Scandinavian research institute: Umeå Plant Science Centre

Umeå Plant Science Centre is a fusion of plant departments from Umeå University and SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) in Umeå. Graphic by Gorm Palmgren

By the end of the 1990’s, two of the strongest experimental plant research departments in Sweden were the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology at SLU (Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences) in Umeå and the Department of Plant Physiology at Umeå University.

But in 1999 they joined forces and fused into the Umeå Plant Science Centre or UPSC. The merging has been very successful and UPSC now employs an international team of more than 150 scientists and technicians:

  • 35-40 group leaders
  • 30-40 postdocs
  • 40-45 PhD students
  • 30-35 technicians

The annual budget is in excess of 100 million SEK (more than 11 million €) and about 75% of the expenses must be applied for in competition with other research centers. The Wallenberg and Kempe foundations make significant contributions and so do the Swedish research councils and the ‘mother universities’.

UPSC focuses on selected research topics and technological platforms. Photo illustration by Gorm Palmgren.

The research topics of UPSC cover a relatively broad specter of plant sciences. Professor Göran Samuelsson, Head of Department of Plant Physiology and member of UPSC’s board, believes this a stronghold for the Centre. After several years of intensive gene discovery, international efforts are now aimed at establishing the function of genes and how they interact. For this purpose it is important to have detailed knowledge of many physiological processes within the plant.

UPSC has invested heavily in building technological platforms that provide highly specialized services for the Center’s scientists. One of these facilities offers poplar transformation while the Genomics Lab offers microarray analysis and DNA sequencing. Headed by Professor Stefan Jansson from the Genomics Lab, a Swedish and American research team very recently published a web-based databank of more than 100,000 Populus ESTs. The database provides digital gene expression profiles of the majority of differentiated organs in the tree and will help future research not only in trees but also in several other plant species, including Arabidopsis.

Göran Sandberg studies hormone interactions – here in transgenic tobacco overproducing cytokinin and/or auxin. Photo courtesy of Göran Sandberg.

Plant development is a high priority research field at UPSC. Professor Göran Sandberg is group leader for a team concentrating on auxin-cytokinin interactions and their research has contributed significantly to the international advances in the field. Together with colleagues from EU and China, the UPSC team elucidated the genetics controlling local auxin flow and their work was published in the last issue of the journal Science. Göran Sandberg is internationally acknowledged for his work and last year he received a 70 million SEK grant from the Swedish Foundation for Strategic Research to support his work until 2008.

The UPSC scientists represent 26 different countries and make up an international research environment where the native language at seminars – and often in the lab as well – is English. Strong research relations have been created to other countries especially in the EU. The French research organization INRA and universities in Copenhagen enjoy particularly good connections with UPSC that allow for easy exchange of students and scientists as well as effortless enrollment in each others courses. UPSC is now working on creating high profile research schools for scientists in the whole of EU.

When Göran Samuelsson almost 10 years ago first was approached from ‘above’ and asked to prepare the fusion of his own Department of Plant Physiology at Umeå University with the university’s departments of genetics and zoology, he was not at all happy. The departments did not have much in common and he was more interested in getting together with his colleagues at the Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology at SLU, which was located only 500 meter away. Despite some initial hesitation his proposal was finally accepted and after the first five years of marriage, the UPSC family has proved to be very happy together.

You can get more information about UPSC on the official website.