A plant science researcher in Bio4Energy has been granted SEK3.05 Edouard Pesquet 2Bio4Energy researcher Edouard Pesquet was granted an award to continue studying the molecular make up of plants and the mentorship of the Umeå University professor Gunnar Öquist. Photo by courtesy of Umeå University.
million to continue refining scientific knowledge of the molecular structure of plants and trees, and notably on the way in which water and minerals are transported in their "vascular" system.

On 4 December, assistant professor This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., a research group leader at the Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC) at Umeå, Sweden, became the first-ever grantee of a so-called Gunnar Öquist Fellowship. This is a new type of award to encourage up-and-coming researchers to innovate by allowing them to test out "novel approaches", as Pesquet put it. Carl Kempe of the Kempe Foundations, a Swedish research funding body, handed over the award at a ceremony at Umeå.

"My research takes aim at the cells that conduct the hydromineral sap" in a tree or plant, Pesquet said. In particular, he has been studying the small vessels that are responsible for transporting water and minerals from a plant’s roots throughout the plant. He likens this system for hydromineral transport with the vascular system of humans or "any superior organism. It must function or we die".

Knowing how to break down plant matter

It follows that, the more we know about the functioning of this hydromineral transport system, the more researchers can target their efforts at creating optimal growing conditions for trees and plants. Or, as Pesquet explains in a press release from Umeå University, "the more we know about how to take them apart". This becomes important for instance in biorefinery production, where researchers need to understand the functioning of plants on a molecular level to know how best to advice industry on the processing of plant matter or wood in view of making bio-based products.  

The award means that Pesquet will be benefiting from the mentorship of Gunnar Öquist, an internationally acclaimed Swedish biologist and a professor of plant physiology at Umeå University who served as the permanent secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences from 2003 to 2010.

Says Pesquet of his research on the UPSC website: “The aim of my work is to elucidate the molecular mechanism underlying the differentiation process and more specifically the secondary cell wall formation of xylem vessels of both Arabidopsis (the genetic plant model) and Populus (the genetic tree model). The identification of key regulatory genes modulating xylem vessels' cell wall formation will allow transgenic modification of the process to better understand how xylem/wood formation is controlled”. 

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Comment piece of 12 December 2012 by Gunnar Öquist and co-author in Dagens Nyheter, one of Sweden's most read daily newspapers, on the reason why "fewer" Swedish researcher make the top ranks among scientists globally.   

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