Researcher in the spotlight-Allan Rasmusson

This month’s PlantLink Researcher in the Spotlight is Allan Rasmusson, Professor at Molecular Cell Biology, Department of Biology, Lund University.

-What is currently on top of your research agenda?

There is very much going on! We are right now doing the detailed planning and final budget of the new K&A Wallenberg project that Vivi Vajda at Nordiska Riksmuseet  and I received funding for. This is pure basic research aiming at determining subcellular and molecular characteristics of extremely well-preserved fossils of especially leaf mesophyll from 2 major mass extinctions. It is an exciting multitechnological challenge to evidence the identity and particular properties of the organelles and other subcellular structures. We aim to correlate these to the major changes in atmospheric composition that took place at the time of the mass extinctions by simulating similar changes during growth of the nearest relative species of today. We are also right now starting up a multigroup project recently funded by GroGrund and led by Laura Grenville-Briggs, where we aim to identify genes that are essential for plants’ ability to be promoted and protected by biocontrol microorganisms. At the same time, we are finalizing my previous FORMAS project with Maribo Hilleshög Research AB, where we identify the first sugarbeet alleles important for biostimulation.

-Tell us about your latest publication?

Together with Maribo Hilleshög Research AB, we determined that there is a substantial genetic variation in sugar beet for competence to be biostimulated by a commercially used fungal (Trichoderma) strain ( Inbred sugarbeet lines responded highly differently regarding both growth and expression of biotic stress response genes. An added complexity was that all responses were also highly dependent on growth systems used, calling for high stringency in research setups in this field. This investigation has given us valuable experiences that we take along to the new GroGrund consortium.

-What led you into your particular field of research?

The planned work on fossil plants derives from a few years of sporadic discussions with Vivi Vajda and relates to my ancient interst in cell organelles, esp. mitochondria, and their relation to stress.

My work of plant-Trichoderma interaction is originally a spinoff from developing methods to measure redox enzymes inside mitochondria and cells without breaking them, but that is a long and winding story.

-What are the implications of your research for the society?

The fossil plant project should display how plants coped with or perished from stress and atmospheric changes that were much more profound than the ongoing change in greenhouse gases. Though the latter may be best described as humanities’ attempt on complete suicide, there may be a faint hope for us. Plants make up ca. 70% of the Earth’s biomass and turn over more than 10 times more carbon dioxide than mankind do, so previous responses of plants to more extreme conditions than we are now facing may provide valuable understanding for the prediction of our common future.

The plant-fungal interaction project will hopefully lead to better functionality of biological crop protenction and crop promotion systems.

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

Hopefully engaging younger people that have been promoted by the path to get there, yet the research focus being somewhere that I cannot predict now, because then we have made unexpected discoveries and real progress.