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Vetenskapsrådet granted three research projects associated with UPSC. The projects from Catherine Bellini, Ewa Mellerowicz and Xiao-Ru Wang will address adventitious root initiation, signalling from secondary cell walls and the processes of hybrid speciation and adaptation to extreme habitats.

Catherine Bellini, Professor at Umeå University and group leader at UPSC, works on adventitious root initiation. Adventitious roots play an important role for plant vegetative propagation. Many factors are involved in the initiation of adventitious roots and Catherine Bellini’s group has identified several of them. The aim of the approved project is to understand better how those different factors act together and cross-talk with each other.

Ewa Mellerowicz, Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and group leader at UPSC, focuses in her research on wood formation. Wood is produced by the activity of the vascular cambium, which consists of actively dividing cells. Ewa Mellerowicz's group and others have recently observed that certain modifications of the secondary cell wall composition of wood cells lead to increased cambial growth. With the new funding from VR, they want to identify the key players that are involved in this novel signalling pathway.

One research focus of Xiao-Ru Wang, Professor at Umeå University and associated group leader at UPSC, is to understand which role hybridization between species plays for the evolution of new species. Hybridization is a very dynamic process that can generate genetic diversity for novel adaptation. With the new project, Xiao-Ru Wang and her group want to understand the process how new hybrids develop, and how they evolve to colonize new ecological niches.

Titles of the approved projects:
Catherine Bellini: Control of adventitious root initiation in Arabidopsis thaliana: deciphering the increasing complexity of molecular cross-talks
Ewa Mellerowicz: Novel signalling pathways from secondary walls
Xiao-Ru Wang: Dynamics of hybrid speciation and adaptation to extreme habitats

More information:
Catherine Bellini
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
Phone: +46 (0)90 786 9624
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. 
https://www.upsc.se/catherine_bellini

Ewa Mellerowicz
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Phone: +46 (0)90 786 8367
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
https://www.upsc.se/ewa_mellerowicz

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.
https://www.upsc.se/xiao-ru_wang
http://www.emg.umu.se/english/about-the-department/staff/wang-xiao-ru/

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The one week lasting intensive PhD course provided a brief overview of wood organization, chemistry and structure in conifers and hardwoods, from the molecular level to the tissue organization level, followed by an update on molecular, genetic and physiological aspects of wood cell differentiation and cell wall formation. Current tools for studying wood structure and chemical composition, as well as the bioinformatics tools available for wood biology were introduced with practical demonstrations. Lectures and seminars were given by experts in the field.

Read more here
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The new Master’s programme called “Plant Biology for Sustainable Production” is intended for national as well as international students. It is taught entirely in English. The teaching on this programme is strongly geared towards preparing students for research, and all four specialisations on the programme have links to strong research environments.

The program utilises competence on three campuses of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences located in Alnarp, Ultuna and Umeå. During the first year, all lectures are streamed live allowing to follow the courses from any of the three campuses.

During the second year, the students can specialise in either plant breeding and protection, abiotic and biotic interactions of plants or forest biotechnology. In fourth study track, students can decide to focus directly from the beginning on genetic and molecular plant biology.

Read more about SLU's new Master's programme here: 
https://www.slu.se/en/education/programmes-courses/masters-programmes/plant-biology-for-sustainable-production/

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Researchers at Umeå University and Wageningen University have discovered how plants can defend themselves against aphids. They recorded aphid behavior on video, and identified a plant protein that keeps aphids from feeding. The study is published in the journal The Plant Cell.

During her PhD, Karen Kloth studied aphid feeding behavior on different varieties of the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana, collected from 350 different locations on the northern hemisphere. Together with other Dutch researchers she built a video-tracking platform to measure how often aphids penetrated the plants and were feeding. On resistant plants, the aphids were feeding less from the sugar-rich sap than on susceptible plants. This behavior was associated with one specific plant gene, coding for a protein with unknown function.

In Benedicte Albrectsen’s lab at the Umeå Plant Science Centre, the researchers studied where in the plant the protein was located. They transformed plants with a fluorescent version of the protein, and found that the protein coats the inside of the vessels where sugar-rich sap is transported. In addition, it associated around mitochondria in the vessels.

Further experiments showed that aphids had a slower sap ingestion and produced fewer offspring on resistant plants. The researchers think that the protein might occlude the narrow food canal of the aphid. At high temperature, plants produced more of the protein and were more resistant to aphids. In addition, plants with the protein had another advantage: they were able to produce more seeds during heat stress.

Karen Kloth, today Postdoc in Benedicte Albrectsen's lab, has been working for almost six years on this study: “In the beginning, we did not know if the video platform would work. We kept the aphids in a very artificial environment, and it is debatable whether this represents whole plants in natural conditions. When the first results confirmed that we had indeed found a new resistance gene, I was really excited.”

Natural plant resistance to aphids and better tolerance to heat stress are of interest for plant breeding companies. Breeding crops with effective resistance proteins can help to reduce insecticide application and yield losses due to hot conditions. In the long term, this research might help to produce more sustainable fruits and vegetables.

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You can find the full publication and videos recorded at the video-tracking platform under these links:
http://www.plantcell.org/content/early/2017/09/27/tpc.16.00424 (publication)
Video 1 Plant (open access)
Video 2 Plant (open access)

For more information please contact:
Karen Kloth, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.



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The Department of Plant Physiology started its work at Umeå University in 1967. It is now part of the Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC), a world leading plant research institute. UPSC celebrates the 50 years anniversary with a three-day lasting symposium about the past, the present and the future of Plant Science in Umeå (and the world). The Symposium will take place on August 21-23 at the UPSC in Umeå.

The research at UPSC today is fundamentally different from the science of 1967. UPSC comprises not only the Department of Plant Physiology but also the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), founded in the late 1970s. These two Departments joined their forces in 1999 and created the Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC), first “virtually”, and in 2001 also physically.

Today, over 200 persons from about 45 different nationalities work at the UPSC - in contrast to the handful of people that started in August 1967. How has this tremendous development been possible, where is plant science today and what is its importance for the society and the citizens of Sweden? These are questions that will be discussed during the anniversary symposium.

The first day of the symposium will focus on the history of plant science in Umeå. On the second day, current group leaders from the UPSC will present their research and the third day concentrates on future perspectives of Plant Science. The invited speakers are famous plant scientist from all over the world, who influenced the development of Plant Science in Umeå. They are all honorary doctors either at Umeå University or at SLU.

The history of Plant Science in Umeå is now also summarized in a booklet (in English) that will be printed for the Symposium. This booklet is based on a more detailed book with the title “Från King Alfred till grangenomet: 50 år av växtforskning i Umeå” (in Swedish) that will be published presumably in autumn 2017.

More about the symposium:

Event: Plant Science 50years in Umeå Symposium
Date: 21-23 of August
Place: Umeå Plant Science Centre, Umeå University Campus, Umeå
 
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Programme for download: pdfProgramme_Anniversary_Symposium.pdf

For questions please contact:
Anne Honsel, UPSC Communication officer
phone: +46 (0)90 786 8139
mobile: +46 (0)70 285 6657
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
 
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[2017-06-20] Ten new members from different fields were inaugurated to the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences during the second Assembly of the Academy. Stefan Jansson, professor at UPSC and Umeå university, was elected into the Division for Biotechnology.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences (IVA) is an independent engineering academy that fosters knowledge transfer activities and projects, and has the intention to have an impact on societal development and policy making.

“It’s an extreme honour to be inducted into IVA. Hopefully my experience in plant biotechnology will be of some help in the Academy’s projects and activities,” says Stefan Jansson.


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[2017-06-16] Åsa Strand, Stefan Björklund and Martin Rosvall, all researchers at Umeå University, have been awarded 35 million SEK from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research for a five-year research program on systems biology. The interdisciplinary project aims to map how plants react to abiotic stresses such as drought or extreme temperatures.

The three researchers from Umeå University bring different expertise to this interdisciplinary project. Åsa Strand’s research is focussed on cellular signalling events, how a change in the environment is perceived and transduced to the nucleus. Stefan Björklund is an expert in the regulation of gene expression in the nucleus and Martin Rosvall develops mathematical models and algorithms to map complex networks. Together, they want to decode how plants acclimate to stressful growth environments.

“We plan to use several different large-scale methods in our project to study how plants can defend themselves against different kinds of stress, e.g. heat, cold or salinity”, explains Åsa Strand, Professor in cell and molecular biology and main applicant of the project. “Extreme heat or cold as well as limited water availability are stress situations that lead to reduced plant productivity and yield.”

Organisms respond to stress primarily by changing their gene expression. Stress signals are received by receptors either on the surface of a cell or by cellular organelles. These stress signals are then transmitted further to the nucleus in the cell where genes are activated to later be translated into proteins that are needed to adapt the organism to the stress situation. A large protein complex in the nucleus, the Mediator complex is conserved in all eukaryotic organisms and plays an essential role in the activation of genes.

“Our research focuses on the role of the Mediator complex in plant acclimation to stress”, says Stefan Björklund, Professor in Medical Biochemistry. “The Mediator complex is a central point that coordinates different signals and controls how much of certain proteins is synthesised so that cells can adapt in the best way to a changing environment. Our hypothesis is that reactions to stress lead to effects in the cell nucleus in a complex and coherent manner.”

Many recent methods for biological research generate massive amounts of data. The challenge is to interpret and analyze these data to infer causal mechanisms. Only by combining large-scale analyses with computational modelling is it possible to better understand interactions between different components in stress response. In this project, Martin Rosvall, Associate Professor in physics, will lead this component of the programme.

“The wide expertise available at the Chemical Biological Centre (KBC) at Umeå University has been crucial for the cooperation that is the basis of our application”, underlines Martin Rosvall. “We are glad to be part of this interdisciplinary research environment.”

Systems biology is a growing research area that aims to understand complex relationships within biological systems. The Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research (SSF) has approved nine projects in the frame of the call for proposals in the field of Systems biology and will support those projects in total with 300 million SEK.


Link to the Swedish Press Release from Umeå University
Link to the press release from SSF (in Swedish only)

Read more about Åsa Strand’s research
Read more about Stefan Björklund’s research
Read more about Martin Rosvall’s research

For more information, please contact:
Åsa Strand, Professor, Umeå Plant Science Centre, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University
Phone: 090-786 93 14, 070-309 62 97
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Stefan Björklund, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics, Umeå University
Phone: 070-216 28 90
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Martin Rosvall, Associate Professor, Department of Physics, Umeå University
Phone: 070-239 19 73
email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


On the 20th of May 2017, the Fascination of Plants Day 2017 was organised at Sliperiet in Umeå. Many people visited Sliperiet for the Fascination of Plants Day 2017 in Umeå although it was the first nice spring weekend in Umeå. The visitors could try to take an aphid on the leash, taste CRISPR-ig chips made from gene-modified cabbage, isolate DNA from strawberries and participate in many other activities, all related to plants. Have a look on the short movie to get an impression about the Fascination of Plants Day 2017 in Umeå.

The event in Umeå was organised by scientists from the Umeå Plant Science Centre and from other Departments from Umeå University and from the Swedish University of Agricultural Science, as well as by Arboretum Norr, the urban gardeners Umeå together with Studiefrämjandet, the horticulture class from Forslunda Gymnasiet, the Swedish Bonsai society (Bonsaisällskapet) and The Swedish Society for Nature Conservation (Naturskyddsföreningen).

The International Fascination of Plants Day falls always on the 18th of May and is launched under the umbrella of the European Plant Science Organisation (EPSO). It is a biannual event, first organised in 2012 on a European level, but now activities are organised all over the world. The aim is to fascinated people for plants and to generate awareness for the importance of plant science.

You can find more information about the event in Umeå here:
http://www.fascinerandevaxtersdag.se/aktiviteter/106-fascinerande-vaexters-dag-i-umea-2017.html
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[2017-05-30] All living organisms harbour complex chemical networks inside their cells. The sum of all these chemical reactions is the driving force of life and is called metabolism. Stefano Papazian, PhD student at the Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, has studied how plants adapt their metabolic networks to respond to different environmental stresses. He will defend his thesis on Friday, 2nd of June 2017.

In the environment, constant exposure to both living and non-living factors make plants vulnerable to a variety of threats. As plants cannot escape, they rely on their inner chemistry to confront all sorts of challenging scenarios.

“Plants are masters of metabolism, which they can re-shape and adjust according to their different needs,” says Stefano Papazian. “We can see plants as very sophisticated chemical factories. They are able to produce thousands of different compounds, each one presenting unique biological properties.”

Most of these chemical compounds – called phytochemicals, play an important role inside the plant, for instance in the defence against insects that feed on leaves. In his research, Stefano Papazian aimed to understand how the plant chemistry helps plants to defend against insect pests, such as butterfly caterpillars and aphids.

Different insects cause different damage to the plant. While some butterfly caterpillars chew on the leaves, aphids feed by piercing through the plant surface and sucking its sap. “The plant metabolic response is very specific, and it adapts its defence strategy according to the different enemies the plant encounters,” says Stefano Papazian.

Plants produce many toxic compounds that can impair and slow down the growth of their enemies, but in order to do so, they have to balance other central metabolic activities, such as photosynthesis. Stefano Papazian’s findings show that, in addition to producing substances to defend against caterpillar and aphid attacks, plants also reconfigure their sugar composition.

In his research, Stefano Papazian also studied how air pollution by ozone affects the plant-insect interaction. “At an altitude of 50 kilometres in the atmosphere the ozone layer protects us from UV solar radiation, but at ground-level ozone is a toxic air pollutant, which affects both human health and plants”, explains Stefano Papazian. He showed in his thesis how exposure to ozone affects the growth of insects and also results in changes in the plant metabolism with negative effects on photosynthesis and the ability to defend themselves.

“If we combine ecology with the study of plant chemistry and metabolism we can improve our understanding of plant-insect interactions in nature and agriculture. This comprehensive approach can help us to predict the effects of climate change and human impact on these delicate ecosystems,” says Stefano Papazian.

Stefano Papazian was born and raised in Milano, Italy. He has a Bachelor's degree in Environmental Biotechnology from the University of Milano (Italy) and a Master´s degree in Experimental Plant Biology from Stockholm University. He performed his graduate studies at the Plant Physiology Department of Umeå University within the Umeå Plant Science Centre and in collaboration with the Swedish Metabolomics Centre.

About the public defence of the dissertation:
Friday, 2nd of June, Stefano Papazian from the Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University will defend his thesis entitled Black Mustard and the Butterfly Effect. Metabolomics of Plant-Insect Interactions under Multiple Stress Conditions. The public defence will take place at 10.00 in ”Lilla Hörsalen” (KB.E3.01), in the KBC building at Umeå University. Faculty opponent is Professor Edward (Ted) Farmer, University of Lausanne, Switzerland.

Link to the full dissertation: urn:nbn:se:umu:diva-134653
Link to the Swedish press release on the homepage of Umeå University: http://www.teknat.umu.se/nyhet//.cid282856

For more information, please contact:
Stefano Papazian
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University

Phone: +4672 3160 854
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Text: Stefano Papazian, Anna-Lena Lindskog
Photo: Karen Kloth


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[2017-05-18] David Sundell has developed novel interactive web tools that can visualize and perform statistical analysis of gene expression data based on two high-spatial resolution datasets of wood development. One tool that can compare expression between species may help identify genes with conserved biological function. David Sundell will defend his thesis at Umeå University today.

David Sundell has analysed two high-spatial resolution datasets profiling wood development from the angiosperm tree aspen (Populus tremula) and from the conifer species Norway spruce (Picea abies). For each of the datasets he developed a web resource (AspWood och NorWood ) including tools for the exploration of gene expression, co-expression and functional enrichment of gene sets.

One developed resource (ComPlEx) allows interactive, comparative co-expression analysis between species to identify conserved and diverged co-expression modules. These tools make it possible to identifying conserved regulatory modules that can focus downstream research and provide biologists with a resource to identify regulatory genes for targeted trait improvement.

 “The goal was to provide a platform (PlantGenIE) where scientists can investigate the processes underlying wood formation including comparative analysis between species”, says David Sundell. “My research has resulted in a set of powerful resources for identifying genes controlling wood development and the functional properties of wood. This probably allows to develop new varieties with increased biomass or optimal properties for downstream uses such as bioenergy uses in a more targeted way.”

Research on wood development conducted in conifer tree species is limited. The majority of research has been conducted in model angiosperm species such as Arabidopsis thaliana. Using model organisms such as aspen and Norway spruce is possible due to the fact that all living organisms derive from a common ancestor. This means that a gene that exists in two species had the same function at the time of divergence from their last common ancestor. Throughout evolution, the function of the two gene copies may diverge, but a signature of the shared ancestry remains in the DNA sequence of the two gene copies.

The identification of such orthologous genes and of the regulatory pathways controlling those genes by comparing sequences similarities from angiosperms and gymnosperms is limited due to the large evolutionary distance between these two plant groups. The have diverged hundreds of millions of years ago. At such large evolutionary distances additional information, such as gene expression data, is required for functional annotation.

Lignocellulose from plants is the most abundant source of terrestrial biomass and is one of the energy sources that can potentially replace fossil fuels. For a country such as Sweden, where the forest industry accounts for 10% of total economic export, increased plant biomass yields would not only be beneficial for the environment, but also for the economy of the country.

About the defence:

Thursday, the 18th of May, David Sundell, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, will defend his thesis with the title: Novel resources enabling comparative regulomics in forst tree species. Swedish titel: Nya verktyg för komparativ regulomik i skogsträd.

The public defence will be in Lilla hörsalen KB3A9, KBC-huset.

Faculty opponent is Professor Klaas Vandepoele, VIB/Ghent University, Belgium.

For more information, please contact:

David Sundell, 
Phone: +46705943742
E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Text: David Sundell