTECH field

1.      RM Zampieri, E Bizzotto, S Campanaro, F Caldara, N La Rocca (2024). Kovacikia euganea sp. nov. (Leptolyngbyaceae, Cyanobacteria), a new chlorophyll f producing cyanobacterium from the Euganean Thermal District (Italy). Frontiers in Microbiology, under review.

2.      E Liistro, M Battistuzzi, L Cocola, R Claudi, L Poletto, N La Rocca (2024). Synechococcus sp. PCC7335 responses to far-red enriched spectra and anoxic/microoxic atmospheres: potential for astrobiotechnological applications. Plant Physiology and Biochemistry, under review.

3.      N La Rocca, I Moro, M Battistuzzi, N Rascio (2024). Cyanobacteria and microalgae responses to different light regimes and CO2 availability. In: Handbook of Photosynthesis, Pessarakli Ed. CRC Press, Taylor and Francis. In press.

4.      I Moro, N La Rocca, M Battistuzzi, N Rascio (2024). Photosynthetic apparatus in cyanobacteria and microalgae. In: Handbook of Photosynthesis, Pessarakli Ed. CRC Press, Taylor and Francis. In press.

5.      Caichiolo M, Zampieri RM, AAdessi A, Ciani M, Caldara F, Dalla Valle L, La Rocca N. (2024). Microbial polysaccharides extracted from different mature muds of the Euganean Thermal District show similar anti-inflammatory activity in vivo. International Journal of Molecular Sciences 25(9), 4999.

6.      M Battistuzzi, MS Morlino, L Cocola, L Trainotti, L Treu, S Campanaro, R Claudi, L Poletto, N La Rocca (2024). Transcriptomic and photosynthetic analyses of Synechocystis sp. PCC6803 and Chlorogloeopsis fritschii sp. PCC6912 exposed to an M-dwarf spectrum under an anoxic atmosphere. Frontiers in Plant Science, 14, 1322052.

7.      M Battistuzzi, L Cocola, R Claudi, AC Pozzer, A Segalla, D Simionato, T Morosinotto, L Poletto, N La Rocca (2023). Oxygenic photosynthetic responses of cyanobacteria exposed under an M-dwarf starlight simulator: Implications for exoplanet’s habitability. Frontiers in Plant Science 14, 1070359

8.      M Battistuzzi, L Cocola, E Liistro, R Claudi, L Poletto, N La Rocca (2023). Growth and photosynthetic efficiency of microalgae and plants with different levels of complexity exposed to a simulated M-dwarf starlight. Life 13 (8), 1641

9.      RM Zampieri, F Caldara, N La Rocca (2023). Assessment of optimal growth conditions for biomass and exopolysaccharides production in the thermotolerant cyanobacterium Phormidium sp. ETS-05. Journal of Applied Phycology, 1-13

10.   RM Zampieri, A Adessi, F Caldara, R De Philippis, L Dalla Valle, N La Rocca (2022). In vivo anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects of microbial polysaccharides extracted from Euganean therapeutic muds. International Journal of Biological Macromolecules 209, 1710-1719

11.   I Moro, MA Fuiano, N Rascio, R De Philippis, N La Rocca (2021). Phylogenetic, morphological and biochemical studies on Thermospirulina andreolii gen. & sp. nov. (Cyanophyta) from the Euganean Thermal District (Italy). Phycologia 60 (5), 487-496

12.   R Claudi, E Alei, M Battistuzzi, L Cocola, MS Erculiani, AC Pozzer, B Salasnich, D Simionato, V Squicciarini, L Poletto, N La Rocca (2021). Super-earths, M dwarfs, and photosynthetic organisms: habitability in the lab. Life 11 (1), 10

13.   N Fattore, S Savio, AM Vera‐Vives, M Battistuzzi, I Moro, N La Rocca, T Morosinotto (2021). Acclimation of photosynthetic apparatus in the mesophilic red alga Dixoniella giordanoi. Physiologia Plantarum 173 (3), 805-817

14.   S Onofri, N Balucani, V Barone, P Benedetti, D Billi, A Balbi, JR Brucato, B Cobucci-Ponzano, G Costanzo, N La Rocca, M Moracci, R Saladino, G Vladilo (2020). The Italian National project of Astrobiology Life in space – Origin, Presence, Persistence of life in Space, from molecules to extremophiles. Astrobiology. 20 (5): 580-582.

15.   B Gris, L Treu, RM Zampieri, F Caldara, C Romualdi, S Campanaro, N La Rocca (2020). Microbiota of the therapeutic euganean thermal muds with a focus on the main cyanobacteria species. Microorganisms 8 (10), 1590

16.   M Battistuzzi, L Cocola, B Salasnich, MS Erculiani, E Alei, T Morosinotto, R Claudi, L Poletto, N La Rocca (2020). A new remote sensing-based system for the monitoring and analysis of growth and gas exchange rates of photosynthetic microorganisms under simulated non-terrestrial conditions. Frontiers in Plant Science, 182

17.   B Salasnich, R Claudi, E Alei, D Barbisan, A Baruffolo, L Cocola, Ms Erculiani, N La Rocca, E Pace, L Poletto, N Trivellin (2018). Control software for the Multi-Channel Led starlight simulator. Proc. SPIE 10707, Software and Cyberinfrastructure for Astronomy V, 107071I (6 July 2018)

18.   V. Larosa, A. Meneghesso, N. La Rocca, J Steinbec, M Hippler, I Szabo, T Morosinotto (2018). Mitochondria affects photosynthetic electron transport and photo-sensitivity in a green alga. Plant Physiology. 176: 2305–2314

19.   E Sforza, C Calvaruso, N La Rocca, A Bertucco (2018). Luxury uptake of phosphorus in Nannochloropsis salina: Effect of P concentration and light on P uptake in batch and continuous cultures. Biochemical Engineering Journal 134, 69-79

20.   B Gris, E Sforza, T Morosinotto, A Bertucco, N La Rocca (2017). Influence of light and temperature on growth and high-value molecules productivity from Cyanobacterium aponinum. Journal of Applied Phycology 29, 1781-1790

21.   K Sciuto, LA Lewis, E Verleyen, I Moro, N La Rocca (2015). Chodatodesmus australis sp. nov. (Scenedesmaceae, Chlorophyta) from Antarctica, with the emended description of the genus Chodatodesmus, and circumscription of Flechtneria rotunda gen. et sp. nov. Journal of Phycology, 51 (6), 1172-1188

22.   N. La Rocca, K Sciuto, A. Meneghesso, I. Moro, N Rascio, T Morosinotto (2015). Photosynthesis in extreme environments: responses to different light regimes in the Antarctic alga Koliella antarctica. Physiologia Plantarum 153: 654-67.

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