As a vital part of the SciLifeLab & Wallenberg National Program for Data-Driven Life Science (DDLS), the first seven DDLS Fellows have now been recruited at Chalmers, Umeå University, Linköping University, Uppsala University, and The Swedish Museum of Natural History (NRM). In order for you to get to know the new DDLS Fellows better, SciLifeLab will publish a Q&A-style article series, presenting each new fellow separately. First out is Johan Bengtsson-Palme (Chalmers).
Johan started his studies in molecular biology in 2006 and did his Ph.D. with Professor Joakim Larsson at the Sahlgrenska Academy, on how to use metagenomics to study antibiotic resistance in environmental bacterial communities. After that, he did his postdoc with Professor Jo Handelsman’s lab at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, USA, working with interactions between bacterial species in microbial communities.
“A lot of my research today is some kind of combination of what I learned from Joakim Larsson and my work with Jo Handelsman. In 2019 I returned to the University of Gothenburg as a group leader and I currently lead a research group of around five persons, most of whom will come with me to Chalmers in one form or another”, says Johan.
How do you think your expertise can contribute to the program?
My research has been at the intersection between data-driven and experiment-driven research all the way back to when I did my Ph.D. Today, we work a lot with building models for things like antibiotic resistance development and interspecies interactions, and then we use existing data to populate these models. This allows us to find gaps in the available data and direct experiments to where they will give the most additional information. I think the interdisciplinary nature of my research as well as my experience with software development will be a great fit for the program, and I also think that my lab can contribute with a positive and collaborative spirit!
Shortly describe your research in an easy-to-understand way.
In essence, there are three different tracks to my research. The first originates from my work with antibiotic resistance as a doctoral student and deals with how resistance develops and spreads, particularly in the environment. The second is based on what I did during my postdoc with Jo Handelsman and is focused on which type of mechanisms are responsible for interactions between bacteria, and what happens when those interactions are disturbed. The third track is sort of a combination of the first two, and concerns what makes pathogenic bacteria pathogenic. What distinguishes pathogenic bacteria from harmless bacteria, especially considering bacteria within the same species? All this research has been driven by the use of large-scale datasets, bioinformatics analyses and modeling. Through these methods, we aim to find molecular mechanisms and will, hopefully, be able to understand why these processes happen and how virulence and antibiotic resistance evolves.
How do you think the program and interactions with the other DDLS-Fellows will benefit you?
Partially this will depend on who the other fellows are, but I really look forward to interacting with peers who use similar methods but work on different topics. In the past, I’ve found that this generally spawns new and interesting solutions to problems. Sometimes there is a biologically different but technically similar problem in another field, and finding these situations can move your work forward a lot in just one go! Then, of course, the entire DDLS program is a huge opportunity to create a bigger environment around data-driven research in Sweden, which is super-exciting on its own!
Name one thing that people generally do not know about you.
I once got accepted to an education to become a music producer, but I turned it down after much thought. But I still have a home studio and someone who is skilled with searching can find some of my music on Spotify.
Where do you see yourself in five years regarding the DDLS aspect?
This is a tough question – with so many excellent researchers being recruited to the program, one must be a bit humble. I hope that I can be one of the major driving persons in data-driven life science in Sweden and could take a central role in forming this area, at least in Gothenburg. However, with these many talented research leaders recruited at once, who knows who will become the leading figures in a couple of years.
In one word, describe how you feel about becoming a DDLS-Fellow.