The Oxygen Stress Tolerance and Lignin Biosynthesis Group consists of the group leader, Prof. Kurt Fagerstedt, a researcher Olga Blokhina, and two PhD students Enni Väisänen and Eija Virolainen-Arne. The group belongs to the Research Programme on Organismal and Evolutionary Biology, and works in close collaboration with other research groups in VIPS, Viikki Plant Science Centre, that has 35 Principal Investigators.
Prof. Kurt Fagerstedt is Director of Research Programme on Organismal and Evolutionary Biology and the group leader of Oxygen Stress Tolerance and Lignin Biosynthesis Group. He got his MSc degree at University of Helsinki in 1984 majoring in plant physiology, and then continued as a PhD student at the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where he earned his degree in 1988. After a postdoctoral period in St Andrews he returned to University of Helsinki, first as a junior lecturer, then senior lecturer and Professor and Head of Department of Biosciences from 2012 till 2018, and presently as Director of the Organismal and Evolutionary Biology Research Programme, OEB.
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.
During her research career Olga Blokhina has been studying different aspects of plant adaptations to stress. Tolerance to a variety of abiotic stresses is largely dependent on the ability of a plant to cope with oxidative stress as an integral component of a developing stress response.
Olga’s research has been focussed on complex relationships between oxygen deprivation stress and oxidative stress in plants differing in their tolerance to hypoxia, using a range of biochemical, molecular biology and genetics approaches. Later this research has extended to nitric oxide signaling and role of mitochondria in shaping of metabolic responses, where the endogenous phytoglobins play a major role in both control of NO levels and regulation of mitochondrial functions.
Currently Olga’s research interests involve both stress-related and developmental aspects of ROS and NO signaling, physiological functions of phytoglobins and progression of lignification in developing xylem.
Enni Väisänen has worked in the group from 2009 first as a MSc student and from 2011 as a PhD student. She got her master’s degree at Helsinki University with plant biology as her major subject.
The topic of Enni's PhD studies is plant cell wall lignification, and especially membrane transport of monolignols, the building blocks of lignin, and she is supervised jointly by Kurt Fagerstedt and Anna Kärkönen (Researcher at Natural Resources Institute Finland, LUKE). Her ambitious goal is to find the mechanism that lignifying cells use to transport monolignols to the cell wall. The species she studies is Norway spruce and during the PhD project she has got familiar with tissue culture work, plant membrane isolation, biochemical transport assays and membrane proteomics. Besides monolignol transport, she has studied their toxicity and monolignol metabolization using Nicotiana tabacum BY-2 cell line.
Eija Virolainen's PhD thesis concentrates on oxygen deprivation stress of plants and especially the role of plant mitochondria under anoxic stress. She has been working with plant mitochondria isolated from roots of wheat seedlings (Triticum aestivum), garden iris (Iris germanica) and yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus) from the beginning of my PhD studies. During the last years she has been studying the mitochondrial F1Fo-ATPase and its function under anoxia stress.
At the moment she is writing the last manuscript for the thesis about the results on the function of the mitochondrial F1Fo-ATPase in the roots of anoxia-tolerant and intolerant plant species.