My environmental engagement, partly originating from the time I worked in the local sewage treatment works analysing water samples, made me want to become a biologist. In 1996, I finished my Master’s studies in Biology at Uppsala University.
I already had my mind set on a career in research during my undergraduate studies. I was attracted to the prospect of running my own projects and answering my own questions. In 2001, I defended my thesis on the genes that control the development of male cones in spruce at Uppsala University.
Following postdoctoral studies at Yale University, USA and at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), I landed a position as Postdoctoral Fellow (forskarassistent) at SLU in 2006. In 2008, I became Associate Professor (docent) and since 2012, I have been Senior Lecturer/Extension Specialist in Biotechnology.
Cultivation of oilseed rape, which has had the stamens of the flower transformed into a carpel-like organ. Photo: Pelle Kronestedt.
Research and area of expertise
My area of expertise is genetic engineering of plants. My research is in the field of plant physiology with molecular studies of predominately the reproductive development (cone and flower setting) of vascular plants, often integrated into an evolutionary framework.
The field of plant physiology has undergone a very exciting transformation during the last few decades, from studies of whole plants to molecular and genetic studies.
1. Epigenetic development of plant growth and development
What epigenetic mechanisms (modifications of the DNA) control the expression of the genes that regulate growth and development of an organism? With that knowledge, we would be able to control the response of crop plants to environmental cues, and thus harvest yields, in the future.
We use thale cress, Arabidopsis, as a model organism to study, for example, the expression of gene clusters in the stamen.
2. Early cone setting in Norway spruce
It takes many years before a coniferous tree sets cones for the first time, making breeding impossible.
Normally, spruce set cones after 20-25 years. We have isolated a Norway spruce mutant that can produce cones within one year after seed germination. Our long-term goal is to make conifer breeding possible, by understanding the genes that control cone setting.
3. Method development for identification of genetically modified plants
Some plants have been genetically modified for the pharmaceutical industry, and are not intended as foods. We are developing a fast, easy and inexpensive method to distinguish between different types of genetically modified plants.
This project is run in collaboration with the National Food Agency in Sweden.
My research colleagues
SLU: Daniel Uddenberg, Johan Reimegård, Sara von Arnold
Outside SLU: Olof Emanuelsson (KTH Royal Institute of Technology), Curt Almqvist (Skogforsk), Ulf Hammerling (National Food Agency), Anders Alderborn (Uppsala University)
I am very committed to the public debate on genetic engineering by writing opinion articles, appearing on radio and TV and by writing about the subject on Forskarbloggen, SLU’s research blog.
Active blogging on Forskarbloggen, SLU’s scientific blog which I started, has led to extensive contacts with the public, interest groups, government agencies and industry. I have, for instance, visited schools and been invited speaker at seminars on genetic engineering.
I am advisor for public authorities both in Sweden and at the EU level on issues of adopting modern biotechnology and novel breeding technologies in the agricultural sector. As Sweden’s representative in the collaborative working group of the Standing Committee on Agricultural Research (SCAR), I discuss joint risk research of genetically modified plants in Europe.
I give lectures on genetic engineering, transformation of plants and ethical aspects of biotechnology as part of the educational programmes in biotechnology and agriculture at SLU. I am responsible for the master course on Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO), BI1161 10hp.
Other professional activities
Prinicpal Investigator of SLU’s transformation platform for the production of transgenic plants, mainly Arabidopsis.
Coordinator during 2011 and now additional member of the Steering Committee of the Linnean Centre for Plant Biology in Uppsala.
I also represent SLU as a member of PlantLink’s Steering Committee.
Member of the Swedish Genetechnology Advisory Board
Department of Plant Biology and Forest Genetics, SLU
Cooperation and extension at SLU
Linnean Centre for Plant Biology
Forskarbloggen (SLU’s research blog, some entries are in English)
The Warped World of Parallel Science, Op-ed in The Wall Street Journal (2014-10-29), Sundström J. & Fagerström T.
Sundström, J. F., Vaculova, A., Smertenko, A. P., Savenkov, E. I., Golokov, A., Minina, E., Tiwari, B. S., Rodriquez-Nieto, S., Zamyatnin, A. A., Välineva, T., Saarikettu, J., Frilander, M. J., Suarez, M.F., Zavialov, A., Ståhl, U., Hussey, P. J., Silvennoinen, O., Sundberg, E., Zhivotovsky, B. & Bozhkov, P. V. (2009). Tudor staphylococcal nuclease is an evolutionarily conserved component of the programmed cell death degradome. Nature Cell Biology, 11(11), 1347-1354.
Karlgren, A., Carlsson, J., Gyllenstrand, N., Lagercrantz, U. & Sundström, J. F. (2009). Non-radioactive in situ hybridization protocol applicable for Norway spruce and a range of plant species. Journal of visualized experiments JoVE, (26), 1-13.
Alderborn, A., Sundström, J., Soeria-Atmadja, D., Sandberg, M., Andersson, H. C. & Hammerling, U. (2010). Genetically modified plants for non-food or non-feed purposes: straightforward screening for their appearance in food and feed. Food and chemical toxicology: an international journal published for the British Industrial Biological Research Association, 48(2), 453-64.
Fagerström, T., Dixelius, C., Magnusson, U. & Sundström, J. F. (2012). Stop worrying; start growing – Risk research demonstrated that genetically modified crops are as safe as conventionally bread crops; it is time to start reaping the benefits of GM. EMBO reports. 13(6), 493-97.
Dixelius C, Fagerström T, Sundström JF. (2012). European agricultural policy goes down the tubers. Nat Biotechnol., 30(6):492-3.
Uddenberg, D., Reimegård, J., Clapham, D., Almqvist, C., von Arnold, S., Emanuelsson, O. & Sundström, J.F. (2013). Early cone setting in Picea abies acrocona is associated with increased transcriptional activity of a MADS box transcription factor. in Plant Physiol, pp. 813-823.
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