Kristoffer Jonsson (left) and Abdellah Lakehal (right)Kristoffer Jonsson (left) and Abdellah Lakehal (right)

[2020-12-16] Last Friday, the Swedish Research Council announced their decision regarding the autumn call for the international postdoc grant. The projects from Kristoffer Jonsson and Abdellah Lakehal were among the approved projects. Both finished their PhD at UPSC in 2019 and are currently working as postdoc there. The grant offers them secure employment conditions for the next three years and allows them to work on their research projects abroad to acquire new competences and expand their international networks.

You are the first two postdocs bringing this research grant in this form to UPSC. How does it feel to receive this grant?

Abdellah Lakehal: I didn’t know that we were the first ones, it’s definitely an honour to bring such a prestigious grant to the institute that forged my career. I am very happy and excited at the same time.

Kristoffer Jonsson: It is a nice validation that my proposed project is of general interest, which makes me even more motivated to get started addressing my questions. Also, I’m happy that Abdellah also received this grant, since we started our PhD roughly at the same time, and followed each other throughout the years.

What are you planning to do in your project?

Kristoffer Jonsson: Within the framework of the grant, I want to examine the basis of self-organization in morphogenesis, and how endogenous mechanical cues instruct cellular growth decisions. The project is planned to involve three overall layers of methodology: cellular resolution growth tracking, mechanical measurements and 3D computational modelling.

Abdellah Lakehal: I’m interested in de novo lateral root organogenesis in plants. Lateral roots are the main determinant of root system architecture and they play crucial roles in plant productivity by ensuring an efficient uptake of water and nutrients. My project aims at uncovering the evolutionary history of the molecular networks that guide stem cell specification during lateral root organogenesis using an early divergent plant species as a model system. To achieve this goal, I will take advantage of the state-of-the-art technologies such as single-cell analysis and genome editing.

Where do you plan to go?

Abdellah Lakehal: I plan to perform my research in the lab of Prof. Tom Beeckman at VIB-UGent, Ghent, Belgium.

Kristoffer Jonsson: The plan is to join the lab of Anne-Lise Routier-Kierzkowska at the Plant Biology Research Institute (IRBV) at Montreal University, Montreal, Canada.

Why did you choose your host institution?

Kristoffer Jonsson: I mainly wanted the chance to work with Anne-Lise Routier-Kierzkowska, who is doing very exciting work in the field of plant biomechanics and computational modeling. Anne-Lise is a biophysicist, and perhaps therefore has a very different approach to biological questions from what I am used to, which I find very stimulating. Beyond my host lab, IRBV is a multidisciplinary institute, and Montreal is the home of two renowned plant research centers (IRBV and the Plant Science Dept at McGill University). Several international plant research meetings are regularly held in Montreal. Thus, I’m hoping to meet a dynamic environment.

Abdellah Lakehal: I chose VIB because it is one of the strongest and most influential research centres in the world. In one hand, VIB will provide me with easy access to all the facilities and services needed for the accomplishment of the project. On the other hand, I will have ample opportunities to develop new skills. I will be working under the guidance of Prof. Tom Beeckman, who is an internationally recognized expert in lateral root development and stem cell regulations. His lab made incredible contributions to this field. I will certainly learn a lot there. During my stay at VIB, I will also have the opportunity to establish collaborations with world-top experts in evolutionary biology.

How much time do you plan to spend at your host institution?

Abdellah Lakehal: At the moment, I plan to spend 3 years at VIB.

Kristoffer Jonsson: We haven’t decided the exact timeline yet. Besides the work situation, I also have my family to consider. I’m just starting to put this puzzle together now.

What are your next steps now?

Kristoffer Jonsson: I’m still involved in ongoing projects with the Bhalerao lab which I hope we can conclude shortly, so I will continue at UPSC/SLU at least until the summer 2021.

Abdellah Lakehal: It is hard to predict the future as goals are dynamic and change over time, however, my ultimate goal is to come back to Sweden and establish my independent research group. I plan to decode the secrets behind “stem cellness” in plants by adopting an evolutionary perspective. In other words, how and what was needed for the early divergent plant species to evolve this unique capacity allowing them to conquer land and adapt to the ever-changing environmental conditions. Acquiring such fundamental knowledge will certainly allow us to shed light on key aspects of lateral root organogenesis in the extant seed plants.

The Swedish Research Council approved 41 out of 169 project applications. The applicants must have received their PhD no more than 2 years before the call closes. The grant will be administered by a Swedish University or public organisation meaning that the applicants will be employed in Sweden while working abroad.

For questions, please contact:

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

Project title: Sensing yourself: Mechanical feedback between organ curvature and cell-based decisions

Host institution: Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University
Visiting institution: Plant Biology Research Institute (Institut de Recherche en Biologie Végétale IRBV), Université de Montréal, Canada

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

Project title: Decoding the molecular basis of lateral root stem cell specification in plants

Host institution: Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
Visiting institution: Center for Plant Systems Biology, VIB-UGent, Belgium