Portrait of Rishikesh Bhalearo standing between young aspend trees in the greenhouse at UPSCRishikesh Bhalearo has been appointed as a Wallenberg Scholar (photo: Andreas Palmén)

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has announced the list of senior researchers that have been granted funding from the Wallenberg Scholars programme. From UPSC, Rishikesh Bhalerao has been appointed as a Wallenberg scholar. He will receive a five-year research grant to study how trees precisely time their bud break in the spring.

The Wallenberg Scholar programme is an initiative of the Knut and Alice Wallenberg foundation that provides long-term funding to established researchers performing outstanding research. The scholars are selected after rigorous international peer review. Rishikesh Bhalerao, who is professor at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, will use the funding to study how temperature is regulating bud break in aspen trees.

“I am delighted to receive this honour,” says Rishikesh Bhalerao. “This generous funding will provide me with the opportunity to take cutting edge approaches to address research questions that are typically not feasible with other short term research funding.”

Rishikesh Bhalerao and his group at UPSC are studying how trees know when it is the right time for trees to restart their growth by initiating bud break in the spring. Timing of bud break is a critical decision for perennials such as long-lived trees. If bud break occurs too early, the buds are exposed to damage by snap spring frost whereas late bud break curtails the growing season and forest productivity.

“Trees time their bud break in spring by responding to temperature signals. My group has identified several genes in aspen trees that are involved in bud break regulation, but most of our experiments were done in the greenhouse where the temperature is kept constant,” explains Rishikesh Bhalerao. “However, in nature, the temperature is not constant but fluctuates widely and we would like to understand how trees robustly control bud break by processing this noisy environmental information, that is not known despite being studied extensively for a long time.”

“In contrast with animals, plants lack a central organiser like brain and a nervous system to process noisy environmental information and yet plants display a remarkable ability to make robust decisions that are crucial to their survival,” says Rishikesh Bhalerao.

As a Wallenberg scholar, Rishikesh Bhalerao is planning to combine multidisciplinary approaches like mathematical modelling, cell biology and genomics to uncover the mechanistic basis of this robust decision making in plants using temperature control of bud break as an experimental model.

With the changing climate the risk for spring frost damage to buds has increased. Therefore, a more comprehensive knowledge about how trees regulate their bud break can help to find solutions to deal with these changes to secure tree survival and productivity in future. Rishikesh Bhalerao is convinced that his research in addition to revealing fundamental knowledge about the regulation of bud break will also be highly relevant to forestry.

Link to the press release from Wallenberg

Link to the press release from SLU (in Swedish only)

For questions, please contact:

Rishikesh Bhalerao
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences
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