IMG 4122 1920x1080From left to right: Linn Fransson (Agrisera), Anna Gustavsson, Joanna Porankiewicz-Asplund (Agrisera), Catherine Bellini (Chair of the UPSC board); photo: Anne Honsel
[2017-12-12] The winner of the UPSC Agrisera Prize 2017 was announced today during the UPSC Christmas lunch. The prize is awarded to Anna Gustavsson for her contribution to promote cell biology research at UPSC.

Anna Gustavsson is honoured for her effort in developing and improving the UPSC confocal laser scanning microscopy/macroscopy platform and the platform services. Her useful advices helped to improve the work environment at UPSC and she contributed significantly to several cutting-edge research publications. Anna Gustavsson’s achievement benefitted a lot from Agrisera products emphasizing that she is a very good candidate for the prize even though this was no required criteria this year.

The UPSC Agrisera Prize was presented by Linn Fransson and Joanna Porankiewicz-Asplund from Agrisera and by the chair of the UPSC board, Catherine Bellini. The 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. It is a personal cash prize in form of a check and can be used for travel costs.

20170808 155930 ASchneider 1920x1080Unfertilized control plot of Scots pine at the field site "Rosinedal", Sweden; photo: Andreas Schneider
Last week, SciLifeLab announced that they will support 14 sequencing projects with 33 million SEK. The project from Nathanial Street and his co-applicants Vaughan Hurry, Torgny Näsholm and Sandra Jämtgård is one of them. They will use metagenomics and metatranscriptomics to analyse the effect of various types of nitrogen fertilisation on the diversity of the belowground metacommunity.

The belowground metacommunity describes the community of all microbes, e.g. fungi and bacteria, that are living in the soil and possibly interact with each other and with plant roots. Metagenomics studies help to resolve the composition of a metacommunity while metatranscriptomics gives insight in the activity and function of the microbes in a metacommunity. Nathanial Street and his co-applicants will use these tools to understand how nitrogen fertilisation influences the diversity of the metacommunity and the processes within the community.

The researchers will compare the metacommunity diversity in Scots pine forest stands that have been fertilised for a short period with inorganic or organic nitrogen. They will also analyse the effect of a long-term fertilisation with inorganic nitrogen as well as the development of the metacommunity many decades after the last nitrogen fertilisation was applied.

SciLifeLab, the Swedish national centre for molecular biosciences, has started the national sequencing project initiative to provide sequencing support for large-scale genomic research in Sweden. This initiative comprises two programs: the Swedish Genomes Program and the Swedish Biodiversity Program. The project from Nathanial Street and his colleagues is part of the Swedish Biodiversity Program that is directed to projects studying genomic variability in nature. The awarded funding is assigned to subsidize sequencing costs.

Link to the press release from SciLifeLab:

Title of the project:
Diversity impacts on the belowground metacommunity associated with contrasting nitrogen fertilization sources

For more information, please contact:
Nathanial Street
Department of Plant Physiology
Umeå University
Phone: +46 (0)90 786 5473
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Press release CC1 mod 1920x1080Claudia Colesie working in the Antarctica. Photo: Nadine Borchhardt
Short periods of increased temperature can push Antarctic lichens to their physiological limits and therefore cause a sever survival threat. This is the result of a study from an international research team that analysed the acclimation potential of several Antarctic lichen species. Claudia Colesie, lead author of the publication and postdoctoral researcher at UPSC, and her colleagues concluded that increased temperatures will influence future species composition in the Antarctic vegetation and lead to a species loss. Their study is published in the journal Global Change Biology.

In recent years, the Antarctic Peninsula has experienced fast regional climate change. The vegetation in this extreme environment is dominated by lichens and non-vascular plants, such as mosses. The team, comprising of researchers from Sweden, Germany and New Zealand/Spain, wanted to understand how lichens respond to increasing temperatures in order to assess the risk of global warming for the vegetation on the Antarctic Peninsula.

“The Antarctic Peninsula serves as an early warning system for the effects of climate change on species and ecosystems,” explains Claudia Colesie who works at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. “A lichen is a composite organism that is formed by a symbiosis between algae or cyanobacteria and a fungal partner. The algae or cyanobacteria are the energy producing partners in this symbiotic relationship and also called photobionts. In our study we show that 15°C mark the upper limit for Antarctic photobionts to survive in the lichen symbiosis.”

The temperature-driven effects on the lichens energy balance varied between different species. For example, one species endemic to the Antarctic and the southernmost parts of South America could not acclimatise to increased temperatures and the photobiont died. On the other hand, a wide spread lichen species, which does not only occur in the Antarctic but also in alpine and arctic environments, could recover its energy balance when exposed to higher temperatures.

“This lichen species was considered to have a broader ecological amplitude, i.e. the limits of environmental conditions within which the organism can live are wider. We did not at all expect to see this fast rate of acclimation to higher temperatures”, says Claudia Colesie. “Based on these results, we suggest that species with a higher physiological plasticity will be favoured with ongoing temperature shifts in the Antarctic. The consequential homogenisation of the local vegetation becomes an additional threat for this pristine environment, with severe influences on the function and productivity of the ecosystem.” 

Studies on acclimation processes in Antarctic organisms and the corresponding risk assessments are particularly useful to predict the effects of global warming because colder climates are more responsive to increased temperatures than warmer regions. However, the different sensitivity of lichen species that co-occur spatially close, makes it very difficult to predict how the future community composition may look like in the Antarctic.

Lichens occur worldwide under different environmental conditions. Several species are adapted to survive in some of the most extreme environments on Earth like the Antarctic. The lichen fungus (mycobiont) hosts the algae or cyanobacteria and forms the lichen thallus that provides shelter from the environment and may attach the lichen to the ground. In return, the fungus receives carbohydrates from the photosynthesising photobionts (algae or cyanobacteria). The symbiosis allows both partners to extend their ecological amplitude and expand their distribution.

Press release CC2 mod 1920x1080Overview of Livingston Island with the Spanish research station Juan Carlos I in the back. The samples for this studywere collected here. Photo: Claudia Colesie
The article
Claudia Colesie, Burkhard Büdel, Vaughan Hurry & Thomas Green. Can Antarctic lichens acclimatise to changes in temperature? Global Change Biology. Accepted Author Manuscript. doi:10.1111/gcb.13984

For more information please contact:

Claudia Colesie
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(0)70-7660481

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Last Thursday, Formas officially approved a new project led by Rosario García Gil, group leader at UPSC. The project aims to compare different wood structures that have developed during evolution. The researchers want to identify key regulators of wood formation that might be useful for optimising modern tree breeding.

Using genetics and genomics tools, Rosario García Gil and her group will analyse which factors are involved in regulating wood formation in different woody plant species. They will compare two angiosperm and two gymnosperm tree species that have developed different wood architectures during evolution.

In angiosperms (or flowering plants), wood vessels and fibres, which are certain specialised cell types, conduct water along the stem. Gymnosperms (vascular plants with seeds but without flowers or fruit) have not evolved water conducting vessels. Solely wood fibers perform the water transport. These fibers are often longer and have a different lignin composition than in angiosperm trees.

“Regarding wood architecture, aspen and spruce are typical representatives of angiosperm respective gymnosperm trees”, says Rosario García Gil. “We want to compare wood formation in both tree species with each other but also include two exotic tree species that have evolved an intermediate wood architecture.”

These two species are Gnetum gnemon, a gymnosperm tree that has evolved vessels, and Drimys winteri (Winteracea), an angiosperm tree that has lost vessels during evolution.

“By comparing the genetic architecture of these different woody species, we hope to identify key factors involved in wood formation and provide a novel molecular tool box for trans-species breeding of wood properties”, explains Rosario García Gil. “This information will contribute to the shift towards a bio-based economy”.

Rosario García Gil, Associate Professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, started her research group at the Umeå Plant Science Centre in 2005. She focusses in her research on forest tree genetics and breeding with emphasis on traits like wood formation that have an economic value.

Title of the granted project:
Inter-species comparative Evo-Devo study for the dissection of the genetic architecture of wood properties: Towards a forest bio-based economy

For more information please contact:
Rosario García Gil
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Phone: +46 (0)90 786 8413
Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
1U5A0746 2 1920x1080Mateusz Majda. Photo: Stéphanie Robert

The cells in the outmost layer of leaves have irregular shapes, which help them to interlock with each other like jigsaw puzzle-pieces to form a sturdy layer. How this growth pattern is achieved has been debated, but now a team led by SLU researchers has proposed a possible mechanism.

The study aims to understand how plant cells get shaped. The form of the plant cell can be very specific, like the jigsaw puzzle-shaped pavement cells in the outer epidermal layer of plants. It was previously thought that these cell types are formed by locally different expansion rates, i.e. that the cell wall around the cell grows differently fast and that this causes the local bending of the cell wall inwards or outwards.

In this study, Mateusz Majda together with colleagues from SLU and seven other universities have used a computational modelling approach that shows that a differently growing cell wall cannot alone explain the specific form of the jigsaw puzzle-shaped cells. The cell wall surrounding the cell also needs to have varying mechano-chemical properties – a cell wall is easier to bend where it is "softer" than where it is more rigid. The researchers could prove this by using advanced microscopy techniques in combination with genetic studies with different cell wall mutants.

"The cell wall is composed of different sugars and some proteins. We have shown that cell growth and shape acquisition is controlled by very local changes in the distribution of sugars", says Mateusz Majda at Umeå Plant Science Centre. He is a doctoral student at SLU and first author of the article.

By analyzing mutants with a wide range of defects related to major cell wall components, the team first showed that even minor alterations in the cell wall composition lead to severe defects in the geometry of the leaf pavement cells. A computational modeling approach then suggested that mechanical heterogeneity in the cell wall is needed to initiate the interdigitated shape of pavement cells in an epidermis that is under tension. Such heterogeneities were detected by atomic force microscopy (AFM) in straight cell walls prior to and at a very early stage of lobe formation. In addition, the direction of bending from the mechanically stronger toward the mechanically weaker cell wall domain, as predicted by the model, was confirmed by AFM in cell walls at the very early stage of wall lobing.

"Cell walls are the main component of wood and represent the majority of the industrial terrestrial biomass. In the long-term perspective, this research in understanding cell wall biosynthesis in unprecedented detail will permit us to engineer or develop new approaches to modulate the biomass", says Stéphanie Robert, senior lecturer at SLU's Department of forest genetics and plant physiology in Umeå, and lead author of the article.

The article was published on November 6th in Developmental Cell by researchers from the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and colleagues from Uppsala University, Université de Lyon, Lund University, University of Wroclaw, Umeå University, University of Potsdam and University of Cambridge.

Fig Majda 1920x1080llustration of jigsaw puzzle shaped epidermal cells of a leaf. The coffee bean shaped structures are the stomata. Illustration: Mateusz Majda

Link to the Swedish press release on the SLU homepage

The article

Mateusz Majda, Peter Grones, Ida-Maria Sintorn, Thomas Vain, Pascale Milani, Pawel Krupinski, Beata Zagorska-Marek, Corrado Viotti, Henrik Jönsson, Ewa J. Mellerowicz, Olivier Hamant & Stéphanie Robert. Mechanochemical polarization of contiguous cell walls shapes plant pavement cells. Developmental Cell 43, 290–304, November 6, 2017.

More information

Contact persons
Mateusz Majda, PhD student
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
+46 (0)90-786 55 16, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Stéphanie Robert, Senior Lecturer
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
+46 (0)76-767 45 95, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Text: Mateusz Majda, Stéphanie Robert, David Stephansson
IMG 4001 1920x1080
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.

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.

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.

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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:

IMG 1481 crop 1920x1080 2Videoplatform with aphids (Photo: Karen Kloth)

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: (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.