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Biologist among 24 new Wallenberg Academy Fellows

Johannes Rousk, senior lecturer at the Department of Biology at Lund University, is appointed Wallenberg Academy Fellow. The appointment involves a grant of SEK 1.5 million per year over five years. The grant will be used to study the impact of soil microbes on carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere.
Johannes Rousk. Photo: Markus Marcetic © Knut och Alice Wallenbergs Stiftelse/Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien
Johannes Rousk. Photo: Markus Marcetic © Knut och Alice Wallenbergs Stiftelse/Kungl. Vetenskapsakademien

The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation has appointed 24 young and prominent researchers as Wallenberg Academy Fellows. Three of them currently work at Lund University: microbial ecologist Johannes Rousk, historian Johan Östling and biomedical engineer Hanna Isaksson.

As a Wallenberg Academy Fellow Johannes Rousk and his team will investigate how microorganisms in the soil control the global carbon cycle. The microbes are able to use the carbon in soil to create energy through respiration in the cells; they can also form biomass to grow. The distribution between energy and biomass determines whether the carbon is released into the atmosphere or bound in the ground.

“Finding out more about this factor is a key if we are to understand whether our ecosystems lower or increase carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere”, says Johannes Rousk.

He and his research team are searching for answers to whether, and if so how, the microorganisms in soil adapt to environmental changes in the form of global warming and drought. And if the microbes adapt, does it lead to lower or higher carbon dioxide emissions?

To study the consequences of increased temperatures and drought, the team is conducting field experiments in widely different locations: outside Abisko in northern Sweden, in Ethiopia, in Australia and on the east coast of the United States.

When describing what the grant, in total SEK 7.5 million, means to him, Johannes Rousk emphasises the security that the funding will provide to his research team of eight junior researchers. He also says that it will enable a couple of new recruitments later on.

“The size of the grant gives me the opportunity to focus on my overall research goal. A colleague of mine described it as a ‘North Star goal’ – a target that helps you navigate. Although my North Star goal sounds easy, it can only be approached, never reached. It’s about being able to see the world from the microorganisms’ perspective”, he says.

How will you celebrate?

”In a way the next five years will be a celebration. I burn for my research and this grant gives me the possibility to work with what I burn for. I can’t really see anything more fun than to be able to work with my biggest interest.”

No other celebration in the near future?

”I will celebrate together with my wife, Kathrin Rousk. She is a researcher and works with terrestrial ecology at the University of Copenhagen. I look forward to the New Year celebration together with her.”

At lunduniversity.lu.se there is more information about the three new Wallenberg Academy Fellows at Lund University.

Jan Olsson

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