PlantLink Researcher in the Spotlight – Erik Alexandersson

Erik Alexandersson is a researcher at the Department of Plant Protection Biology at SLU Alnarp for 11 years now. What is new in the career of our former director and newly elected deputy? We have asked him for you!

What is currently on top of your research agenda?

Well, the last months have been a lot about transaction. I am handing over the directorship of PlantLink to Federico Gomez, and I am excited on where he will take the network. PlantLink also has a new coordinator, Anna Maňourová, who has many novel ideas on how package and reach out with plant research via PlantLink. She has a great passion for plant research in general! My first PhD student defended her thesis beginning of May on biofortification of cassava – and I am thinking whether and how we can continue studies of tropical crops in Sweden. Is it even wise? I think so! I also want to develop my research on remote sensing of plants and see how far we can take that to judge plant health and disease. Can for example plant phenotypic information excel the use of biologicals to lower the dependence on chemicals? Talking about biologicals, we are right now doing a knowledge, attitude, practice (KAP) analysis among sub-Saharan stakeholders and end-users as part of AgriFoSe2030. We have a questionnaire open for researchers!

-Tell us about your latest publication

Two weeks ago, our review “Functional phenomics for improved climate resilience in Nordic agriculture” was accepted in Journal of Experimental Botany, which is excellent! It is an outcome of the Nordic University Hub NordPlant, and is the brainchild of colleagues Thomas Roitsch (University of Copenhagen), Kristiina Himanen (University of Helsinki) and Laura Jaakola (University of Tromsø) as well as Ajit Nehe and Aakash Chawade here at SLU Alnarp. We point at the increased relative importance Nordic, even Arctic, agriculture can come to play with climate change and the possibility to use a functional phenomics approach to facilitate this at least to a certain extent new role. We among other things call for more large-scale latitudinal studies using image- and sensor-based phenotyping to evaluate crop performance.

-What led you into your particular field of research?

Well the basic fact that plants cannot move and have to deal with everything where they stand –that fascinated me as an undergraduate student! Then I became more interested in agriculture the last 10-15 years. I was once, very long ago, contemplating whether I should be studying economy instead of biology, because it fascinated me (and I had a close friend studying black economy). Luckily, when I did my post doc I realised how much influence economy has on agriculture. Later I more and more realised how much society is a part of agriculture and vice versa. I think the latter fascinates me even more today – especially since I get my fair share of economy by almost daily looking into budget sheets in Excel. What I am trying to say is that plants are a very important part of all our lives!

-What are the implications of your research for society?

Not many, not much, haha! But my line of research, or maybe lines of research is a better expression, have huge potential impact. Both a better molecular understanding of plant defence and nutrient status of crops as well as monitoring plant health with non-invasive sensing methods are important for future plant protection strategies in agriculture. This is even more important with a changing climate.

-Finally, let´s say you got unlimited research funds; where would your research be five years from now?

Not sure. But, I would probably send up a few satellites (it is getting quite affordable actually), while reading the instruction manual at the same time. Then I am confident there will be several research questions in agriculture to be asked up there looking down.

Thank you for a very interesting interview, Erik! We wish you the best of luck and success in your future paths and welcome you as a new PlantLink deputy!

(Photo: personal communication)