Portrait photo of Sanaria Abbas Jaafer Alallaq
Portrait photo of Sanaria Alallaq taken during the poster presentation on the KBC Days 2018Sanaria Alallaq at the poster presentation on the KBC Days 2018 (photo: Eva-Maria Diehl)

Many plants can easily be regenerated and multiplied using cuttings. Crucial is that the cutting can initiate the formation of roots, a process called adventitious rooting. Sanaria Abbas Jaafer Alallaq showed in her PhD thesis that some of the molecular regulators that control the initiation of adventitious roots in plants are similar in non-woody and woody plants like Norway spruce and poplar. She will defend her PhD thesis at Umeå University on Thursday, 3rd of June 2021.

Several economically and ecologically valuable tree species are difficult to multiply via cuttings because their cuttings do not form roots. Sanaria Abbas Jaafer Alallaq, who did her PhD in Catherine Bellini’s group at the Umeå Plant Science Centre, used the knowledge that her group and other researchers acquired with the non-woody plant thale cress and studied how it translates to the woody species Norway spruce and poplar. She demonstrated that, the initiation of adventitious roots is regulated in Norway spruce seedlings and poplar cuttings in a similar manner like in thale cress. Key regulatory factors are light and small signalling molecules, the plant hormones, auxin, cytokinin and jasmonate.

“Adventitious root initiation is a complex developmental program governed by a plethora of external and internal factors including plant hormones and light. The exact molecular mechanisms underlying this process are still largely elusive especially with respect to trees,” says Sanaria Abbas Jaafer Alallaq. “The recent availability of the reference genomes of some tree species such as Norway spruce or poplar make it possible to tackle adventitious root initiation from an evolutionary developmental perspective which we believed was a timely step.”

For her experiments, Sanaria Abbas Jaafer Alallaq grew Norway spruce seedlings from seeds and removed the roots when they were three weeks old to see under which conditions, they regenerate adventitious roots. When kept under normal white light conditions, the de-rooted seedlings did not regenerate easily adventitious roots but under red light conditions, hundred percent of the seedlings rapidly developed adventitious roots. Sanaria Abba Jaafer Alallaq and her colleagues analysed the concentration of plant hormones in the cutting base of the de-rooted Norway spruce seedlings and found higher levels of the plant hormones cytokinin and jasmonate in the seedlings grown under white light conditions.

“These two plant hormones hinder the formation of adventitious roots also in thale cress while auxin is known to stimulate adventitious rooting,” explains Sanaria Abbas Jaafer Alallaq. “We wanted to understand more how similar the regulation is on the molecular and genetic level. Norway spruce still has its limitations to do these studies even though its genome has been sequenced. That is why we included poplar in our studies which offers currently many more possibilities to study for example gene expression.”

Sanaria Abbas Jaafer Alallaq compared hybrid poplar and hybrid aspen, two closely related poplar species with different ability to form adventitious roots. She took cuttings from three-month-old trees grown in the greenhouse and placed them in nutrient solution. The cuttings of hybrid poplar easily formed adventitious roots, while the hybrid aspen cuttings did not root under these conditions. Sanaria Abbas Jaafer Alallaq analysed the gene expression in the base of the cuttings and saw that many more genes were activated in hybrid poplar than in hybrid aspen.

“We identified many key genes that are involved in the regulation of auxin in hybrid poplar while genes involved in the biosynthesis of jasmonate were activated in hybrid aspen,” describes Sanaria Abbas Jaafer Alallaq. “This confirmed that also in poplar cuttings auxin and jasmonate have opposite effects on the initiation of adventitious roots and that at least some of the underlying regulatory mechanisms were conserved during evolution. These results from our basic research are small steps that hopefully help in future to improve adventitious rooting of horticultural and forest species.”

About the public defence:

Sanaria Abbas Jaafar Alallaq, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, will defend her PhD thesis with the title “Characterization of adventitious root formation in Populus species and Norway spruce” on Thursday, 3rd of June 2021. Faculty opponent will be Professor María Carmen Díaz-Sala Galeano, Department of Life Sciences, University of Alcalá, Madrid, Spain. The thesis was supervised by Catherine Bellini. The dissertation will be live broadcasted via Zoom.

Link to Sanaria Abbas Jaafar Alallaq's thesis


For more information, please contact:

Sanaria Abbas Jaafar Alallaq
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.


Text: Sanaria Abbas Jaafar Alallaq & Anne Honsel

Portrait photo of Kristoffer Jonsson
Portrait photo of Kristoffer JonssonKristoffer Jonsson at the Poplar Transgenics Facility at UPSC

The Scandinavian Plant Physiology Society (SPPS) announced this week that Kristoffer Jonsson from Rishikesh Bhalerao’s group at UPSC is one of the two awardees that receive the SPPS Best PhD Thesis Prize. The other awardee is Bin Sun, who did his PhD at the Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences at the University of Copenhagen. Both awardees will present their work at the SPPS congress in Svalbard in August this year.

Kristoffer Jonsson defended his PhD thesis in June 2019. Several articles resulted from his thesis. Currently, he is finishing up his projects as postdoc in Rishikesh Bhalerao’s group. In December last year, he received an international postdoc grant from the Swedish Research Council to start his own postdoc project jointly at UPSC and in the group of Anne-Lise Routier-Kierzkowska from the Plant Biology Research Institute at the Université de Montréal in Canada.

“When I learned that I was awarded this prize, I was of course thrilled and honoured. My immediate thought was that this award is equally a recognition of all the people that I have worked with, especially Rishi Bhalerao. Without his guidance and the environment, he created for me, we wouldn’t have done as well as we did”, says Kristoffer Jonsson. “While I’m honoured, I’m also surprised to be selected among all the other excellent PhD colleagues, who I know also worked hard towards their goals, and who I feel are equally deserving this prize. In any case, this should also be seen as a recognition of UPSC, which is a fantastic research environment that really nurtures young researchers.”

In his PhD thesis, Kristoffer Jonsson showed that the correct transport of components to the cell surface as well as the chemical composition of the cell wall are important for differential growth during the development of the apical hook. This hook is formed by seedlings that grow towards the soil surface after germination to protect their sensitive first leaves from damage. First when the seedling reaches the surface, the hook unfolds and the seedling opens its leaves towards the sun.

An uneven distribution of the plant hormone auxin is one crucial factor for differential growth. Auxin accumulates on the inner side of the hook and inhibits there the elongation of cells. Cells on the outer side of the hook, where the auxin concentration is low, expand at a high rate and this ensures that the bending is maintained. Auxin transporting proteins are controlling how much auxin is transported in and out of a cell and thus create the auxin gradient in the hook.

Kristoffer Jonsson studied how newly synthesized auxin transporters are packed in the distribution centre of the cell, the trans-Golgi network, and transported from there to the cell surface. He showed that the packaging and the transport of different transport proteins follows very distinct routes. If components of either the packing or the transport chain are mutated and not fully functional anymore, the transport proteins are not reaching the right place and the apical hook is not developing properly.

“The auxin gradient across the hook affects the composition and mechanical properties of the cell wall and vice versa. We demonstrated that the cell walls on the inner side of the hook became more rigid in response to auxin than on the outer side of the hook”, explains Kristoffer Jonsson. “We could show that this is not a one-way regulation. Signals from the cell wall affected the auxin machinery, enhancing the auxin response on the inner side, essentially forming a feedback required for proper growth asymmetry. These findings opened up many new questions that I will address in my new postdoc project.”

The SPPS Best PhD Thesis Prize is a monetary prize that is awarded every second year together with other awards given out by the Scandinavian Plant Physiology Society. The awardee must be a scientist that defended her/his PhD thesis in a Nordic country within the last two years. All SPPS awardees are expected to give a scientific talk during the biannual SPPS Congress that will take place this year on August 24-27 in Svalbard, Norway.

More information

Title of Kristoffer Jonsson’s PhD thesis: Understanding the Molecular Basis of Differential Growth during Apical Hook Development
Link to the PhD thesis

Read more about Kristoffer Jonsson’s international postdoc grant 


For questions, please contact:

Kristoffer Jonsson
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.

Mustard aphid (Lipaphis). To monitor aphid feeding behaviour in great detail, a golden thread connected to recording devices was glued to its back with silver glue.  Photographer: Hans Smid, Wageningen University & Research.
Mustard aphid (Lipaphis). To monitor aphid feeding behaviour in great detail, a golden thread connected to recording devices was glued to its back with silver glue. The photo is taken by Hans Smid from Wageningen University & Research. Mustard aphid (Lipaphis). To monitor aphid feeding behaviour in great detail, a golden thread connected to recording devices was glued to its back with silver glue. (Photo: Hans Smid, Wageningen University & Research)


Researchers at Wageningen University & Research, Umeå University and Keygene have discovered that a resistance gene in thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) against the green peach aphid, also affects other aphids and whiteflies. However, not every aphid or whitefly species is put off. The tobacco whitefly and mustard aphid are unaffected and still feast on the plant, but for the latter this does involve an unusual spitting ritual.

Identifying the genetic code for disease resistance in plants is normally a tricky thing. A single gene can usually only offer protection against a specific disease or parasite. But this time it’s different. The research from Karen Kloth from Wageningen University & Research and her colleagues sheds new light on how plants defend themselves from insect pests – and vice versa.

Aphids are widespread on plants and agricultural crops. They feed on plant sap, but also spread viruses. Efforts to reduce the use of insecticides in agriculture therefore include a lot of research into natural defence mechanisms in plants.

Karen Kloth, a researcher in the Entomology laboratory of WUR and former postdoc in Benedicte Albrectsen’s group at Umeå Plant Science Centre, Umeå University, specialises in this area. In 2017 she discovered a gene that makes one plant species – thale cress – more resistant to the green peach aphid. In a new experiment, published in Plant, Cell & Environment, she and her fellow researchers demonstrate that this gene is only active in the so-called phloem – the cells which transport the sugar-rich sap through the plant. They also discovered that the gene works against other species of aphid and whitefly which, like the green peach aphid, feed on phloem sap.

Plant gene reduces insect reproduction and appetite

“It turns out that the tobacco aphid, cabbage aphid and cabbage whitefly don't fare so well on plants that contain this gene”, says. Karen Kloth. “They produced fewer offspring or eggs during the experiment. Detailed behavioural tests also revealed that when plants contained the resistance gene, the aphids spent more time salivating before they could start to eat, and also spent less time feasting on the phloem sap.”

Mustard aphid spits up to 20 times before it starts to eat

However, the gene doesn’t work against the mustard aphid or the tobacco whitefly. The mustard aphid displayed unusual behaviour that might disable the resistance. Karen Kloth explains: “These aphids would repeatedly inject their needle-like mouth parts into the phloem and then spit, doing so up to 20 times before they actually began to eat. This suggests that repeatedly injecting spit with special proteins helps the Mustard aphid bypass resistance."

Increasing the natural resilience of crops

The research, carried out in collaboration with Umeå University and KeyGene, was partially funded by a Veni grant awarded to Karen Kloth in 2018 by the Dutch Research Council (NWO) to carry out research into natural defence mechanisms in plants against insect pests and viruses that could help reduce the use of insecticides. “Many crops are affected by infestations of aphids and whiteflies. They are difficult to deal with, leading to the spread of plant viruses and jeopardising yields,” says Karen Kloth. “It’s therefore quite remarkable to discover that a single gene in thale cress offers protection against different species of aphid and whitefly. It’s hoped that further research will reveal the underlying mechanism at work and how this gene can be used to increase the natural resilience of crops.”

The research article:

Kloth, KJ, Shah, P, Broekgaarden, C, Ström, C, Albrectsen, BR, Dicke, M. SLI1 confers broad-spectrum resistance to phloem-feeding insects. Plant Cell Environ. 2021; 1– 12. https://doi.org/10.1111/pce.14064

For more information, please contact:

Karen J. Kloth
Laboratory of Entomology
Wageningen University & Research
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
+31 6 1867 1349

Benedicte R. Albrectsen
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
More about Benedicte Albrectsen's research

Text: Wageningen University & Research

Phenotyping platform at Umeå Plant Science Centre

We normally would have celebrated the International Fascination of Plants Day this week with a public event. Due to the current ongoing pandemic, we have postponed our event to 2022. Still, we would like to use this opportunity to give you some insights on what we are doing at UPSC. Have a look on the below videos and follow Noemi inside our greenhouses!

The Fascination of Plants Day is organised under the umberella of EPSO, the European Plant Science Organisation. Every second year, it is celebrated internationally with events taking place all over the world. The goal is to fascinate people for the world of plants. Due to Covid-19, EPSO postponed the 6th International Fascination of Plants Day to 2022 but individual events took place.  You can check them out on the official homepage of the Fascination of Plants Day: https://plantday18may.org

The videos were produced for ForskarFredag 2020 at Curiosum, the new science center in Umeå.

Swedish pine forest (photo taken by Sonali Ranade)
Swedish pine forest (Photo taken by Sonali Ranade)Swedish pine forest (Photo: Sonali Ranade)

Can trees be tailored to absorb more carbon dioxide and thus help alleviate global warming? In the latest episode of the podcast “Om Vetenskap” the UPSC group leader Ove Nilsson and Skogforsk Tree Breeding Program Manager Thomas Kraft talk about how the carbon dioxide uptake in forest trees may be improved with modern technology. “Om Vetenskap” is produced by the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research - SSF. The episode was released April 25.

The podcast episode “Hur skapas det perfekta trädet för koldioxidupptag?” (eng. How to create the perfect tree for carbon dioxide uptake?) was recorded in Swedish and is available at various podcast apps.

Background of the podcast episode (in Swedish)
https://strategiska.se/nytt-poddavsnitt-hur-skapas-det-perfekta-tradet-for-koldioxidupptag/

Links to the podcast (in Swedish)

Acast
https://play.acast.com/s/om-vetenskap/hur-skapas-det-perfekta-tradet-for-koldioxidupptag

Spotify
https://open.spotify.com/embed-podcast/episode/4dQivEZu5BmyJJWPpv28jE

Göran Sandberg at the official farewell as rector of Umeå University at Sävargården in Umeå (photo taken 2010 by Elin Berge, MOMENT)
Göran Sandberg at the official farewell as rector of Umeå University at Sävargården in Umeå (photo taken 2010 by Elin Berge, MOMENT)Göran Sandberg at the official farewell as rector of Umeå University at Sävargården in Umeå (photo taken 2010 by Elin Berge / MOMENT

On its meeting in April, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award Göran Sandberg, executive director at the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, with the “Äldre Linnémedaljen i guld”. The academy motivates its decision with his outstanding efforts that have promoted Swedish research and increased its international competitiveness. Göran Sandberg is professor at the Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, and took an active part in establishing Umeå Plant Science Centre.

Göran Sandberg defended his thesis at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, SLU. After post-doc periods in the USA and in the UK, he came back to the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology and became professor in plant physiology 1989. Between 2005 and 2010 he was vice chancellor at Umeå University, before joining the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation as executive director.

”Göran Sandberg’s research as well as his visions and commitment on the management level were extremely important to make UPSC to what it is now – an internationally competitive plant science centre”, says Ove Nilsson, director of UPSC. “We would like to congratulate him to this award and thank him for all his great efforts that consistently encourage us to develop our research centre further.”

The “Äldre Linnémedaljen i guld” is awarded as reward for merits for the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences or the Academy’s institutes. The Academy gives out different “Linnémedaljer” and several other prizes besides the Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry. Together with Göran Sandberg, seven other scientists were awarded with different prizes for their efforts to promote Swedish research.

Read more on the homepage of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (in Swedish only):
https://www.kva.se/sv/nyheter/priser-och-medalj-delas-ut-av-akademien

Vikash Kumar on the left side (photo taken by Sunita Kushwah) and Jay Prakash Maurya on the right side (photo taken by Santosh Govind Khokarale)
Vikash Kumar on the left side (photo taken by Sunita Kushwah) and Jay Prakash Maurya on the right side (photo taken by Santosh Govind Khokarale)The two Ramalingaswami awardees Vikash Kumar (left;photo: Sunita Kushwah) and Jay Prakash Maurya (right; photo: Santosh Govind Khokarale)

The Ramalingaswami Fellowship is very prestigious in India. Only 75 Indian Nationals working in a broad range of fields within science and technology are awarded with this fellowship. Vikash Kumar, who is currently working as postdoc at UPSC, and Jay Prakash Maurya, who left UPSC by the end of 2019, are two of the 75 awardees of the competitive 2020-2021 selection.

The fellowship is given to Indian Nationals who are working overseas or who have been returned to India not more than a year ago before the application closes. For five years, fellows will receive a monthly remuneration and a research grant to allow them to build up their own research group at scientific institute, university or in a relevant industry of their choice in India. The goal is to attract highly skilled researchers that left India to work abroad by providing them an attractive opportunity to continue with their research and development studies in their home country.

“This fellowship is really a kind of boon to a young researcher who is going to start his own lab, especially at Indian universities where you get in the beginning comparatively less infrastructure facilities for the research you want to pursue than research institutes like for example UPSC”, says Jay Prakash Maurya who started to work as Assistant professor at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi in February 2020. Vikash Kumar adds: “This gives big confidence to continue with a scientific carrier. Being among 75 gives immense pleasure to return back to my homeland, and also a big responsibility to deliver and excel in the field of science”

Vikash Kumar started in October 2014 as postdoc in Ewa Mellerowicz group at UPSC researching on cell wall biosynthesis. Since August 2019, he is working in Nathaniel Street’s group focussing on conifer genome analyses. His plan is to take up his fellowship at the Central University of Rajasthan and continue with plant cell wall research, its biogenesis and involvement in plant defence during biotic and/or abiotic stress.

“The stay at UPSC gave me the chance to learn plant cell wall biogenesis and its importance in plant growth and its potential contribution in development of sustainable ecosystems”, explains Vikash Kumar. “To move on now to a new institution, the Central University of Rajasthan, will give me ample of opportunity for further carrier establishment. I will not remember Umeå only for my carrier development, but as well for my family settlement with addition of two adorable daughters (Aashima and Sai). We are going to miss the long period of snow cover in Sweden.“

Jay Prakash Maurya joined Rishikesh Bhalerao’s group at UPSC as postdoc in August 2015 and researched on the photoperiodic control of seasonal growth. He left UPSC end of year 2019 to start a permanent position as Assistant Professor at the Department of Botany at Banaras Hindu University in his hometown Varanasi in India. He is planning to stay at his current university and do both basic and agriculturally important research.

“At UPSC I worked with poplar which is a model tree plant and whose genome is not well annotated. This led me to learn many aspects of bioinformatics and more about how to work with such not well streamed genomic systems”, explains Jay Prakash Maurya. “I will focus in my future research on seedling development in Arabidopsis, which has a comparatively simple and well annotated genome, and on tuber formation in potato, where the genome is polyploid and also not well annotated. The experience which I have gained in the last years will play a very important role in shaping my future research.”

Jay Prakash Maurya pointed out that his time at UPSC not only helped him to improve his CV with high-quality research publications in high impact journals – a main factor for getting the fellowship in his opinion. It also allowed him to expand his scientific network by getting new contacts and making new friends.

“It feels good to know to have talented good friends with a very diverse range of expertise which I could request, if needed”, says Jay Prakash Maurya. “Me and my family members had a very good time in Umeå with nice people and we miss the Swedish winter a lot. Even, my wife and kids say Umeå is the heaven on Earth, and they want to see it again at least once more in future.”

More information about the Ramalingaswami Re-entry Fellowship

For more information, please contact:

Vikash Kumar
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
Umeå, Sweden
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: @Vikash3217

Jay Prakash Maurya
Assistant Professor
Department of Botany, Institute of Science, Banaras Hindu University
Varanasi, India
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Twitter: @Prak16_Jay
Read more about Jay Prakash Maurya's research

The biosensor can give information about sugar levels without damaging the plant (photo taken by Thor Balkhed
The biosensor can give information about sugar levels without damaging the plant (photo taken by Thor Balkhed)The biosensor can give information about sugar levels without damaging the plant. Here it is placed in the stem of hybrid aspen (Populus tremula x tremuloides) that was used for the experiments. (Photo: Thor Balkhed)

Researchers at Linköping University and Umeå Plant Science Centre, Sweden, have developed biosensors that make it possible to monitor sugar levels in real time deep in the plant tissues – something that has previously been impossible. The information from the sensors may help agriculture to adapt production as the world faces climate change. The results have been published in the scientific journal iScience.

The primary source of nutrition for most of the Earth’s population is plants, which are also the foundation of the complete ecosystem on which we all depend. Global population is rising, and rapid climate change is at the same time changing the conditions for crop cultivation and agriculture.

“We will have to secure our food supply in the coming decades. And we must do this using the same, or even fewer, resources as today. This is why it is important to understand how plants react to changes in the environment and how they adapt”, says Eleni Stavrinidou, associate professor in the Laboratory of Organic Electronics, Department of Science and Technology at Linköping University.

The research group at Linköping University led by Eleni Stavrinidou has together with Totte Niittylä and his group from Umeå Plant Science Centre developed sugar sensors based on organic electrochemical transistors that can be implanted in plants.

While biosensors for monitoring sugar levels in humans are widely available, in particular the glucometer used by people who have diabetes, this technology has not previously been applied to plants. The newly developed biosensors can monitor the sugar levels of trees in real time, continuously for up to two days. The information from the sensors can be related to growth and other biological processes. Plants use sugars for energy, and sugars are also important signal substances that influence the development of the plant and its response to changes in the surrounding environment.

“The sensors now are used for basic plant science research but in the future, they can be used in agriculture to optimise the conditions for growth or to monitor the quality of the product, for example. In the long term, the sensors can also be used to guide the production of new types of plants that can grow in non-optimal conditions”, says Eleni Stavrinidou.

The mechanisms by which plant metabolism is regulated and how changes in sugar levels affect growth are still relatively unknown. Previous experiments have typically used methods that rely on detaching parts of the plant. However, the sensor developed by the research group gives information without damaging the plant and may provide further pieces of the puzzle of how plant metabolism works.

“We discovered diurnal variation in sucrose levels in the xylem sap of aspen that had not been previously observed”, says Totte Niittylä, senior lecturer at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. “Sucrose is the main form of transported carbon in plants. We can now use this technology to study the effect of developmental and environmental cues on the xylem sap sucrose levels. This will help us on our quest to understand how trees allocate carbon between growth and storage.”

The research was mainly funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No. 800926 (FET-OPEN HyPhOE). Additional funding comes from: the Wallenberg Wood Science Center, the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, VINNOVA, the Swedish Research Council, and the Swedish Strategic Research Area in New Functional Materials (AFM) at Linköping University.

The article

Diurnal in Vivo Xylem Sap Glucose and Sucrose Monitoring Using Implantable Organic Electrochemical Transistor Sensors Chiara Diacci, Tayebeh Abedi, Jeewoong Lee, Erik O. Gabrielsson, Magnus Berggren, Daniel T. Simon, Totte Niittylä, Eleni Stavrinidou iScience 2020
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.isci.2020.101966

Link to the Swedish news on the homepage of Linköping University

For more information, please contact:

Eleni Stavrinidou
Department of Science and Technology (ITN)
Laboratory of Organic Electronics (LOE)
Linköping University
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: +46 11 36 33 52
https://liu.se/en/employee/elest58

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.
Phone: +46 90 786 8434
https://www.upsc.se/totte_niittyla

Text: Anders Ryttarson Törneholm

Several female scientists currently working at UPSC
Several of the female scientists that are currently working at UPSCSeveral of the female scientists that are currently working at UPSC

[2021-02-11] Today is the International Day for Women and Girls in Science. We have asked three female professors at UPSC who are at different states in their career about their way to science, their career and their ideas to inspire the next generation of women in science.

The purpose of the International Day for Women and Girls in Science is to empower women and girls in science to achieve equality. It was established in 2005 by the United Nations General Assembly and implemented by UNESCO and UN-Women. According to UN-Women, 30 percent of researchers world-wide are women and they are still disadvantaged in their career.

Why did you choose to become a scientist?

Anita Sellstedt: It is my basic curiosity for natural science that has been and is still my driving force. That has led me into basic science. In addition, I have always been interested in research that could be of benefit for developing countries. This research has now turned out to also be sustainable, such as nitrogen fixation and hydrogen production by the aid of bacteria.

Åsa Strand: I was always very curious and creative, and I also wanted to do my own thing. A scientific career suited my personality.

Stéphanie Robert: To be a scientist was just obvious for me. I was also very curious and was fascinated by what science can do in our everyday life.

Do you remember a key moment that influenced your decision to go into science?

Åsa Strand: Yes, when I was in high school a relative introduced me to the work of Barbara McClintock. I can still remember how fascinated I was by the “jumping genes”. When I got to see the actual corn cobs of Barbara McClintock when I was invited to Cold Spring Harbor for a seminar - it was a special moment.

Stéphanie Robert: In my childhood, my grandmother had a very cutting-edge heart operation, and I remember being on the hospital parking lot and thinking that I wanted to participate in the scientific progress that led the surgeons to perform such an operation. I am not working in the medical field today, but we are doing basic research and you never know to which applications your results might lead in the future.

Anita Sellstedt: The key moment for me came when I had taken my last course in plant physiology and I was able to do a project on nitrogen fixation. Then I felt that “This is my research field”. The interaction between plants and bacteria, a combination of plant physiology and microbiology, was fascinating me throughout my career.

What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome during your career?

Stéphanie Robert: At the beginning of my work as a group leader, I struggled because I was trained as a scientist by being in the lab as a PhD and post-doc fellow but not to lead and mentor other people. The science was not a problem, but many other things were such as hiring people, understanding how to make a budget, how to write successful grant applications, how to learn to not say “yes to everything”, or dealing with conflicts within the group. I am still learning every day.

Anita Sellstedt: I think that the uncertainty with fundings was the main obstacle for me. When I was a PhD student, I was funded several years by stipends and to be able to continue as a research after my PhD, I had also to apply for funding. Perhaps the new system with Assistant Professor positions that come with some fundings is better. You are evaluated after a couple of years and hopefully get the option to continue your research.

Åsa Strand: Early in my career it was to fight against the ingrained notion that women are not as career driven as men and that we do not have the same wish to excel and are rather happy to be in the background. Now that I am in leadership position this is something that I am very conscious of.

What do you think can we do to inspire the next generation of women in science?

Åsa Strand: If anything good has come out of this horrible pandemic it is that it has become clear how important science is to our society. Being part of that process is rewarding and should appeal to and inspire also the next generation of both men and women.

Anita Sellstedt: I think the best way to inspire the next generation of women in science is to have basic fundings. Next it is of importance to have a mentor system with female scientists that can meet with the newly recruited scientist and discuss both science and other things around work. Perhaps, it also would be good if the female mentor is within a similar field as the newly recruited scientist. I also think that the structure of the Departments at Umeå University of today with representatives of equal opportunities gives a basic structure that will benefit for the underrepresented group, for example women in science.

Stéphanie Robert: Seeing women from many backgrounds doing science their own way is inspiring, I think. The diversity of women in science should be the same than in the real world. The important thing is to find your own way to do science.

What skills do you think should young (female) researchers have or develop when starting their career in science nowadays?

Anita Sellstedt: The skills of most importance are to have real interest in the specific field of science, stubbornness, as well as both moral and financial support, and other female scientists to discuss with.

Åsa Strand: It is important to be smart and build your scientific profile, develop a research profile that is both unique and desirable. Define your own research question that is relevant to your specific field and that can be elevated into a more general context. Express clearly what you want and what your goals are. Accept tasks that you initially feel that you are not quite ready for, take on the challenge and make yourself ready and you will be rewarded by valuable experiences that will get you ahead.

Stéphanie Robert: Self-assessment. The most important to me is to be able to identify what are your strong and weak points. You can build on your strong points and request help on the weakest ones. Nobody knows it all, but it is good to be able to listen to constructive comments and integrate them in your way of doing things. This is valid for any gender.

The three interviewed professors from UPSC: Stéphanie Robert (left), Anita Sellstedt (middle) and Åsa Strand (right)The three interviewed professors from UPSC: Stéphanie Robert (left), Anita Sellstedt (middle) and Åsa Strand (right)

Stéphanie Robert was recently, in the end of 2020, appointed as professor at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences recently. She studies how plant cells require their shape and received the Sven and Ebba-Christina Hagberg Prize for her research achievements in 2019.

Read more about Stéphanie Robert’s research

Anita Sellstedt, since 2002 professor at the Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, is studying energy production by microorganism. She has received two prizes for the environmental impact of her research and has been for several years’ equal opportunity representative at the department. Anita Sellstedt will retire in 2021.

Read more about Anita Sellstedt’s research

Åsa Strand became professor at the Department of Plant Physiology in 2013. Her research focus is on the regulation of cellular energy metabolism. Åsa Strand received in 2019 the Physiologia Plantarum Prize from the Scandinavian Plant Physiology Society (SPPS), she is currently member of the Scientific Council for Natural and Engineering Sciences that is appointed by the Swedish Research Council and she coordinates two large SSF (Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research) project grants.

Read more about Åsa Strand’s research

Norway Spruce seedlings growing in the greenhouse (photo taken by Sonali Ranade)
Norway Spruce seedlings growing in the greenhouse (photo taken by Sonali Ranade)Norway Spruce seedlings growing in the greenhouse (photo: Sonali Ranade)

[2021-02-01] Sweden is a country with big differences in light conditions between the South and the North. Norway spruce tolerates low light or shade generally well but Sonali Ranade and Rosario García-Gil from UPSC showed now that there are latitudinal differences. Seedlings from Northern Sweden are better adapted to low light conditions than seedlings from Southern Sweden. This genetic adaptation seems to come along with a higher resistance to diseases. The results were published last week in the journal Planta.

The researchers from UPSC compared the growth of Norway spruce seedlings that derive from different latitudes in Sweden and showed that the seedlings from the north were better adapted to shady conditions than the ones from the south. When analysing the genetic set-up of the different trees, they found, among other, differences in genes involved in lignin and cell wall synthesis, in stress responses and immunity. The two researchers concluded that the northern Norway spruce populations have not only adapted to low light conditions but might be also more resistant to diseases.

“Shade causes stress to most plants. They try to grow towards light so that they can use the full light energy for their photosynthesis,” says Sonali Ranade, postdoctoral researcher in Rosario García-Gil’s research group. “In a previous study, we saw that Norway spruce seedlings are more shade tolerant than for example Scots pine seedlings. Now, we realized that this is not so simple. The seedlings from the north developed longer stems than the seedlings in the south when growing under shady conditions. This shows that Norway spruce is able to adapt to local light conditions and we think that this goes along with modifications of the lignin metabolism.”

The lignin content often decreases when plants are exposed to low light conditions and this weakens the stem. Lignin is one of the main components in cell walls and helps to make the walls stronger allowing the plant to grow upright. In the cell walls, lignin also provides a barrier for pathogens to enter the cells. By scaling up lignin and cell wall biosynthesis and in parallel activating defence related genes, the northern Norway spruce populations might be able to adapt to shady conditions and in parallel improve their resistance to diseases.

“Studying the genetic diversity of trees from the same species help us to understand how plants adapt to local climatic conditions”, explains Rosario García-Gil, group leader at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences that is part of UPSC. “In Northern Sweden, the trees experience extended periods of shade-like conditions during their growing season. Climate change might lead to higher temperatures, but the light conditions will not change. To know the genetic factors that allow trees to adapt to the local conditions is crucial for forest breeding.”

Norway spruce is one of the most important tree species for forest industry in Sweden. To find the best adapted trees for a certain location is one forest management strategy to deal with climate change. Genetic markers like the genes identified in this study are used as tools to characterize different tree variants. The long-term goal is to identify as many marker genes as possible for a wide range of environmental conditions, including for example light, temperature and resistance to diseases. This will allow to design forest management strategies specifically adjusted to the local conditions.

About the article:

Ranade, S.S., García-Gil, M.R. Molecular signatures of local adaptation to light in Norway spruce. Planta 253, 53 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00425-020-03517-9

The previous study:

Ranade, S.S., Delhomme, N. & García-Gil, M.R. Transcriptome analysis of shade avoidance and shade tolerance in conifers. Planta 250, 299–318 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00425-019-03160-z

For more information, please contact:

Sonali Ranade
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.

María Rosario García-Gil
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/rosario_garcia