SPPS prizes 2019 1920x1080The three SPPS awardees from UPSC (from left to right): Åsa Strand, Torgny Näsholm and Karin Ljung (Photo: Anne Honsel)

The council of the Scandinavian Plant Physiology Society (SPPS) has selected the winners of the SPPS Prizes 2019. Three of the seven awardees are affiliated with the Umeå Plant Science Centre. Karin Ljung receives the SPPS Prize, Åsa Strand the Physiologia Plantarum Prize and Torgny Näsholm receives the SPPS Innovation Prize together with Barbara Halkier from the DynaMo Center at the University of Copenhagen.

SPPS is awarding biannually six prizes to acknowledge scientists, located in one of the Nordic countries, for outstanding achievements in plant sciences. Karin Ljung, group leader at UPSC and professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), is receiving the SPPS Prize for her extensive and significant contributions to plant science. She started her own group at UPSC in 2005 and is now for five years in a row acknowledged as one of the Highly Cited Researchers by Clarivate Analytics. Her research focusses on root growth and development and the role of plant growth substances in these processes.

The Physiologia Plantarum Prize goes to Åsa Strand for her recently published ground-breaking work. Åsa Strand, also UPSC group leader and professor at Umeå University, wants to understand how the chloroplasts and mitochondria communicate with the nucleus. Her group identified in one of her recent publications in the journal Nature Communications a new molecular link that synchronizes gene expression in the chloroplast and the nucleus during seedling development in response to light. The Physiologia Plantarum Prize is the only SPPS prize that is open to all researchers world-wide and not only to SPPS-members.

The SPPS Innovation Prize honours scientists who manage to transfer their basic plant research into practical applications. Torgny Näsholm, associated group leader at UPSC and professor at SLU, and Barbara Halkier, professor at the University of Copenhagen and head of the DynaMo Center, are sharing the prize this year. Torgny Näsholm demonstrated that trees use amino acid molecules as nitrogen source. His findings led to the development of new fertilizers. Barbara Halkier and her group are working on plant-specific substances that are serving for example as defence compounds. Based on their results, they have together with Bayer Crop Science developed a new, more resistant oilseed crop.

The other three awards go to Jens Sundström and Charles Melnyk, both from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in Uppsala, and to Moona Rahikainen from the University of Turku. She receives the SPPS Best PhD thesis prize. Jens Sundström receives the SPPS Popularisation Prize, a prize that awards public engagement for plant research. Charles Melnyk gets the SPPS Early Career Prize to honour the significant progress he made in setting up his independent research group. The awards are officially handed over in the biannual SPPS Congress that will be held this August in Umeå.

More information about the prizes on the SPPS homepage: http://spps.se/spps-prizes/

More information about the prize winners:
Karin Ljung: www.upsc.se/karin_ljung
Åsa Strand: www.upsc.se/asa_strand
Torgny Näsholm: www.upsc.se/torgny_nasholm and https://www.slu.se/en/cv/torgny-nasholm/
Barbara Halkier: https://dynamo.ku.dk/people/halkier/
Jens Sundström: https://www.slu.se/en/departments/plant-biology-forest-genetics/research/groups/jens-sundstrom/
Charles Melnyk: https://melnyklab.wordpress.com/
Moona Rahikainen: https://www.utu.fi/en/people/moona-rahikainen
Link to her PhD thesis: https://www.utupub.fi/bitstream/handle/10024/145000/AnnalesAI582Rahikainen.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Sommarin marianne 0801 110923 EBE 1920x1080Marianne Sommarin, Professor at the Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University (Photo: Elin Berge)

The University board of Umeå University has decided to award Marianne Sommarin with Umeå University’s Medal for Merit. The Medal is given to people that made particularly significant contribution to the University.

Marianne Sommarin started to work as guest professor at the Umeå Plant Science Centre in 2003 and became Professor at Umeå University in 2018. She was Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Umeå University in the years 2008-2016, advisor for the Vice-Chancellor and had assignments for a number of national research infrastructures. She is currently chair of the national board of the MAX IV Laboratory, the Swedish synchroton facility.

Find more information in the Swedish Press Release from Umeå University

SonaliRanade ScotsPine forest 1920x1080 2Swedish Scots Pine forest; photo: Sonali Ranade

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation approved large projects on tree research. SEK 180 million will be invested for research on tree genes, forest biotechnology and forest genetics. The projects involve a collaboration between UPSC and the Science for Life Laboratory.

The projects are coordinated by Ove Nilsson, director of UPSC, and Ulf Gyllensten from Uppsala University. The first project aims to identify new genes that control growth and wood formation in trees. Part of this project is based on a fully automated phenotyping platform that is established at UPSC. Hundreds of trees can be grown on conveyor belts at this platform and their growth and other properties are automatically measured. This platform is so far unique for dedicated tree research.

The other project has a focus on genomics and forest genetics and will follow up on the large project that led to the first mapping of a conifer tree genome, the Norway spruce genome. That previous project was also funded by the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation and was as well a collaboration between UPSC and the Science for Life Laboratory. In the new project, an updated and significantly improved version of the spruce genome will be developed. In parallel, the genome of Scots pine will be sequenced.

Moreover, genetic variations in the genome of thousands of spruce and pine trees that are linked to the Swedish coniferous breeding programs will be analysed. This will provide important basic research tools to understand the trees' natural variation and allow the development of new efficient tools for tree breeding, so-called genomic selection. This part of the project takes place in close collaboration with the Forestry Research Institute of Sweden (Skogforsk).

The projects are approved together with another project on forest production and forest management at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) that is coordinated by Tomas Lundmark. The latter project will ensure that the entire potential of the genetics project and the latest breakthroughs in plant nutrition research are further exploited and developed. With the support of new digital technology, forest growth will be enhanced by increasing the diversity in forestry. The idea is to combine the right plant with the right forest management action at the right place to get the best growth-enhancing effect.

Forest management programs will be developed by utilizing the latest basic research on how tree growth is affected by ecophysiological factors such as nutrition and water, how trees collaborate with fungi and microorganisms and on the effect of tree competition, not least under the ground. The aim is to at least double the growth increase that is reached today. With enlarged availability of renewable forest raw materials, the forest can further contribute to the growing bioeconomy and mitigate the effects of climate change.

For questions please contact:
Professor Ove Nilsson, SLU
email:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Phone: 070-286 90 82

Professor Tomas Lundmark, SLU
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
phone: 070-631 74 12

Link to the press release on the SLU homepage

Ljung Karin 3157 160210 MPN 1920x1080Photo: Mattias Pettersson

[2018-12-18] Formas, a Swedish Research Council for sustainable development, announced yesterday the members of their Scientific Council for the coming three-year period. Karin Ljung will be one of the thirteen members of the council. She was already member of Formas’ Scientific Council in 2016-2018 and her mandate was extended now for another period.

Formas is the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning. It is a government agency that belongs to the Ministry of the Environment and Energy. Formas is funding research within the areas of environment, agricultural sciences and spatial planning.

Seven of the members of Formas’ Scientific Council are researchers that are elected by an electoral community of other researchers from Swedish universities. The other six members are assigned by the government. The Scientific Council decides on the focus of the research that will be funded and how the funding will be allocated.

Link to the Swedish announcement on Formas’ homepage:
IMG 4877 Strand group Dec 2018a 1920x1080Åsa Strand (first from left in the first row) and her group in December 2018 (photo: Anne Honsel)
[2018-12-13] The Swedish Research Council announced the new members of its board and of its scientific councils. Åsa Strand, professor at UPSC, is one of the nine members of the Scientific Council for Natural and Engineering Sciences. Her mandate is for three years (2019-2021).

The Swedish Research Council is a government agency within the Ministry of Education and Research that fund research and research infrastructure in all scientific disciplines. The council also has an advisory role to the Government on research policy issues and work to increase understanding of the long-term societal benefits of research.

The new members of the Scientific Councils are elected by an election assembly that is formed by representatives from the Swedish higher education institutions. In total, 165 electors are selected to appoint the new members of the three Scientific Councils and also the members of the board of the Swedish Research Council.

IMG 4900 AgriseraPrize2018 920x1080The Agrisera prize 2018 was presented to Sacha Escamez (middle) by Joanna Porankiewicz-Asplund (right) from Agrisera and by the chair of the UPSC board, Catherine Bellini (left). Photo: Anne Honsel

[2018-12-12] Sacha Escamez receives this year’s UPSC Agrisera Prize. The award was announced today during the traditional UPSC Christmas lunch. Sacha Escamez is awarded for his scientific achievements and engagement in scientific discussions at UPSC and for his valuable contribution in upgrading the UPSC microscopy platform. The prize values that Sacha Escamez’s diverse commitments helped to improve UPSC’s work and social environment.

Sacha Escamez successfully carried out research on the regulation of lignification and cell death during xylem development first as a PhD student and now as postdoc in Hannele Tuominen’s group. He actively participates in and encourages scientific discussions at UPSC and also promoted his research in a public science talk for the Swedish television last year.

This year, he invested a lot of time in upgrading the UPSC microscopy platform by collecting the requirements and wishes from his colleagues, testing out different systems and negotiating with the companies. He is taking on a key role in setting up single molecule detection methods that can be done with the new instrumentation at the UPSC microscopy platform, and he will help to introduce users to those new methods.

The UPSC Agrisera Prize is awarded every year to a PhD student, Postdoc or technician at UPSC for excellent scientific achievement and positive contributions to improve the UPSC working environment. Four nominations were sent in by Sacha Escamez’s colleagues for the UPSC Agrisera Prize this year. Sacha Escamez’s nomination stuck out because it emphasized not only his scientific achievement and encouragement for the microscopy platform but also his social engagement (e.g. by creating the UPSC innebandy team) to make UPSC a nice place to work at.

Link to the video of Sacha Escamez public science talk "How do plants make plumbing pipes from cells?"
Haas Julia 9594 170116 MPN 1920x1080Julia Haas; photo: Mattias Pettersson

Climate change will affect Norway spruce trees and also the bacteria and fungi that are living in symbiosis with the tree. Julia Haas showed in her PhD thesis that Norway spruce uses special strategies to adjust to cold and drought stress and that the microbial community living together with the trees is more diverse when the trees are fertilized. Her findings are important to predict how future boreal forests can cope with the changing environment. Julia Haas will defend her PhD thesis on Friday, 14th of December at Umeå University.

Higher temperatures, summer droughts and changes in the seasonal cycle with increasing late frost events in spring will not only compromise the productivity of Norway spruce forests but could threaten the existence of Norway spruce in boreal forests. Breeding for higher stress tolerance will help to adapt future tree generations to those challenges. Julia Haas identified genes that are involved in the regulation of drought and frost tolerance and therefore good targets for breeders to improve the tolerance against abiotic stresses in Norway spruce.

In her experiments, Julia Haas compared drought and frost responsive genes in Norway spruce seedlings with known changes in the herbaceous model plant Arabidopsis thaliana. Her results showed that well-known transcription factors that regulate the expression of a multitude of other genes in Arabidopsis under drought or frost were not expressed or lacking corresponding gene models in the Norway spruce genome.

“Norway spruce often grows in harsh environments and in extreme climates. This, together with the evolutionary distance to flowering plants can explain the observed differences”, explains Julia Haas. “It is not possible to just transfer knowledge from evolutionary younger but better studied agricultural crops or broad-leaved trees to Norway spruce. Breeding and genetic engineering of Norway spruce requires a special tool set making it more stress tolerant. My research provides a first insight into Norway spruce-specific mechanisms.”

The fitness of a tree is also influenced by microorganisms living in symbiosis with the tree. Bacteria and fungi can have beneficial effects on the growth and improve the abiotic stress tolerance of the plant host. However, climate change and human activities that increase the nutrient input in ecosystems can have both positive and negative effects on plant-associated microorganisms.

Julia Haas and her colleagues studied the diversity and composition of microorganisms in a Norway spruce forest that was fertilised over the last 25 years. Intriguingly, they found that the effect of fertilisation on the diversity of symbiotic fungi and bacteria was positive and that microbial communities with higher nutrient preferences established.

“Responses in this forest ecosystem are highly dynamic and processes involve complex interactions between fungi, bacteria and plants. But research has focussed for long time only on mycorrhizal fungi and trees. We need to start look at functions and the role other microorganisms play to fully comprehend how future changes will affect the whole ecosystem”, says Julia Haas. “Only then can we make reliable predictions about the robustness of the ecosystem to climate change.”

To identify beneficial plant microbiota is also interesting for the forest industry. The microorganisms can be applied in tree nurseries to improve the growth of the seedlings and this may help to secure tree production and growth in challenging climatic conditions in the future.

Julia Haas performed her graduate studies at the Umeå Plant Science Centre, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University. Her projects were in close collaboration with the Swedish forest company Holmen Skog AB.

Link to the thesis: http://umu.diva-portal.org/ 

About the thesis defence:

On Friday, the 14th of December, Julia Haas, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, will defend her thesis, entitled ’ Abiotic stress and plant microbe interaction in Norway spruce’. The public defence will take place at 10:00am in Carl Kempe salen (KB.E3.03) in the KBC building, Umeå University. The faculty opponent will be Jennifer Baltzer, Associate Professor and Canada Research Chair in Forest and Global Change Department of Biology, Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo, Canada. Supervisor of the PhD thesis was Vaughan Hurry.

For more information, please contact:
Julia Haas
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: Julia Haas, Anne Honsel

KarinLjung T1A8799 ElisabethOhlsonWallin 1920x1080Photo: Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin

Clarivate Analytics published recently their list of world-class researchers in social sciences and sciences. Karin Ljung is again one of those. Her papers are highly cited and rank in the top one percent in the field Plant & Animal Science in the years 2006-2016 in Web of Science.

Since 2014, Clarivate Analytics is publishing its Highly Cited Researchers list once a year based on citation analysis in Web of Science. In all five years, Karin Ljung was named in the list. This year, Clarivate Analytics extended their 21 field categories to a new category that considers researchers that publish across fields. About 6000 researchers are identified in the list as top researcher, 4000 in specific fields like Karin Ljung and 2000 in the new category “Cross-Field”.

The Clarivate Analytics list of Highly Cited Researchers 2018:

Read more about the methodology how Clarivate Analytics selects Highly Cited Researchers:

Here you can find more about Karin Ljung's research and a publication list
HyPhOE applications logo 1920x1080

The HyPhOE project – Hybrid Electronics based on Photosynthetic Organisms – has held its start-up meeting. It provided an opportunity for the participating groups to share knowledge and plan common strategies.

The HyPhOE project is part of Horizon 2020, and is looking for ways to use plants, algae and bacteria to manufacture electronic materials and devices. The project is led by the Laboratory of Organic Electronics (LOE) at LiU, Campus Norrköping, and its Electronic Plants research group, with Eleni Stavrinidou as principal investigator.

In addition to researchers from LOE, the project has participants from the Umeå Plant Science Center in Sweden, the University of Bari in Italy, and two universities in France: Institut Polytechnique de Bordeaux and Université Paris Diderot. The involved researchers from UPSC are Totte Niittylä and Torgny Näsholm.

More information about the project can be found here:

News article about the project on the homepage of Linköping University:

Project information on the homepage from the European Commission:

Information about electronic plants and the responsible group on the homepage of Linköping University:
Electronic Plants: https://liu.se/en/research/electronic-plants
Laboratory of Organic Electronics (LOE): https://liu.se/en/research/laboratory-of-organic-electronics

Formas2018 1920x1080From left to right: Carolin Seyfferth, Nathaniel Street, Xiao-Ru Wang and Hannele Tuominen; photo: Anne Honsel

Last week, Formas announced the decision for their annual open calls. Four projects affiliated with UPSC got granted. Carolin Seyfferth, postdoc in Hannele Tuominen’s group, received a mobility starting grant and the group leaders Nathaniel Street, Hannele Tuominen and Xiao-Ru Wang got funding for their research and development projects. All four projects focus on tree research.

Carolin Seyfferth will use her funding to search for genes that control chemical and physical wood properties like the content of cellulose and lignin, the density or the stiffness of the wood. She will use samples that were collected from aspen trees grown at different locations in Sweden. By comparing their genetic and transcriptomic differences with their biochemical wood properties, she hopes to find marker genes or gene networks that regulate respective wood properties. The mobility starting grant offers her to visit other labs with special expertise and resources that will help validating the most interesting gene sets.

Nathaniel Street will use data from the same collection of aspen trees as Carolin Seyfferth but he will focus on compounds that are produced by the trees for example to defend themselves against animal or fungi attacks. He wants to identify the genes that control the production of those compounds. Many of these compounds are of medicinal or commercial value and may also have an impact on the diverse communities of bacteria and fungi that are growing together with the tree in a beneficial way. To understand how the production of those compounds is controlled and can be reengineered will open up new possibilities for commercial forestry.

The project of Hannele Tuominen has the purpose to identify aspen genes that control tree features interesting for bioenergy or biofuel production. She will focus on a wide range of features including biomass production, wood chemistry and pathogen resistance. By comparing the genetic setup of a collection of different aspen variants, she wants to select marker genes that might help improve breeding for certain desired features. The best variants from the characterised collection can be directly used for example for short-rotation plantations of aspen that are used already now for bioenergy or biofuel production.

Xiao-Ru Wang, group leader at the Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences and affiliated with UPSC, will work with another tree species, Scots pine. Her goal is to evaluate the genetic diversity in natural stands, breeding populations and production seed orchard crops in Sweden. She will compare the genetic variation in Scandinavia populations with other populations across the whole distribution range to understand the evolutionary history of Scots pine in Scandinavia, and how much of that diversity is captured in the breeding program for seedling production. This assessment will help to optimize current forest management for future challenges.

Link to the announcement from Formas:

The projects:

Carolin Seyfferth (Mobility grant):
Title: Regulation of wood properties in aspen and birch through large-scale gene expression studies

Nathanial Street (Research and development project grants):
Title: Engineering specialised metabolism in aspen

 Hannele Tuominen (Research and development project grants):
Title: Harnessing natural variation in aspen for forest feedstock improvement

 Xiao-Ru Wang (Research and development project grants):
Title: Genetic diversity in Swedish conifer forests: are there reasons for concern?


For more information contact the project leader or have a look on their homepage:

Carolin Seyfferth
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Nathaniel Street
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
Phone: +46 (0)90 786 5473
e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Hannele Tuominen
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
Phone: +46 (0)90 786 9693
e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Xiao-Ru Wang
Department of Ecology and Environmental Sciences
Umeå University
Phone: +46 90 786 99 55
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.