One of the most important leaps in science in this decade is the growing amount of knowledge of microbes and their interaction with the environment. To study big pictures, the interaction and network between the scientists must also be on top-level. This is exactly how Luke works.
– Microbes are important both in human and animal research. New findings can have a great impact on environmental emissions, climate and in the health of humans and animals, says Research Professor, Programme Manager Johanna Vilkki.
Luke leaps to metagenomics
Microbiological research has taken huge steps forward with the help of genetics. With their international networks, Luke scientists learn and develop new methods.
When the whole genome sequencing became possible, the secrets of microbe genes opened up as well. The microbes living in a defined environment form metagenome, which offers vast amounts of new information to study.
– For example, the microbes living in the anaerobic environment of cow rumen cannot be cultivated or studied in the laboratory. With the genome sequencing methods, it is possible to study the species and get a better picture of how important the microbes are for cows, describes Vilkki, well-known for her studies on cow genetics.
Future steps: Biological systems and how they work
The focus, however, is not just on cows or on microbes. Our understanding about how comprehensive biological systems interact is growing.
– We are starting to perceive how the environment or the host animal effect on the microbes and vice versa, Vilkki says.
In Luke, the scientists know microbial life in the rumen as well as in forests and mires. Research Professor Hannu Fritze, expert on mire microbes, describes the future of soil sciences with three words: Bioinformatics, genomics and microbial ecology.
The research group led by Fritze has opened up the huge microbial diversity of forest soils and described chemical cycles in the mire ecosystems, where microbes play crucial roles.
Microbial studies have versatile users and Luke’s expertise is wanted.
– Environment is a rising trend. When I talk with the representatives of industry and commercial companies, they pay a lot of attention on environment and look for scientifically proven methods to cut their emissions, Vilkki points out.
Docent Taina Pennanen, expert on forest microbes, agrees. Scientific information is now appreciated in business. Pennanen’s studies on the symbiotic fungi of forest trees help the nurseries produce healthy and well growing saplings, thus improving the cost-efficiency of nurseries.
The biggest problem of our decade, the climate change, may well find solutions from microbes. Hannu Fritze is digging new information on methane cycles from the Finnish mires, the perfect place to study methane producing Archaea, which live everywhere in our environment.
The work of Luke scientists gets well-earned appreciation also in the international scientific community. The latest highlights are the international conference on Ecology of Soil Microorganisms in Helsinki and the success that Luke research on agriculture methane production has gained in the EU ERA funded projects.
– With our modest effort, we are doing cutting-edge science, says Johanna Vilkki in a very Finnish, modest way.