Professor Hannu Fritze is sitting in his wooden sailboat, working. For the leading expert of mire microbes, the beautiful archipelago, the lake and sea landscapes of Finland give peace and space for concentration.
Hannu Fritze’s pioneering career begun with a small failure. The German born pudding scientist had moved to Helsinki as a schoolboy with his parents. He wanted to study medicine, but as an immigrant, was denied a permission to apply.
University of Helsinki accepted him to study biology, where he proceeded to research.
“Microbiology and genetics were rising fields at the time. I tried to find something between botany and microbiology and ended up specialising in microfungi, Fritze recalls, modestly.”
Those were wise choices, which lead to new frontiers in soil microbiology and the growing group of experts in Luke.
Science happens in cooperation
Fritze’s career paints an interesting picture of the global questions of research of Northern ecosystems. Through the studies of environmental fallout and its effect on soil microbes, Fritze proceeded to forest nutrient cycles, acidification and heavy metal concentration in forest soils.
Funding from Academy of Finland and other major foundations made Fritze’s group grow steadily. The fact that he does not cease to emphasise is that science is not a solo performance.
“This work is not done alone. Science grows from groups and collaboration.”
Finally, the studies of methane cycles lead Fritze to mires. He focuses on Archaea, methane producing single-cell organisms, which, still for a while ago, were considered archaic forms of life.
“With the fast progress of microbiology, we now know there are Archaea everywhere and they are more developed than bacteria.”
Big thoughts and navigation
Today, the big questions of the future are on Fritze’s desk again. Microbes provide a huge repertoire of ecosystem services, such as the chemical cycles of methane. We might well see microbe based solutions to tackle climate change.
Research is on the way and it takes Fritze to mires and Archaea again. Next, he is investigating on how the warming climate and reindeer affect on the methane cycles in northern areas, Lapland.
However, first things first. Fritze has a dissertation to review and to concentrate on that, he is heading out to the sea, to the outer islands of the Bay of Finland. Wooden boats have been part of his life since childhood, when he learned to navigate and maintain them in the coasts of Helsinki. The traditional Pellinki archipelago fishing boat is his haven, where he ponders new ideas.
“Bioinformatics, genomics and microbe-ecology are the future of science. And Luke,” Fritze predicts, navigating out to the open sea.
Text: Marjatta Sihvonen