Research objects range from micro-organisms to ecosystems and to people prone to manmade environmental changes. The outburst of immune-mediated diseases, biodiversity loss, urban pollution and plant invasiveness are interrelated, and our group is working in multidisciplinary research initiatives to minimize the consequences. The major research projects of the group are ADELE – Immune defense and living environment, NATUREWELL and HEDIMED.
Nature-Based Solutions Research Group is developing technologies to integrate the health-promoting and immune system modulating effects of the vast microbiological diversity in natural ecosystems to the modern lifestyle of urban dwellers. The group is currently testing immunomodulatory preparations in clinical trials in collaboration with medical experts. The task is to receive the benefits of natural microbiological diversity no matter where and how a person lives. In addition, the group is targeting to create new urban spaces and green infrasturucture where the benefits of rural dirt are easily accessible without the risks of infectious diseases. Our research group is part of ADELE consortium which also includes Professor Heikki Hyöty's and Professor Juho Rajaniemi's research groups at Tampere University. Nature-Based Solutions Research Group concentrates on environmental ecological aspects while Hyöty's group focuses on medicine and Rajaniemi's group integrates urban planning perspective to the ADELE approach.
Nature-Based Solution Research Group is focusing on revealing mechanisms and population level effects of environmental pollution, and – importantly – seeking for novel solutions that utilize agricultural and forestry byproducts in soil remediation to promote circular economy and human well-being. Important collaborators are Professor Jeffrey Weidenhamer and Professor Martin Romantschuk. Based on Docent Sinkkonen’s idea on the suitability of meat-bone-meal for soil remediation, Professor Romantschuk has successfully organized the REMSOIL research initiative that is currently being targeted to become a spin out company. In addition to soil remediation, a recent parallel research lineage is the potential of green infrastructure to decrease air pollution, a task that is currently being investigated in the ADELE project.
Nature-Based Solutions Research Group’s interests cover the use of live plants to ameliorate environmental problems and the use of agricultural and forestry byproducts. In collaboration with PD Regina Belz, Docent Sinkkonen has investigated how plant populations response to low pollutant concentrations, in particular how the growth of fast-growing and slow-growing subpopulations is altered. In collaboration with Thai and Nepalese scientists, Docent Sinkkonen has explored the possibilities to overcome the negative effects of invading alien plant species on native plant communities in Asia. The team revealed that high densities of native tree seedlings inhibit the negative, plausibly phytotoxic effects of Ageratina adenophora. In collaboration with Assistant Professor Vesa Hytönen and Adjunct Professor Olli Laitinen, Docent Sinkkonen has found out a novel mechanism that may be responsible for the invasiveness of Lupinus polyphyllus.
Human well-being is the combination of quantitative biological-chemical well-being and qualitative happiness. Our research group focuses on both aspects. Currently, the research group focuses on the well-being of young people. NATUREWELL project led by Riikka Puhakka aims to study how interacting with nature affects the health and well-being of young urban people. The project studies various outdoor activities to identify attractive and efficient solutions to increase the opportunities to gain health and well-being benefits from interaction with nature. In case of children, the research group examines how greening of kindergarten yards affects children’s health and well-being in urban environment. For transforming the yards of kindergartens in the cities of Lahti, Tampere and Espoo, we have used forest floor vegetation, sod, peat blogs, and planters for vegetable and flower growing. First, we examine how this intervention affects the children’s microbiota and the function of their immune system. Second, survey- and interview-based data is used to investigate how this intervention influences children’s physical exercise and play in the yard, their relationship with nature, and perceived well-being. The intervention suggests that green yards increase the comfort of the yards and diversify children’s activities and exercise in the yard.
Our goal is to enhance well-being of humankind. Therefore, Nature-Based Solutions Research Group actively collaborates with public and private sector. This ensures the widespread applicability of novel solutions innovated by the group members. Importantly, the interaction is two-sided: research questions are polished and even restructured based on the feedback from collaborators and potential end-users. Commercialization is guided by Helsinki Innovation services, and commercialization research is partly outsourced to Hanken and private enterprises.