Dr Marco Catoni PhD

Dr Marco Catoni

School of Biosciences
Lecturer in Plant Biology

Contact details

School of Biosciences
University of Birmingham
B15 2TT

Dr Catoni integrates computational biology with a range of experimental molecular biology approaches to study the epigenetic mechanisms controlling genome plasticity in plants.

The group investigates the relations between epigenetic and evolution, and develops epigenetic-based approaches to improve plant production, to support a more sustainable agriculture.


  • PhD, University of Turin, 2010 in Plant Pathology
  • Laurea Magistrale (equivalent to MSc), University of Turin 2006 in Plant Biotechnology
  • Laurea (equivalent to BSc), University of Turin (Italy) 2003 in Biotechnology


Marco graduated (BSc and MSc) at University of Turin (Italy) in Plant Biotechnology. During his PhD (2007-2010), he used tomato as model to study the mycorrhizal colonization and viral infection interaction in a plant host.

After participation to the ESF Summer School in Epigenetics in Gatersleben (Germany) in 2010, he decided to continue his research on epigenetics as postdoc in the laboratory of Prof. Jerzy Paszkowski, initially at the University of Geneva (Switzerland) and then at The Sainsbury Laboratory (University of Cambridge).

During his postdoc (2011-2018), he applied high throughput genomics approaches and computational biology to investigate Arabidopsis epigenetic regulation. In 2018 he was appointed as Lecturer at the School of Biosciences, University of Birmingham, where he established his own research lab to investigate the epigenetic contribution to genome plasticity in plants.

Postgraduate supervision

The lab is always looking for great talents. Please get in touch if you are interested to join us (m.catoni@bham.ac.uk), briefly indicating your expectations and how you fit into our lab research interests.

PhD student applications are possible through the Midlands Integrative Biosciences Training Partnership doctoral scheme every year with deadline in January. Please email m.catoni@bham.ac.uk if you are interested in applying.

Additional opportunities may become available during the year. 


Epigenetics is the major discipline studying heritable changes of gene activity that do not involve changes in the underlying DNA sequence.

Plants are an excellent model for epigenetic studies, because in these organisms epigenetic modifications can be stably transmitted across generations, constituting the molecular bases of an “epigenetic memory”. In contrast to mammals where an efficient reset of the epigenetic information occurs during fertilization and embryo development, plants are a unique model system to investigate how epigenetic information can be transmitted through several generations. In the lab different aspects of plant epigenetics are investigated using both computational and experimental biology approaches. We use the plant Arabidopsis thaliana as main model, with the aim of transfer new findings to crops, using epigenetics as a tool to support a sustainable agriculture and improve food security. We are working to answer these questions:

How epigenetics affects genome plasticity and evolution?

The lab aims to explore the links between genome stability and evolution, investigating how epigenetic marks affect genome plasticity, which directly control the speed of genome evolution. We only have little understanding of the epigenetic impacts on evolution, and want to fill this gap by characterizing factors and genetic determinants affecting genome plasticity in plants.

How epigenetic variability can be generated, maintained and used to improve plant production?

Considering that epigenetic marks are also important regulators of gene expression, epigenetics plays a major role in plant adaptation to new environmental conditions or stresses, and can potentially be used as tool to improve crop production and food security. In our lab we want to investigate the bases of epigenetic variation, studying how epialleles (= genes with identical DNA sequence but different epigenetic marks) are generated, and which factors control their stability. This also include the generation of plant lines with stable epigenetic variants, to support future epigenetic-based breeding schemes.

Which are the functions of Transposable Elements (TEs) mobilization?

TEs are “parasitic” DNA elements able to move from their original position in the host genome to a new chromosomal location and multiplying their copies, similarly to viruses. Plant genomes are rich in TEs, which account for the most variable portion of the genome. In spite of this phenomenon, in nature virtually all TEs are found to be immobile, in a transcriptionally silenced condition controlled by the plant epigenetic machinery. However, with the use of epigenetic mutants it is possible to activate TE mobility and study its effect on genome dynamics in real time. In our lab we apply cutting edge technologies such as third generation sequencing (PACBio or Nanopore) and CRISP-Cas9 editing system to discover and characterize new active TEs in plants, investigating their role and variability across different species or genotypes, and going beyond the concept of a single reference genome. 


Complete list available on Dr. Catoni’s Google Scholar Profile

Catoni, M., Tsang, J.M.F., Greco, A.P., and Zabet, N.R. (2018). DMRcaller: a versatile R/Bioconductor package for detection and visualization of differentially methylated regions in CpG and non-CpG contexts. Nucleic Acids Research. gky602.

Griffiths, J., Catoni, M., Iwasaki, M., and Paszkowski, J. (2018). Sequence-Independent Identification of Active LTR Retrotransposons in Arabidopsis. Molecular Plant 11, 508–511.

Zabet, N.R., Catoni, M., Prischi, F., and Paszkowski, J. (2017) Cytosine methylation at CpCpG sites triggers accumulation of non-CpG methylation in gene bodies. Nucleic Acids Research 7, 3777–3784.

Catoni, M., Griffiths, J., Becker, C., Zabet, N.R., Bayon, C., Dapp, M., Lieberman‐Lazarovich, M., Weigel, D., and Paszkowski, J. (2017). DNA sequence properties that predict susceptibility to epiallelic switching. The EMBO Journal 36, 617-628.

Torchetti, E.M., Pegoraro, M., Navarro, B., Catoni, M., Serio, F.D., and Noris, E. (2016). A nuclear-replicating viroid antagonizes infectivity and accumulation of a geminivirus by upregulating methylation-related genes and inducing hypermethylation of viral DNA. Scientific Reports 6, 35101.

Catoni, M., Lucioli, A., Doblas-Ibáñez, P., Accotto, G.P., and Vaira, A.M. (2013). From immunity to susceptibility: virus resistance induced in tomato by a silenced transgene is lost as TGS overcomes PTGS. The Plant Journal 75, 941–953.

Miozzi, L., Catoni, M., Fiorilli, V., Mullineaux, P.M., Accotto, G.P., and Lanfranco, L. (2011). Arbuscular Mycorrhizal Symbiosis Limits Foliar Transcriptional Responses to Viral Infection and Favors Long-Term Virus Accumulation. MPMI 24, 1562–1572.

Fiorilli, V., Catoni, M., Francia, D., Cardinale, F., and Lanfranco, L. (2011). The arbuscular mycorrhizal symbiosis reduces disease severity in tomato plants infected by Botrytis cinerea. Journal of Plant Pathology 93, 237–242.

Catoni, M., Miozzi, L., Fiorilli, V., Lanfranco, L., and Accotto, G.P. (2009). Comparative Analysis of Expression Profiles in Shoots and Roots of Tomato Systemically Infected by Tomato spotted wilt virus Reveals Organ-Specific Transcriptional Responses. MPMI 22, 1504–1513.

Fiorilli, V., Catoni, M., Miozzi, L., Novero, M., Accotto, G.P., and Lanfranco, L. (2009). Global and cell-type gene expression profiles in tomato plants colonized by an arbuscular mycorrhizal fungus. New Phytologist 184, 975–987.