Illustration of Olga Vinnere Pettersson and Stefan Bertilsson


Scientific leads for the SciLifeLab Planetary Biology capability appointed

In December, SciLifeLab sought a professor level expert that could plan and guide the new SciLifeLab national strategy for Planetary Biology. Now, Olga Vinnere Pettersson and Stefan Bertilsson have been appointed as co-leads.

SciLifeLab views planetary biology as a diverse, dynamic and evolving research area with strong global impact, which spans from single molecules and cells to individual species, species communities, ecosystems and their function on the planet.

“The combination of SciLifeLab infrastructure, and the data-driven life science program, along with an opportunity to interact with the entire research community provides a lot of opportunities [for the planetary biology capability]” said SciLifeLab Director Olli Kallioniemi when the call for the leads was announced.

These resources could help to elevate the already strong Swedish biological research to an even higher level

Olga Vinnere Pettersson

Olga Vinnere Pettersson, Project Coordinator at NGI-Uppsala and new co-lead of the Planetary Biology capability, sees the planetary biology term as a modern version of the name ecology, and finds that it entails the principles of the original meaning, but also the recent developments in multi-omics that sheds light on the intricate mechanisms of organism interaction within ecosystems.

“We hope to bridge the gap between researchers working in different disciplines: conservation, population genetics, taxonomy, evolution, metagenomics, biogeochemistry, and so on, to create a strong environment for studying ecosystems as a whole” says Olga Vinnere Pettersson.

Co-lead Stefan Bertilsson, SciLifeLab/SLU researcher and Director of SITES (Swedish Infrastructure for Ecosystem Science), wants the capability to support and accelerate research and discovery in ecosystem and global-scale biology research.

“This entails more extensive and efficient use of the full portfolio of molecular biosciences methods and infrastructure for planetary biology, with the ambition of providing deep and mechanistic understanding of how different populations, communities and ecosystems function and interact with each other and the earth system” says Stefan Bertilsson.

To make efficient use of the expertise and resources in molecular biosciences available at SciLifeLab, Stefan Bertilsson believes that the capability can inform and train researchers within the planetary biology research domain. He also sees the capability as a platform for assembling capable research teams to tackle grand challenges and support, or even lead, initiatives to secure funding and support for taking on such challenges.

By connecting SciLifeLab, DDLS and the strong ecosystem science that we have in Sweden we now have the opportunity to take an internationally leading role in such endeavors

Stefan Bertilsson

One area that Stefan Bertilsson finds particularly promising is modeling efforts that aim to link information at the molecular and cellular level to processes and elemental cycles at the scale of ecosystems, biomes and the planet. 

“By connecting SciLifeLab, DDLS and the strong ecosystem science that we have in Sweden we now have the opportunity to take an internationally leading role in such endeavors. I feel that this can take ecosystem science and planetary biology to the next level!” says Stefan Bertilsson.

Firstly, however, the research community and stakeholders need to be mapped and engaged in developing the capability, he points out. There are many grand challenges related to our planet, but for a start Stefan Bertilsson highlights three areas: climate change, biome degradation and the biodiversity crisis. 

“Obviously, the capability cannot solve these grand challenges, but by assembling and supporting strong multidisciplinary research teams we can hopefully contribute to new knowledge and efficient mitigation strategies” says Stefan Bertilsson.

Olga Vinnere Pettersson hopes to connect the existing SciLifeLab infrastructure and technology platforms with the needs of biodiversity researchers in Sweden. Another hope is that the new capability can help tailor the platforms, technologies and other SciLifeLab initiatives, including the SciLifeLab & Wallenberg National Program for Data-Driven Life Science, to community demands – in order to provide the necessary research tools.

Tighter collaborations, both among different structures within SciLifeLab, as well as between SciLifeLab and the non-biomedical research community, is another goal Olga Vinnere Pettersson identifies.

“Since the beginning of SciLifeLab, there has always been a concern in the biodiversity community that our infrastructure is open for biomedical research only. With the new Planetary Biology capability, we aim to increase SciLifeLab accessibility to any kind of biological research” says Olga Vinnere Pettersson.

One issue for biodiversity researchers, that Olga Vinnere Pettersson points out, is the lack of funding. Great infrastructure does not matter if there is not enough funding to use that infrastructure, it needs to be affordable. Another challenge would be to find synergies between different consortia in Sweden, the EU and globally. Success in this area would create stronger research environments and could bring the necessary funding.

The final challenge she finds is to demonstrate the usefulness of all techniques available, such as imaging, microscopy, genomics, bioinformatics, metabolomics, proteomics and big data analysis, for non-biomedical research. 

“These resources could help to elevate the already strong Swedish biological research to an even higher level. Together with my co-lead, Stefan Bertilsson, I am eager to start forming this program and to serve the Swedish biologists to the best of my ability” says Olga Vinnere Pettersson.

Want to learn more about our planetary biology efforts at SciLifeLab? Join this workshop in Heidelberg, organized by Olga Vinnere Pettersson and Stefan Bertilsson, together with EMBL (the European Molecular Biology Laboratory).


Last updated: 2022-03-31

Content Responsible: Niklas Norberg Wirtén(