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From drop to ocean

Stefan Bertilsson

 Stefan Bertilsson studies microbial ecosystems in water and helps researchers to investigate the genetic material of single cells.

Almost three quarters of the earth surface is covered with water. If you have, as Stefan Bertilsson, water as your research area the scope of the research will naturally be quite large.

− I work mainly with inland lakes, but also with the Baltic Sea, the oceans, water located several kilometers deep in the bedrock and shallow ground water. I also collaborate with other researchers who want help to analyze microbial communities in other type of systems, such as the intestinal flora of various animals. It is satisfying to be able to use my understanding of microbial systems and apply them to other systems – instead of a lake, it can be the rumen of a moose or the intestine of a rat, said Stefan Bertilsson.

He emphasizes that he is an environmental scientist and that his main interests are ecosystems and their processes. To examine them, he works with many different techniques. He studies the microorganisms in the ecosystem and also measures changes in water quality, production of greenhouse gases and circulation of nutrients.

Stefan Bertilsson was born in Östergötland, where he also received his Ph.D. at Linköping University. After a postdoc at MIT in Boston, he moved to Uppsala in 2002. He recently spent six months in Athens, Georgia, on a so-called academic sabbatical, something that he thinks we should introduce a system for in Sweden.

− It is very stimulating and rewarding to change environment for some time. There is no comprehensive mechanism or tradition for this within Swedish universities, but it would probably be possible to implement locally at a department if there is an interest for it. To be a guest researcher provides the opportunity to make contacts and establish collaborations. Similarly, it is very stimulating for our research to receive people on sabbatical from other countries.

During the fall of 2011 he first became involved in SciLifeLab when helping to start up the facility for single cell genomics, which he is also director of.

Single cell genomics means that one can study the genetic material of single cells. Usually, one needs to multiply cells to obtain a sufficient amount of DNA to be able to sequence it, but many cells cannot be grown in lab environment, which makes the ability to sequence an individual cell essential.

− At the facility we multiply the genetic material under extremely clean conditions so that the quantity will become large enough for sequencing. The facility serves as a resource for the research community – all researchers in Sweden can apply for our help with this type of analyses.

Stefan Bertilsson is the Faculty of Science and Technology representative at the Uppsala node management at SciLifeLab. Since spring 2014 he is also part of the SciLifeLab’s executive management with extra responsibility for collaborations. He is one of SciLifeLab’s research leaders (SciLifeLab faculty), and is on the committee that organizes the SciLifeLab The Svedberg seminar series, which means that he helps with the planning of the seminar series speakers and acting host for them.

In addition to conducting his own research, he teaches and is involved with several scientific conferences and seminars.

− Right now, I am busy planning a major international conference in microbial ecology, SAME 14, which we are organizing here in Uppsala next year.

Something else that he looks forward to is running. He ran Göteborgsvarvet for the first time last spring and it whetted his appetite.

− With a little more practice, maybe I can even keep up with my wife’s pace in the future.

Short facts:

Name: Stefan Bertilsson
Profession: Professor at the Department of Ecology and Genetics, Limnology, Uppsala University.
Connection to SciLifeLab: Director at the Single cell genomics facility. Part of the SciLifeLab management, research leader (faculty) and SciLifeLab The Svedberg seminar series committee member.
Leisure activities/hobbies: Cook and consume food and fine beverages, travel both short and long distances, go to concerts and exploring beautiful nature by bike or boat.
What you didn’t know about Stefan Bertilsson: He has a very good sense of direction both in the forest, town and at the Uppsala Biomedical Centre (BMC).

Published October 2014
Sara Engström