SLU news

Two ERC starting grants to SLU

Published: 13 January 2022
Photos of Petra Marhava and Derek Lundberg

This year, two SLU researchers are awarded one of the most prestigious research grants in Europe, a starting grant from the European Research Council (ERC): Petra Marhava, for studies of how plants deal with temperature variations, and Derek Lundberg, for studies of interactions between bacteria and plants. ERC staring grants are worth on average €1.5 million.

The ERC is Europe’s premiere funding organisation established in 2007 to promote the careers of the most promising researchers. This year, from a total of over 4000 applicants, 397 ERC starting grants were awarded across Europe, including 14 to researchers in Sweden. The generous funding provided by the ERC allows the grantees to build a research team, conduct excellent research and establish themselves as research leaders in Europe. This is the fourth time that researchers at SLU have been granted a starting grant from the ERC, and for the second time it concerns two researchers.

Petra Marhava is a researcher at SLU's Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology in Umeå. After her master’s degree in molecular biology, she worked as cytogeneticist at the National Cancer Institute of the Slovak Republic. In 2015, she finished her PhD at the Institute of Science and Technology in Austria and then moved on to a postdoc at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. She joined SLU and Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC) in 2020.

High and cold temperatures can negatively affect growth and development of plants. Petra Marhava will explore what happens in the cell under such temperature stress, to better understand how plants deal with temperature variations, which are expected to increase through climate change. She will focus on the plant hormone auxin and analyse how it helps the plant to adjust its growth and development under cold or heat.

“I started to work with auxin during my PhD thesis and there is already much known about how it controls growth and development, but there is still a lot of information missing about the regulation of auxin transport during temperature stress responses,” says Petra Marhava. “I want to fill this gap and study what happens on the cellular and molecular level when plants experience cold or heat. I think that this knowledge is needed to figure out how climate variability will impact agriculture and natural ecosystems.”

Derek Lundberg is a plant and microbe biologist with a BSc and a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill USA. Since 2014 he has been a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen, Germany. Lundberg will join SLU´s Department of Plant Biology in Uppsala in March 2022.

In December 2021, Derek Lundberg received generous research funding from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation, as a Wallenberg Academy Fellow at SLU. For this reason, he will decline the prestigious ERC starting grant.

“It is really a great honour to receive the ERC grant and of course it is bittersweet to give it back. However, thanks to the Knut and Alice Wallenberg foundation I have generous funding for the same work, and I'm happy to think that this declined ERC money will immediately go on to fund some of the most excellent research in Europe,” says Derek Lundberg.

Derek Lundberg´s research concerns the interactions between bacteria and plants, with the purpose of finding bacteria that can increase yields and reduce the need for environmentally harmful agricultural chemicals. To better understand how bacteria and plants interact, he will investigate a group of bacteria called Sphingomonas, which thrive in leaves, roots and seeds. He will primarily study the relationship between Sphingomonas and barley, one of our most important crops, and with poplar trees, which are key in the production of fibre mass and biomass.

Press release from the ERC

Contact details

Petra Marhava
Umeå Plant Science Centre
Department of Forest Genetics and Plant Physiology
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Umeå

Derek Lundberg
Department of Plant Biology (from March 2022)
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala
Email: Derek.Lundberg {at}