Three young aspen trees standing next to each other in front of a black background; left control, middle and right pgm mutant trees
Three young aspen trees standing next to each other in front of a black background; left control, middle and right pgm mutant treesYoung aspen trees lacking starch reserves (middle and right) grow as well as trees with starch (left). The starchless pgm mutant trees were created using the gene editing tool CRISPR-Cas9 which works as a pair of high-precision genetic scissors (pgm: PHOSPHOGLUCOMUTASE gene; photo: Wei Wang).

Aspen trees are not relying on their starch reserves when grown under benign conditions. This is shown in a new study with modified aspen defective in starch synthesis. The starch-lacking trees were also absorbing less carbon dioxide compared to non-modified trees, but their growth and performance was not affected. The study done by Totte Niittylä’s group from Umeå Plant Science Centre and SLU was published today in Current Biology.

About one third of the annual human-made carbon emissions are removed from the atmosphere by terrestrial photosynthesis and trees play a crucial role in this process. Like all plants, trees invest the carbon-containing sugars produced during photosynthesis either directly into growth, or they save them for future use - mainly in the form of starch. Increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels stimulate photosynthesis, but its effect on trees is uncertain. How is the carbon used in trees? Totte Niittylä and his group set out to tackle this question from the opposite direction, by disrupting starch synthesis.

A lack of starch does not affect tree growth and biomass production

“We used the CRISPR-Cas9 technology, the genetic scissor, to introduce mutations in two genes that are essential for starch synthesis in aspen,” explains Wei Wang, postdoc in Totte Niittylä’s group and the first author of the study. “The modified trees contained no starch and assimilated up to 30 percent less carbon dioxide, but the growth and biomass production were not impacted – at least under the benign conditions that the trees experienced in the greenhouse.”

The researchers used different light conditions such as shorter days or low light levels to see how the modified trees deal with a shortage of carbon supply resulting from reduced photosynthesis. However, the modified trees did not show any sign of performance loss when compared to non-modified trees. The researchers concluded that aspen trees passively save carbon in the form of starch, contrasting the annual model plant Arabidopsis that depends on its starch reserves for normal growth.

Seasonal growth of aspen trees does not depend on starch reserves

To test if the perennial growth style of aspen trees requires starch reserves, the researchers simulated seasonal growing conditions in the greenhouse. Previous publications have indicated that starch is important for bud flush in the spring when photosynthesis is limiting. Surprisingly, the starch-lacking aspen trees set and flushed their buds in the same way and at the same time as non-modified trees.

“It was striking for us to see that aspen trees cope so well with the lack of starch and do not need it for the seasonal growth-dormancy cycle,” states Totte Niittylä, senior lecturer at SLU and group leader at Umeå Plant Science Centre. “The results also suggest that the needs of the growing tissues largely determine how much carbon dioxide is assimilated by the trees. This is important knowledge when estimating the capacity of trees to take up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.”

The article

Wei Wang, Loïc Talide, Sonja Viljamaa and Totte Niittylä (2022) Aspen growth is not limited by starch reserves. Current Biology, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2022.06.056

Link to the article in Current Biology


For more information please contact:

Totte Niittylä
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
https://www.upsc.se/totte_niittyla

Close-up of a mushroom in a conifer forest
Close up of a mushroom in a conifer forestFertilisation promotes plant growth but changes the plant’s interaction with their mycorrhizal fungal partners (Photo by Dalibor Perina on Unsplash)

How do nutritional changes affect the interaction between trees and soil microorganisms? This has long remained a black box but a new study has shed light onto this cryptic association. It shows that increased soil nutrition changes the communication between trees and their associated fungi, restructuring the root-associated fungal community with major implications for carbon cycling in the forest.

The study was published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers from Umeå Plant Science Centre, a collaboration between Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and Umeå University, were leading the study and were supported by Science for Life Laboratory researchers from Stockholm University and Uppsala University.

Advances in sequencing techniques have made it possible to capture the dynamics of how tree roots and their fungal partners interact with each other. The researchers from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå University and Science for Life Laboratory compared a forest that was fertilised continuously over 25 years with a non-fertilised forest. They analysed the gene activity in tree roots and in over 350 fungal species over the course of a growing season and revealed that the fertilised trees changed their communication strategy and became more hostile to their fungal partners. As a result, the fungal community shifted from being dominated by specialist to more versatile species.

“In nutrient-poor boreal forests, trees are reliant on root-associated myccorhyzal fungi for their nutrient supply and maintain this partnership through the exchange of valuable sugars”, says Simon Law, first author of the study and former postdoc in Vaughan Hurry’s group at Umeå Plant Science Centre. “Soil fertilisation disrupts this sensitive trading relationship, causing trees to divert these sugars to their own growth and defence, with profound implications for the fungal community.”

Stress tolerant fungi are promoted in fertilised soils

The researchers showed that fertilised trees reduced the activity of genes that encode the information for sugar exporting proteins, while bolstering defence processes. The specialist myccorhyzal fungal species that are highly dependent on the carbon-containing sugars from the trees were the hardest hit. By ramping up their defence processes, the plants made root colonisation by these specialist fungi even more difficult and they became less abundant.

In contrast, metabolically versatile fungal species with less reliance on the trees flourished in the fertilised forests. These myccorhyzal fungi are characterised by dark coloured, resilient, cell walls that make the fungi more resistant to stress but also make the cell walls slower to decompose. This shift in the fungal community also influences the carbon cycling in the soil because the specialist fungi play an important role in decomposing plant litter. It has been shown in other studies that fertilisation of the northern conifer forests increases carbon storage both in the above ground plant tissues and in the soil. This new study provides insights into the underlying mechanisms of the soil storage processes. 

“It is well known that fertilisation leads to an increase in carbon storage in the above ground tissues of the trees at the expense of the below ground root and fungal network”, explains Vaughan Hurry, professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. “But what this study shows is the complexity of the communication between the tree and the associated fungal community – and it highlights the importance of the tree’s voice in that communication.”

Nutritional changes affect carbon cycling in boreal forests

The conifer-dominated boreal forest circles the Northern Hemisphere and contains the largest terrestrial carbon store on Earth, potentially playing a vital role in mitigating climate change. Warming temperatures will increase the decomposition of dead material in the soil and thus increase nutrient cycling. This will affect the nutrient status of the trees and their associated fungal partners.

The researchers show that the complex relationship between trees and their associated microorganisms needs to be better understood to improve predictive models of how changing environmental conditions affect carbon and nutrient cycling in boreal forests.

Starting point for many more studies

“The relationship between the different organisms in the soil is hugely complex and has been largely inaccessible. The sequencing approach we have used allows us to probe these complex interactions at a molecular level, telling us who is there and what are they doing”, says Nathaniel Street, second corresponding author of the study and associate professor at Umeå University. “The approach we used in this study offers many new possibilities and we think that, in the long run, this will enable us to better understand the functional mechanisms driving ecosystem dynamics.”

The massive amount of data that the researchers have collected in their study on plant roots and soil microorganisms is made publicly available via an online tool, the Boreal Rhizospheric Atlas, that is hosted by the Science for Life Laboratory. Researchers can access this tool freely and explore the data further. The future plan is to include data from additional studies in the tool to shine further light on the complex relationship between plants and soil microorganisms.

The article

Simon R. Law, Alonso R. Serrano, Yohann Daguerre, John Sundh, Andreas N. Schneider, Zsofia R. Stangl, David Castro, Manfred Grabherr, Torgny Näsholm, Nathaniel R. Street, Vaughan Hurry (2022) Metatranscriptomics captures dynamic shifts in mycorrhizal coordination in boreal forests. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 119 (26) e2118852119; doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2118852119

Link to the article in PNAS

For more information please contact:

Vaughan Hurry
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
https://www.upsc.se/vaughan_hurry

Nathaniel Street
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
https://www.upsc.se/nathaniel_street

Group photo of all awardees and the King Carl XVI Gustafs in the Bernadotte library with paintings in the back
Group photo of all awardees and the King Carl XVI Gustafs in the Bernadotte library with paintings in the backRegina Gratz (fourth from left) together with all other awardees and The King (middle) after the award ceremony in the Royal Palace (Photo: Clas Göran Carlsson).

Wednesday last week was a special day for Regina Gratz, researcher in Torgny Näsholm’s group and employed at the Department of Plant Physiology and Forest Genetics at UPSC and SLU. The King handed her over a scholarship from the King Carl XVI Gustaf 50th Anniversary Fund for Science, Technology and the Environment. Regina Gratz will use the scholarship to study how nitrogen fixing bacteria can be stimulated so that in the long run the usage of mineral fertilization can be reduced.

Thirteen scholarships were granted in total. The awardees did not apply but were nominated and the names of the awardees were already announced in the end of April in connection with the H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf’s birthday. The official ceremony took place last week, on May 25 in the Royal Palace.

Regina Gratz’s project is based on results that organic nitrogen can stimulate biological nitrogen fixation. Together with researchers from the University of Hohenheim in Germany, she plans to identify the molecular mechanisms underlying this observed positive effect.

The King Carl XVI Gustaf 50th Anniversary Fund for Science, Technology and Environment exists since 1996. It was founded to celebrate His Majesty’s 50th birthday and aims on promoting research, technological development and enterprises that contribute to a sustainable use of natural resources and the maintenance of biodiversity. Especially young scientists working in Sweden are promoted.

Official news from the Swedish Royal Court (only in Swedish)

More information about the Royal Scholarship for Science, Technology and the Environment and the list of all awardees (only in Swedish)

Portrait photo of Andreas Schneider taken in a forest with trees in the background
Portrait photo of Andreas Schneider taken in a forest with trees in the backgroundPhD student Andreas Schneider (Photo: Laura Hinojosa)

How do forest management strategies that aim on improving plant growth influence the fungal community? Andreas Schneider, PhD student in Nathaniel Street´s group at Umeå Plant Science Centre, has contributed to the development of new sequence analysis methods that make it easier to study fungal communities. He will defend his PhD thesis on Wednesday, 1st of June 2022 at Umeå University.

Studying fungal communities in the forest soil is very challenging. The mushrooms seen in the forest in autumn are just made by some of the fungi to spread their spores. The most time of their lifecycle fungi are hidden in the soil or inside of the roots of their host plants. Recently developed advanced sequencing techniques offer many new possibilities and Andreas Schneider and his colleagues used these advances to develop automated bioinformatic tools that allow to study the dynamic and diversity of fungal communities in the soil.

“Many of the methods used to study fungi today are indirect. We take a soil sample, extract DNA from it and see to which species this DNA might belong to,” explains Andreas Schneider. “We used these methods in some of our studies, but one problem is that you do not know if the DNA comes from fungi that are dead or from some that are alive and active. That is why we used and further developed another method that is also indirect but that shows how active the fungi are. The great thing is that this can tell us what the fungi are up to, which genes are being expressed.”

To test their method, the researchers analysed how nitrogen addition affects the fungal community. Swedish forests are usually low in nitrogen and conifer trees compensate for this limitation by establishing the symbiosis with mycorrhizal fungi. The trees deliver carbon to the fungi and receive nitrogen in return. For seedlings on reforestation sites, it is crucial to establish the connection with the fungi to improve their chances to survive.

“Nitrogen addition, especially in high doses, is already known to change the fungal community in the soil quite a lot. Our experiments show that small amounts of organic nitrogen fertilization do not affect the fungal community but can improve the survival and growth rates of seedlings,” says Andreas Schneider. “This was true for seedlings coming from nurseries and also for seeds that were directly placed on the field site. We still need to follow up on the seedling growth rates over a longer period of time and for more different local conditions, but the current results are very promising.”

In a different approach, Andreas Schneider and his colleagues analysed why nitrogen addition inhibits the degradation of lignin in forest soils. Lignin is the component in dead plant material that is decomposed the most slowly by white-rot fungi. The researchers could show that nitrogen addition affects chemical processes in the soil and that this can have a negative impact on the efficiency of white-rot fungi.

They could also confirm that the composition of the fungal community associated with tree roots is changed on sites with high nitrogen fertilization favouring nitrogen tolerant fungi species. This can be caused both by soil chemistry changes and by a reprogramming of the mycorrhizal symbiosis from the side of the host tree.

“We could show that our methods are working and are useful to study dynamic changes in the fungal community”, thinks Andreas Schneider. “The biggest limitation now is the lack of genetic information for most fungal species, but we and many others are working on that. I am sure that in the future, this new knowledge and these methods will help us to evaluate even better how different forest management strategies influence fungal activity and biodiversity.”

About the public defence:

Andreas Schneider, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, will defend his PhD thesis on Wednesday, 1st of June 2022. Faculty opponent will be Colin Averill, Department of Environmental Systems Science, ETH Zurich, Switzerland. The thesis was supervised by Nathaniel Street. Andreas Schneider was part of the PhD Research School in Forest Genetics, Biotechnology and Breeding and collaborated for his PhD project with Holmen Skog.

Title of the thesis: Perturbance and stimulation - using nitrogen addition and high throughput sequencing to study fungal communities in boreal forests

Link to the thesis


For more information, please contact:

Andreas Schneider
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Portrait photo of Peter Marhavy sitting next to a confocal microscope
Portrait photo of Peter Marhavy sitting next to a confocal microscopePeter Marhavý at the UPSC microscopy facility (Photo: Fredrik Larsson)

The Gesellschaft für Biochemie and Molekularbiologie (GBM) gives out every year the FEBS Anniversary Prize to acknowledge a senior researcher under 40 years of age for outstanding achievements in the field of biochemistry and Molecular Biology or related sciences. This year, Peter Marhavý, group leader at UPSC, is receiving the prize and is invited to give a talk at The Biochemistry Global Summit in July in Lisbon, Portugal.

It was last week, when Peter Marhavý was informed by FEBS, the Federation of European Biochemical Societies, that he will be awarded with this years’ FEBS Anniversary Prize. Peter Marhavý joined UPSC as new group leader in 2020 after postdocs at The Institute of Science and Technology Austria and at the University of Lausanne. He and his group want to understand how plant roots respond to wounds with special focus on cell-to-cell communication.

“I am very happy that my scientific contribution is appreciated, and I am extremely honoured to have received such a distinguished prize", says Peter Marhavý who works as Assistant Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

FEBS is one of the largest molecular biology societies in Europe. The FEBS Anniversary Prize will be hand over during the IUBMB-FEBS-PABMB Congress 2022 in Lisbon, The Biochemistry Global Summit. It comprises a certificate and 2000€ and is given out by GBM since the 10th anniversary of FEBS.

Link to the press release from FEBS: https://www.febs.org/news/febs-anniversary-prizes-2022/

For more information, please contact:

Peter Marhavý
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: @pmarhavy
https://www.upsc.se/peter_marhavy

David Castro standing in front of one of his field sites in winter PhD student David Castro at one of his field sites close to Sollefteå.

How do soil properties and microorganisms in the soil influence seedling growth? David Castro, PhD student in Vaughan Hurry’s group at UPSC and SLU showed in his PhD thesis that understanding this complex relationship between the three partners can help to optimize biodiversity-friendly forest management and to get a better picture about the ecology of endemic species. David Castro will defend his PhD thesis at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, SLU, on the 24th of May.

During your PhD, you were funded by a scholarship that you got from Chile. That is very unusual for a PhD student in Sweden. What motivated you to apply for that scholarship and come to Umeå to do your PhD in Vaughan Hurry’s group at UPSC?

In 2015, me and my wife came to Umeå together with Cristian Ibáñez to work for a month with Maria Eriksson. We both fell in love with Umeå and the facilities at UPSC are amazing. It was also the time when I was preparing the papers to apply for the fellowship in Chile. I read about Vaughan Hurry’s research on suboptimal environments which was close to what I was working on during my Master thesis. I met with Vaughan, and he agreed on supporting my application for the fellowship which I luckily also received. It took then still one and a half years and many nerves until all papers were ready that I could finally come and start my PhD in Vaughan Hurry’s group. I am really happy that it all worked out and that I now can defend my thesis.

The title of your thesis starts with the question “Who comes first?” and mentions later the plant-microbiome-soil continuum. Can you answer the question now and why do you call it “continuum”?

“Who comes first” is rather a rhetorical question. The goal of my thesis was to understand the links between the plant, the microorganisms in the soil and the soil itself. We assessed plant growth and soil characteristics and used advanced sequencing techniques and bioinformatics methods to analyse how the plant and the microorganism, especially fungi, react to their environment. All three components are important and feedback each other. By allocating carbon to attract beneficial microbial partners, the plant’s roots modify locally the fungal and bacteria composition and also soil characteristics like for example soil particle aggregation, pH value and carbon content. Fungi and bacteria also allocate and move nutrients. Then there are also the physical and chemical characteristics of the soil which change during the year depending for example on the water content which is affecting the nutrient availability. That is why we cannot say who comes first. Every of the three partners influences continuously the other partners in a very complex manner and form together a kind of unit or “continuum”.

What do you consider as the major outcome from your studies?

One part of my thesis was on Prosopis species that are partly endemic in Chile but very invasive in other parts of the world and therefore of ecological interest. In Chile, Prosopis is growing partly on soil with very particular characteristics like for example in the Atacama Desert. Our experiments showed that when Prosopis seedlings manage to recruit beneficial fungal partners, they grow well in various kinds of soils except of in soil from the Atacama Desert which is very salty. This counts even for seedlings of Prosopis tamarugo which is growing very isolated in the Atacama Desert. The other parts of my thesis focussed on Scots pine and Norway spruce which are of economic importance here in Sweden. We could show that small amounts of nitrogen fertilization improve plant growth but only very minorly affects soil ecology and the fungal composition. Strong nitrogen fertilization has a positive effect on plant growth but strongly impairs the microbiota and also the soil ecology which can have a major impact on forest biodiversity.

What was the most unexpected result you got during your PhD?

We were expecting that Prosopis tamarugo which is growing in the Atacama Desert to be very stress tolerant but that was not the case. Actually, it showed to be a kind of weak seedling which had problems to recruit fungal partners during our experiments. Instead, the seedlings recruited many bacterial partners and we think that this was to partially compensate for the lack of fungi. They survived significantly less in its native soil that we used for our experiments. This was surprising because they have the potential to grow in this soil. Another species that we worked with, Prosopis chilensis, managed to recruit fungi even in soil from the beach but not Prosopis tamarugo which is growing in the most toxic soil in the desert. Our hypothesis is that the individuals, that are growing in the Atacama Desert, established themselves there when it was not as arid as it is now - probably about 100 years ago. The trees or bushes form a taproot which goes very deep into the soil and can reach the ground water. Once this root is established, they can survive also in such an extreme climate like in the Atacama Desert but for a seedling this environment is too harsh.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during your PhD?

Beside suddenly start working in English, it was very hard to learn bioinformatics. I knew a few things from before, but the work here was a different level. I got a lot of help from the people from the Bioinformatics facility at UPSC and from my colleagues. It took time and I followed many courses but now I feel proficient and confident to do bioinformatic analyses and add these skills to my CV.

What are you planning to do now?

I do like to live in Umeå and I would like to stay here even though the winter can be tough. I would also like to keep working with soil ecology and maybe include more the bacterial perspective as we focussed more on the fungal site during my PhD. There is not much done on bacterial soil ecology in the forestry context and I would like to work more on that. I would also like to reanalyse some of the data that we got focussing more on bacteria to see if we can get out more information that we have not seen yet. That is why I am currently looking for a postdoc.

One Prosopis chilensis and one P. tamarugo seedling standing next to each other Prosopis seedlings that David Castro and his colleagues used in their experiments.

About the public defence:

David Castro, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, will defend his PhD thesis on Tuesday, 24th of May 2022. Faculty opponent will be Barbara Hawkins, Centre for Forest Biology, University of Victoria, Canada. The thesis was supervised by Vaughan Hurry. The dissertation will be live broadcasted via Zoom.

Title of the thesis: Who comes first? Implications of the plant-microbiome-soil continuum feedback on plant performance

Link to the thesis: https://pub.epsilon.slu.se/27682/

For more information, please contact:

David Castro
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: DavidCastroMor6

Portrait photo of Pushan Bag sitting on a swing in front of a lake
Portrait of Pushan Bag sitting on a swing in front of a lakePhD student Pushan Bag at Nydalasjön in Umeå (Photo: Jenna Lihavainen)

What allows conifer trees to stay green during winter when temperatures are low but solar radiation is high? Pushan Bag, PhD student in Stefan Jansson’s group at Umeå Plant Science Centre, showed that conifers have evolved special mechanisms that prevent damage to their photosynthetic machinery. He will defend his PhD thesis at the Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, on the 20th of May.

What led you come to Umeå and start your PhD on winter acclimation of conifer trees in Stefan Jansson’s group at UPSC?

Pushan Bag: I was working on photosynthetic acclimation of algae in my master’s at the University of Hyderabad in India. We were investigating the effect of salt stress on photosynthesis by using different salts and growing algae under controlled conditions. For my PhD, I did not want to work with “artificial” controlled conditions but instead I wanted to understand natural adaptations under “real” conditions. At that time, Stefan had a PhD position focussing on conifer trees growing in boreal forests. These forests are one of the harshest environments for plants and that was interesting me. So, I applied and came here in 2017.

How did you acclimatise to the Nordic winter?

Pushan Bag: Well, I arrived here on the 17th of February 2017, and February is the coldest time of the year in Umeå. On the very next day after I arrived, I had to collect samples from the forest behind the SLU building. It was fun! To be honest, I love the Nordic winter and the snow, probably because I am from Kolkata and we do not see winter temperature dropping below 5°C. Here in Umeå, I can do some winter sports, which I could not do back in Kolkata.

You worked with Norway spruce and Scots pine and followed the changes that happen in their needles throughout the year, but you set a special focus on spring. What is so special with this season?

Pushan Bag: Spring in the Nordic climate is very different than spring in any other parts of the world. Air temperatures remain well below zero – we measured even -25 °C in February and March 2018 -, while the sun shines very bright. This makes acclimation extremely tough. Sun light drives photosynthetic reactions, but freezing temperatures make it difficult to conduct those photosynthetic reactions. Another problem the plants face is that reactive oxygen species are generated under such high solar radiation and they can damage the photosynthetic machinery.

What is the major outcome from your studies? Can you explain why conifer needles can stay green throughout the year?

Pushan Bag: We discovered that conifers possess a kind of “spill-over” mechanism to protect their photosystems from energy overload. These are the functional units where photosynthesis takes place. The structure of the inner membranes in the chloroplast is changed during winter so that the two photosystems are in physical contact with each other. This is a kind of short cut that allows direct energy transfer from photosystem II to I which is normally not possible. As far as I know, this “spill-over” mechanism was not reported before for any other vascular plant. Conifers are pretty unique in this sense!

What was the most unexpected result you got during your PhD?

Pushan Bag: We found another mechanism that conifer needles have developed to protect their needles from damage by reactive oxygen species. These results are not published yet but they were really unexpected. We hope the paper will be accepted soon.

What was the biggest challenge you faced during your PhD?

Pushan Bag: I think the biggest challenge for me was to learn that in science multiple possibilities can be correct at the same time. Plant species are very different from each other. They have evolved different regulatory ways and they can respond to the same stimuli in different ways. We often tend to generalise mechanisms and functions based on results from one model plant. However, like in our case, it can help to look on different contrasting possibilities to understand a natural phenomenon and maybe discover some new mechanisms.

You recently received a long-term postdoctoral fellowship from the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization and will start working with Professor Barry Bruce at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. What do you think will you miss most from UPSC and Umeå?

Pushan Bag: Everything!!! I will most certainly miss my friends here in Umeå and also the working culture at UPSC, but I will take all my memories with me and I am looking forward to my new project.

About the public defence:

Pushan Bag, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, will defend his PhD thesis on Friday, 20th of May 2022. Faculty opponent will be Francis Andre Wollman from the Institute of Physico-Chemical Biology (IBPC), Laboratory of Membrane and Molecular Physiology of Chloroplast at Sorbonne Université in Paris, France. The thesis was supervised by Stefan Jansson.

Title of the thesis: How could Christmas trees remain ever green? Photosynthetic acclimation of Scots pine and Norway spruce needles during winter

Link to Pushan Bag's PhD thesis
 

Further reading

More information about Pushan Bag’s long-term postdoctoral fellowship from the International Human Frontier Science Program Organization

Link to the press release about the Nature Communication article in which the findings about the photosynthetic short-cut in conifer trees were published in 2020


For more information, please contact:

Pushan Bag
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: @BagPushan

Flower with bee
Flower with beePhoto: Christopher Tompkins

How does pollen look like that causes allergies? Which plants have people eaten thousand years ago? Why are plants interesting for space research? On Saturday, 21st of May, Umeå Plant Science Centre together with Curiosum is arranging a day filled with knowledge and interactive activities around plant and plant research. The event will take place at Curiosum, Umeå University.

The aim of the Fascination of Plants Day is to put the fascinating world of plants in the spotlight and to remind people that plants and plant research are important for developing a society that is both economically, socially and environmentally sustainable.

"Plant research does not usually receive as much attention as for example medical research, but it is very important in meeting all the challenges we face currently", says Anne Honsel, project manager and communication officer at Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC) that belongs to Umeå University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. "On this day, we do not want to focus too much on challenges. We instead want to show that plant research is very exciting, and I hope that everyone who visits us will have a fun and fascinating day."

Umeå Plant Science Centre coordinates the event, which takes place at Curiosum in Umeå. Many young and enthusiastic plant scientists will share their knowledge and offer fun and interesting short lectures and interactive experiments at fifteen different stations for the whole family.

In addition, Bonsai sällskapet will show bonsai from forest trees and the Friends of Arboretum Norr will present the diversity of trees and shrubs that grow at the Arboretum in Baggböle and that originate from different parts of the world.

"We of course want to show what we do in our research at UPSC, but that is only part of the big picture. That is why we are also inviting researchers outside of UPSC and other parties to participate to show the diversity of the plant world and everything that is connected with it," says Anne Honsel.

About the event:

When: Saturday, 21 May, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: Curiosum, Umeå Arts Campus, Östra Strandgatan 32, Umeå

Read more about all the activities on Fascination of Plants Day on May 21

About the Fascination of Plants Day:

Fascinating Plants Day is organised in Umeå by Umeå Plant Science Centre together with Curiosum, Umeå University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. It is an international event that is celebrated all over the world. More than 500 scientific institutions, universities and botanical gardens in more than 50 countries will open their doors to visitors.

For more information, please contact:

Anne Honsel
Public Relations Officer
e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
phone: +46 (0)70 285 6657

Text: Ingrid Söderbergh

Portrait photo of Petra Marhava in front of plants
Portrait photo of Petra Marhava with plants in the backgroundPhoto: Peter Marhavy

Kungliga Skytteanska Samfundet announced this week that Petra Marhava, new group leader at UPSC, will receive a prize for young, outstanding researchers. The prize is assigned to the Faculty of Forest Sciences at SLU and is given out once per year.

Petra Marhava started to work at UPSC in September 2020 as researcher affiliated with Stéphanie Robert’s group at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology. Since this month, she is officially group leader at UPSC and is now starting to set up her own research group which will investigate how plants deal with temperature stress.

Kungl. Skytteanska Samfundet motivated their choice with Petra Marhava’s exceptionally well publishing record in high-ranking journals and her successful grant applications. End of 2021, she managed to get funding from the Swedish Research Council and a very prestigious Starting Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). They also highlighted in their motivation that Petra Marhava’s research covers a cutting-edge topic with respect to climate change and expected temperature variations.

Every year, Kungl. Skytteanska Samfundet, which is a scientific academy based in Umeå, is handing out prizes for outstanding research and cultural commitment. The academy awards in total six prizes to young researchers, a cultural prize, the “Margareta och Eric Modigs” prize that is assigned to the Medical Faculty of Umeå University, a prize for a young artist from the Umeå Academy of Fine Arts, a prize for a young musician from the School of Music in Piteå and the “Samfundets stora pris”.


All prize winners awarded by the Kungl. Skytteanska Samfundet in 2022 (only in Swedish)

More information about Kungl. Skytteanska Samfundet

More information about Petra Marhava’s ERC project


For more information, please contact:

Petra Marhava
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
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Phone: +46 (0)90 786 8628
Twitter: @MarhavaPetra

Portrait photo of Muhammad Shahzad Anjam in the UPSC growth facility
Portrait photo of Muhammad Shahzad Anjam in the UPSC growth facilityMuhammad Shahzad Anjam will become a MSCA postdoctoral fellow (photo: Maria Kidwai)

The European Commission awarded Muhammad Shahzad Anjam with one of the prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) postdoctoral fellowships. This funding allows him to continue his research on how plants react to mechanical damage caused by nematodes, microscopic plant parasites. Muhammad Shahzad is working in Peter Marhavy’s group at the Umeå Plant Science Centre and SLU.

The Marie Curie postdoctoral fellowship programme is very competitive. What was motivating you to apply there?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: The Marie Curie fellowship is very prestigious and offers very generous funding for the period of the fellowship but also much more. It comprises a career development package including training events, collaborations through secondments, opportunities for networking and outreach programs to reach out to a broader audience. Keeping all these aspects in mind, I was highly motivated to apply for the fellowship to excel in my career.

How does it feel to be among the 14 percent that received a grant?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: Surely, these are very exciting moments. Not only it is now a landmark in my CV but also gives me confidence about the quality of my proposed research project and the way we designed it. I also feel very grateful to Peter Marhavy who provided me with constant support and encouragement during the whole course of the application process.

What do you plan to do in your project?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: The project is about plant-parasitic cyst nematodes which are major threat to the agricultural production. The nematodes attack on the roots of the host plant. They destroy several cell layers when entering the root before they select one cell close to the nutrient rich tissues where they build up a specialized feeding structure – the syncytium – and start feeding. My project focusses on how root’s various cell files respond to the damage that is caused by the nematode when invading the root. We want to resolve cellular defence responses by mimicking nematode injury using a very fine laser beam to damage one single root cell in a controlled manner and analyse tissue-specific responses using multidisciplinary state-of-the-art techniques.

Will you perform all your work at UPSC or are you also planning short-term secondments somewhere else?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: Most of the experiments and bioinformatic analyses, we will perform using facilities available at UPSC. However, I will travel to the Department of Ecophysiology at the Institute of Cellular and Molecular Botany (IZMB), University of Bonn in Germany. The group is specialized in using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to analyse the biochemistry of plant-based biopolymers that modify the cell wall interfaces according to the environmental cues. Here, I will analyse compositional changes in various plant biopolymers which create physical barriers against invading pathogens after inducing controlled injury using laser ablation.

You started at UPSC in the beginning of 2021. What was motivating you to join UPSC?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: I was inspired by Peter Marhavy’s research group which investigates short distance communication in response to wound stress in plants, focussing on cellular resolution and by the excellent working environment at UPSC. About 30 research groups are working at UPSC on various aspects of plant biology and all researchers share common laboratories, instruments, kitchens and offices. This creates a great interactive atmosphere to discuss and exchange ideas. By having seminars and discussions on relevant as well as interdisciplinary topics, I can learn a lot about the different fields. So overall, a very healthy and balanced working environment at UPSC encouraged me to join the institute. Further, I found that at UPSC, researchers from all around the world make it a very cosmopolitan and multicultural environment to work.

Do you have some tips for other young researchers applying for similar competitive fellowships?

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam: Yes, sure. I think, chances of obtaining a fellowship are significantly increased if we understand the core objectives of the awarding agency and formulate the application accordingly. For MSCA fellowships, the purpose is of course on a high-quality research project, but it also asks to enhance independence and leadership skills of the researcher. Therefore, designing an innovative project package using advanced technology, ambitiousness, interdisciplinary approaches and networking through secondments will enormously help to hunt a fellowship.

Project title: The plant’s internal cellular sensing and response measures to mechanical breach

Link to the official news from Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions


The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) are supporting 1156 post-doctoral researchers chosen from a total of 8356 in the 2021 Postdoctoral Fellowship call. The goal of the fellowship which is part of Horizon Europe is to increase the competence and skills of the postdoctoral fellows to improve their career prospects in academia and beyond. Emphasis is also put on interdisciplinary, inter-sectoral and international experience as well as on enhancing networking and communication capacities with the science community and with the general public.

European Union flag emblem in white and blue joined by a funding statement (Funded by the EU)

For more information, please contact:

Muhammad Shahzad Anjam
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: @shahzadbio