Excellence in research

The research groups at the Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences have been successful in attracting highly competitive external funding. They have received, for example, academy professor and centre of excellence funding from the Academy of Finland and European Research Council (ERC) funding from the European Union.

The Faculty’s departments participate in the operations of three centres of excellence designated by the Academy of Finland. The Faculty has academy professors appointed by the Academy of Finland and researchers who receive multiannual ERC funding.

Stem cell research holds great potential for strategies spanning from organ replacements to treatments targeting aging related diseases. MetaStem, the Academy of Finland funded Centre of Excellence in Stem Cell Metabolism, combines unique expertise on stem cells, nutrient sensing and mitochondrial biology to address how stem cell function can be modified through regulation of their metabolism. Our aim is to target tissue repair with metabolic tools, and to develop cellular therapy strategies for diabetes. MetaStem was established in 2018, and has over 80 researchers in four research groups at the University of Helsinki.

Centre of Excellence in Stem Cell Metabolism

Coordinator: HiLIFE

The Centre of Excellence in Molecular Biology of Primary Producers is interested in exploring the growth, development and stress and energy metabolism of plants and photosynthesising micro-organisms. It applies the most up-to-date research methods in the field of systems and synthetic biology.

Basic research in this field – and therefore related applied research that promotes bioeconomy – is highly fragmented throughout the world. The consumption of fossil fuels has caused the climate to change, and the continuing growth of the world population requires that food production is stepped up. The European Union has proposed new strategies for the transition to bioeconomy, but the key lies in the limits of primary energy production. It is imperative to increase the ability of plants, algae and cyanobacteria to capture solar energy in a form that is useful to humans as food, fuel and animal fodder.

The aim of the CoE is to find out how photosynthesising organisms integrate the absorption of solar light energy and the consequent carbon metabolism pathways, and to explore opportunities to improve the efficiency of primary production. The photosynthesis researchers and the plant development and stress biology researchers are internationally respected experts in their fields. To date, they have had only limited contact with one another, but the CoE offers a unique opportunity for them to join forces.

Group leaders: Academy Professor Eva-Mari Aro (Leader of the Centre of Excellence, University of Turku),
Jaakko Kangasjärvi (University of Helsinki, Plant Stress Research) , Yrjö Helariutta (Univ. Cambridge/UH, Wood Development Group) and Esa Tyysjärvi (University of Turku).

Molecular Biology of Primary Producers

The Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions was appointed by the Academy of Finland to spearhead research in the field of evolutionary biology. The partners of the CoE are based at the University of Jyväskylä, University of Helsinki and University of Zürich. Lead by professor Johanna Mappes, scientist in the centre combine approaches from virology to mathematical modelling to study biological interactions. Research focuses on antagonistic interactions such as host-pathogen and predator-prey interactions, as well as on co-operation and conflict in social insects, human groups and mimetic systems. Published research can be found e.g. in  the CoE Google Scholar page. Prof. Johanna Mappes, Prof. Liselotte Sundström and Prof. Hanna Kokko head the research of the CoE. Professor Jaana Bamford was also involved in the CoE, but she passed away. 

The Centre of Excellence in Biological Interactions

Metapopulation Research Centre (MRC) at the University of Helsinki was established in 1991 by professor and Academician Ilkka Hanski. The strength of research is the ability to combine ecological, molecular, computational and theoretical approaches in the same projects. The focus of research is to apply the core concepts of metapopulation biology, e.g. species inhabiting fragmented landscapes, to management and conservation of habitats and biodiversity. MRC has more than 70 researchers, post graduate students and supporting personnel representing over twenty nationalities. MRC has been a Centre-of-Excellence in research nominated by the national research council from year 2000.

ERC Advanced Grant

  • Professor Craig Primmer: Age at maturity in Atlantic salmon: molecular and ecological dissection of an adaptive trait (MATURATION, 2017–2022, Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences and Institute of Biotechnology)
  • Professor Kai Kaila: Arginine vasopressin and ion transporters in the modulation of brain excitability during birth and birth asphyxia seizures (PRESSBIRTH, 2014–2019)                  
  • Professor Yrjö Helariutta: The role of symplastic communication during root development (SYMDEV, 2013–2018, Institute of Biotechnology and Faculty of Biological and Environmental Sciences)

ERC Consolidator Grant

  • Associate professor Anna-Liisa Laine: Resistance evolution in response to spatially variable pathogen communities (RESISTANCE, 2017–2022)

ERC Starting Grant

  • Academy Research Fellow Marjo Saastamoinen: Unravelling life-history responses and underlying mechanisms to environmental stress in wild populations (META-STRESS, 2015–2020)

Completed projects

ERC Advanced Grant

  • Professor Ilkka Hanski: Ecological, molecular, and evolutionary spatial dynamics (SPATIALDYNAMICS, 2009–2013)    

ERC Starting Grant

  • Iiris Hovatta: A cross-species neurogenomics approach to anxiety (GENANX, 2012–2017)
  • Ville Hietakangas: Transcriptional networks in glucose sensing (GLUCOSE SENSING, 2012–2016)
  • Anna-Liisa Laine: Linking Pathogen Evolution and Epidemiology (PATHEVOL, 2011–2016)
  • Atte Moilanen: Global Environmental Decision Analysis (GEDA, 2011–2015)
  • Otso Ovaskainen: Spatial ecology: bringing mathematical theory and data together (SPAECO, 2008–2013)