New SciLifeLab fellow focuses on environmental questions

Published: 2017-02-22

Sari Peura is trying to understand how microbes control the carbon cycle in habitats where the food web is sustained by external organic carbon inputs. Many of the microbes in these environments are poorly known and understood and Sari hopes that her findings will contribute to understanding how microbes are mitigating greenhouse gas emissions from natural environments and how environmental change impacts these processes.

In order to further strengthen the research environment SciLifeLab regularly recruits young, talented research leaders to become SciLifeLab fellows. Each fellow is recruited by one of our host universities and receives funding from them.

The first call for SciLifeLab Fellows was opened in 2013 and has attracted both Swedish and international talents. During 2016 the program was be broadened to include fellows employed by other universities than the host universities, with the aim to expand the SciLifeLab network nationally. Sari Peura is now starting up her very own group at Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SLU, in Uppsala.

Sari Peura

Sari Peura

“I am recruiting my first two students right now and it is very nice to have secured funding for some time. I do not only have my own salary but also funding for the research. I feel quite comfortable right now.”

Sari’s research focuses on microbes that control the carbon cycle in habitats where organisms cannot fix enough carbon from inorganic sources like carbon dioxide to sustain their food webs. Instead these environments are relying on organic carbon from external sources, such as terrestrial organic matter from lake catchments. These kind of heterotrophic systems are typical for the northern parts of the world. These include, for example, millions of forest lakes and ponds in the boreal and subarctic regions. These water bodies typically release greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide and methane, into the atmosphere, enhancing climate change. Sari is studying how microbes are mitigating these greenhouse gas emissions and how predicted environmental changes, such as increased carbon flow to lakes, might affect these processes.

Driven by curiosity

Sari is also generally interested in how different organisms participate in the processing of terrestrial organic matter in surface waters. She has a special interest in poorly known processes and organisms.

“I am a really curious person so what really fascinates me is to look into unknown organisms and their functions. This is now possible using metagenomics tools and we can investigate organisms that we cannot cultivate. We can look at these organisms from a genetic perspective, and study their potential roles in the environment.”

After a postdoc at the University of Michigan School of Medicine, US, Sari and her family moved to Sweden three years ago when she joined Uppsala University with funding she got from the Academy of Finland. During that time she employed the sequencing technologies available at SciLifeLab as a customer, and was well aware of the center when the fellows position came up.

“Right now I am focused on establishing myself as an independent researcher here and to create a good network within SciLifeLab. I hope I will be able to stay in Sweden and at this department at least for the next 10 years.”

Outside the lab Sari spends as much time as she can running and joining the group training at the gym.

“Being a mother of five kids there is not much time for anything besides trying to keep in shape. Although now that they are a bit older it is a little less hectic at home” said Sari with a laugh.