SPPS Award winners announced

In a call to members last year, the SPPS council invited nominations for the biennial SPPS Awards. After examining the nominees, and after careful consideration, the council selected the four winners, which we are proud to hereby announce:

  • SPPS Award: Prof. Michael Broberg Palmgren, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Copenhagen, Denmark
  • Physiologia Plantarum Award: Dr Chuanxin Sun, Department of Plant Biology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden
  • SPPS Popularisation Prize: Prof. Kurt Fagerstedt, Department of Biosciences, University of Helsinki, Finland
  • SPPS Early Career Award: Dr Olivier Keech, Department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, Sweden

The winners will receive the honour, a monetary reward, and a certificate during the SPPS Congress in Naantali, Finland this summer. On this occasion the recipients will also give a talk, presenting their work. Below follows a more detailed presentation of the awardees:

Prof. Michael Palmgren, SPPS Award winner 2017.

The SPPS Award is given to a scientist based in the Nordic countries in recognition of his/her outstanding contribution to plant science. The SPPS Council has decided to give the SPPS Award 2017 to Prof. Michael Broberg Palmgren, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, in recognition of his extensive and significant contributions to plant science.
“I have since the beginning of my studies been fascinated by biological pumps and they have always been the focus of my scientific work”, says Professor Palmgren.
As a student, he became challenged by the acid-growth theory, put forward independently years before by Hager and Cleland/Rayle, which stated that the master hormone auxin promotes plant growth by activating a plasma membrane proton pump. However, nobody had ever proven this hypothesis.
“Naïvely, I decided to test this idea in the work for my master thesis and for that purpose I had to purify the proton pump from oat roots, a model plant for such studies by then, add auxin and see what happened”, says Palmgren.
Nobody at University of Copenhagen, where he was enrolled, had the desire to supervise and finance such an endeavor, but he was helped to get in contact with Peter Leth Jørgensen, a medical doctor at Aarhus University, famous for his work on purification and characterization of the sodium-potassium pump from animal sources.
“He accepted to guide me purifying the plant plasma membrane proton pump on the condition that I promised not to grow oat or any other plant in his medical laboratory”, says Palmgren.
“To solve this problem, I contacted Christer Larsson and Marianne Sommarin at Lund University, world-known for their immensely pure oat root plasma membrane preparations, and they miraculously agreed to supply me, a foreign master student having no experience, with in principle unlimited amounts of membranes.”
With these in a thermo bottle with liquid nitrogen he travelled to Aarhus, purified the pump, added auxin but nothing happened. Nevertheless, he had started a great journey, published two papers from his work with Jørgensen, got funding from Denmark to become a doctoral student in Lund with Larsson and Sommarin. He then became a postdoc with the plasma membrane proton pump God Ramon Serrano at EMBL, Heidelberg, where he learned molecular biology, got funding for his own laboratory at The Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University, where he is still working although it has another name since it was engulfed by University of Copenhagen.
“And I still study pumps although now I can accept other substrates than protons and for a large part devote my life to training new young scientists in the magic world of pumps”, says Professor Palmgren.

Dr Chuanxin Sun, Physiologia Plantarum Awardee 2017.

The Physiologia Plantarum Award is granted to a scientist that has made outstanding contributions to plant science in the areas that are covered by the society’s journal Physiologia Plantarum. The SPPS Council has decided to give the Physiologia Plantarum Award 2017 to Dr Chuanxin Sun, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden, in recognition of his recent ground-breaking work on low-methane rice.
Dr. Chuanxin Sun’s research is focussed on carbon metabolism in higher plants. The goal is to improve plants for producing more and better with less environmental impact by channelling carbon flux to different carbon products such as starch, lipids, fructan and beta-glucan. In recent years, Dr. Sun has made several important contributions to plant science:

  • Generation of low-methane rice, SUSIBA2 rice by a “snowball effect” theory in plant sugar signalling which can nearly curb methane emissions from rice paddies.
  • Isolation of the transcription factors (SUSIBA 1 and SUSIBA2) that are involved in fructan and starch biosynthesis, sugar signalling, source-sink communication and carbon allocation in higher plants.
  • Proposing a yin-yang system theory in carbon metabolism in grass species.
  • Invention of anti-sense ODN inhibition technology in plant biology for studies of gene regulation and for marker-free transformation to replace antibiotics, and development of several transient analytic methods for quick studies of plant gene and promoter functionality.

Dr. Sun received his PhD degree in biochemistry at Stockholm University in 1998. In the same year, he got a position equal to postdoctoral fellow until 2002 at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala and then received a tenure-track position as a researcher at SLU. In 2008 he became associate professor and was appointed as a group leader at Department of Plant Biology, SLU. Since then Sun has been leading a group for research in carbon metabolism in higher plants, mainly focusing on barley, rice, oat, tobacco, and Arabidopsis.

Prof. Kurt Fagerstedt, SPPS Popularization Prize winner 2017.

The SPPS Popularisation Prize is given to a person who has promoted plant biology in the Nordic countries in newspapers, journal articles. books, on TV or radio and in other public forms. The SPPS Council has decided to give the SPPS Popularisation Prize 2017 to Prof. Kurt Fagerstedt, University of Helsinki, Finland, to recognise his work on promoting public awareness of plant science.
Kurt Fagerstedt is Professor and Head of Department of Biosciences at the University of Helsinki since 2012. In addition to teaching at the university level, Prof. Fagerstedt has been actively spreading information about his research to a wider audience, the general public, in over a hundred articles. This has happened through newspapers such as the Helsingin Sanomat, the largest daily newspaper in Finland, and magazines such as the Tiedelehti (a science magazine for the general public) and Viherpiha, a monthly gardening magazine. In addition to this, Kurt has been interviewed often in the radio and a few times on TV about issues such as the reasons for autumn colours or any other issues concerning plant life that the general public may be interested in.
“Once your name is familiar with the journalists, they keep coming back to you with specific questions which may have something to do with plants coping with sudden frosts in the spring or with changes in the level of UV-radiation from the sun”, says Prof. Fagerstedt.
“In writing to the general public, you have to simplify matters a lot, even to the level of ridicule, which may be difficult to a scientist. But at the same time, it is fun to be able to tell scientific truths to people who are interested!”, he continues.
Kurt Fagerstedt received his MSc degree from the University of Helsinki in 1984, majoring in plant physiology, then received a PhD degree in plant biology from the University of St Andrews in Scotland in 1988. His research interests are in plant stress tolerance mechanisms and plant cell wall lignin biosynthesis. In plant stress biology, he has studied flooding tolerance (hypoxia, anoxia) and plant antioxidant protection of tissues, mitochondrial functions and the regulation of programmed cell death, and phytoglobins and their roles in nitric oxide scavenging and regulation of metabolic events. Several plant species have been his research objects through the years, including barley, wheat, rice, arabidopsis, yellow flag iris, garden iris, Norway spruce and Silver birch. In addition to more traditional methods and techniques, his group uses also transcriptomics and metabolomics, and laser scanning microdissection to study specific cells and tissues. His group works in collaboration with Finnish, Scandinavian, Central European, Japanese and Canadian researchers.

Dr Olivier Keech, SPPS Early Career Award winner 2017.

The SPPS Early Career Award is granted to a young, talented scientist based in the Nordic countries, who has shown good progress and made significant, independent contributions to plant biology. The SPPS Council has decided to give the SPPS Early Career Award 2017 to Dr Olivier Keech, Umeå University, Sweden.
Dr Keech works with the regulation of plant metabolism in response to stress (photorespiration, redox, senescence). His research is based on a trifurcate approach, combining bioinformatics, molecular biology and plant physiology, with which he is trying to bridge the gap between signalling mechanisms and metabolic reprograming during the cell death events resulting from leaf senescence. His work on functional stay-green mutants has received a lot of attention, both from the scientific community and biotechnological companies. His experimental setup also allows him to tackle additional fundamental questions, particularly regarding the internal molecular mechanism used by plants to communicate with their respective organs and vice versa.
Dr Keech studied at the University of Tours from 1997–2002 and earned his Degree of Bachelor in Pharmaceutical Science and Animal Physiology in 2001; and in 2002 a Degree of Master in Plant Physiology and Biochemistry. In 2002, he was awarded an ERASMUS fellowship to travel as an exchange student to Umeå to perform a degree project in forest ecology at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences under the supervision of Prof. Marie-Charlotte Nilsson. He then accepted a co-joint thesis project between a department at Nancy University (France) under the supervision of Prof. Pierre Dizengremel and at the department of plant physiology, Umeå University, Sweden, under the supervision of Prof. Per Gardeström. He completed his two PhD studies in 2008 with a Degree of Doctor in Forest Ecophysiology from the University of Nancy and a Degree of Doctor in Plant Biochemistry from Umeå University. From 2008–2011, his academic career continued as a research associate at the Plant Energy Biology Centre at the University of Western Australia in Perth, Australia, under the supervision of Prof. Steve Smith. In 2011, He was recruited back to Umeå University by Prof. Gardeström for a postdoc until 2013.
“Professor Gardeström proposed me to co-lead his lab and I took this opportunity to challenge myself and see whether I had the skills to manage and supervise a team”, says Keech.
During this period, he co-supervised two PhD-students. In 2014, He applied to and was recruited by the faculty of Science as an assistant professor at the department of Plant Physiology, Umeå University, and since then he has established his own research group. In December 2015, he became laureate of the Gunnar Öquist Award from the Kempe Foundations. Besides being a dedicated researcher with an extensive international network, he is also a committed lecturer. He is involved in the newly started Master of Science Programme in Bioresource Engineering at Umeå University, which aims at educating engineers in striving for a sustainable society. He holds a role in the concluding stages of the university’s master programmes in engineering – the project course Design, Build, Test. Recently, his idea of a miniature ecosystem was implemented by a group of students who built a prototype based on several trophic levels, including fish, plants, mushrooms, and phyto-/zoo-planktons. The prototype gained a lot of interest both in the media and from schools.