Posts Climate, Forestry

Professor of forest genetics, research manager Katri Kärkkäinen is curious. People in coffee-rooms and campus coffee-bars should be willing to ask silly questions, she says.

When the interviewer questions her on personal matters, the Natural Resources Institute’s (Luke) research manager Katri Kärkkäinen swiftly turns the conversation to her co-workers.

Large matters, such as adapting to climate change, can’t be solved by any single individual.

—A broad approach is essential. In research centres like Luke, whose staff cover a wide range of scientific expertise, we have ideal conditions for generating multi-scientific research projects, says Professor Kärkkäinen.

Co-operation can start in the changing rooms

Katri Kärkkäinen has applied her breeding knowledge with her dogs. 5-year-old Finnish Lapponian Dog Lelli-Elli (left) was the result of Kärkkäinen ‘s research to find the perfect mate for the now 10-year-old mother Tytti (right). Photo: Minna Väänänen

Professor Kärkkäinen works in Luke’s office in Oulu, where she radiates curiosity and thirst for knowledge. She enjoys being surrounded by people with a broad range of skills.

If you’re willing to listen to conversations at nearby tables and ask silly questions, you get ideas from beyond your own area of specialisation, says Kärkkäinen.

—At just this moment I admire how Oulu University’s mathematicians, led by Luke’s Anssi Ahtikoski, are creating methods for directing future breeding developments.

And this fruitful co-operation didn’t start from any seminar, but in the combined changing room used by people who cycle to work at Luke and the University, when they started talking about their own work.

Long-term developments in tree genotypes

The main aim of Kärkkäinen’s work is to reduce the detrimental effects of climate change and find solutions for the future using the right kind of plant genetic material and its breeding.

The immediate question is whether trees can adapt to the rapidly changing climate, when the temperature sum is rising but the trees’ growth rhythm is adapted to the northern light rhythm, which remains the same.

—Things are now changing at an astonishing rate, in just decades. Tree growth rhythm is completely different under these new conditions, says Kärkkäinen.

Can trees specialise?

As a research manager in genetics, Kärkkäinen’s role is to estimate how well Luke’s capabilities meet the huge expectations facing genetic research.

The work is both interesting and challenging, and you can’t be everywhere at the same time, she says.

With the climate change and the more specialised requirements of society new demands face the forest sector.

—Genetic research will lead to rapid developments in tree breeding, and these developments can lead to producing more timber from smaller areas, is Kärkkäinen’s vision of the future.

In addition to adapting to climate change and increasing growth rates, it is also hoped that trees will have better resistance to disease and insect attacks. Kärkkäinen expects that breeding will also make it possible to grow more specialised varieties of timber to fit specific requirements.

In particular, she entertains hopes that improving knowledge of conifers together with breeding will provide rapid results. There is still room for major improvements in the genotypes of pine and spruce, she says.

—Identification of the strong genes of the conifers can lead to breeding producing rapid results, Kärkkäinen believes.


Text: Heikki Hamunen