Senior Scientist Riina Muilu-Mäkelä’s interests in biology span from mosses to the stress physiology of forest trees. She is now focused to coordinate the interdisciplinary Finnish Superwood study that examines biological, physiological and psychological health effects of wood and its market potential.
You said that you became a biologist almost accidentally. What has brought you this far in the world of biology and to the frontier of the world’s study of wood?
“In high school, I was very interested in biology. I entered the university to study biology and, since then, have been following my interests.
My curiosity towards biology is diverse. Recently, I conducted a very detailed study in the stress physiology and polyamine metabolism of scots pine trees. Simultaneously I have managed the Superwood project where people across disciplines ponder the health benefits of wood materials.”
What aspects of research you enjoy the most?
“Now we have constructed a test environment to study health effects of wood on human beings at the Tampere Technical University. We have medical doctors, psychologists, biologists, architects, and researchers from the Industrial and Information Management working together to reveal the health effective properties of wood. I enjoy networking and having conversations with other scientists. That is the spice of this job.”
What kind of less known facts you would like to share about wood and its health effects?
“Wood has properties, which makes it a restorative material. In previous studies, wood material has been shown to affect activity of human autonomic nervous system and to relieve stress. People have been shown to have more positive emotions in wooden rooms and the mere touching of wooden materials can have a calming effect.
Wood as a building material has properties such as good acoustic properties, wood releases and absorbs humidity, and it has antibacterial properties. The odour of wood is typically well accepted. Wood reflects warm wavelengths creating a pleasant atmosphere, which makes wood a health-effective material.”
What other areas in biology you are passionate about?
“I have studied a variety of mosses and their curious tiny microbe partners that live inside the cells of mosses. Mosses go through a lot. They lead a rough life. Mosses dwell in mires that are moist and cold. These environments are acidic, too.
Microbes seem to help mosses to battle these challenges. Some microbes fight off harmful bacteria. Others help mosses to absorb nutrients into the cells. The bacteria fighting properties of these microbes have potential to become an organic way to battle plant diseases in general.”
Text: Miika Vähämaa