International Botanical Congress 2017

Text and pics by Linda-Liisa Veromann-Jürgenson

I was honoured to be accepted to speak at a symposium in the XIX IBC in Shenzhen, China in the end of July this year.

This year’s IBC was a grandiose event with around 7000 participants, hundreds of presentations divided between two colossal venues, over a thousand posters and 10 000 volunteers helping the organizers make things run smoothly. Indeed, this was the largest IBC ever. The logistics must have been a huge challenge, but the organizers managed it beautifully. As is common today, there was even an app for people unwilling to carry the 0.5 kg program book 🙂

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Fig. 1. The IBC venue from the outside on Sunday morning


There were abundant thought-provoking talks for everyone interested in botany: talks on genetics, taxonomy, paleobotany, plant physiology, plant-human relationships, evolution of photosynthetic strategies and so much more from the aspect of climate change, agronomy, human impact, base sciences as well as history. I was excited to see so many big names whose articles I’ve read and reread present in person! Equally, I was impressed by and incredibly glad to hear the talks of many scientists I had not come across during my studies. I have a huge list of articles I want to read as soon as possible and will keep a close eye on their future work from now.


Fig. 2. Plenary lectures could be listened to in two rooms with seats for up to 7000 people

I presented a talk based on our recent article published in the Journal of Experimental Botany titled “Extremely thick cell walls and low mesophyll conductance: welcome to the world of ancient living!” in a symposium on “Functional traits explaining responses to past and future climate changes” organized by Prof. Dr. Hermann Heilmeier and Dr. Shahin Zarre. This symposium was organized as a part of the celebration of the 200th year of publication of the journal FLORA in 2018. (Additionally, a special issue will be published in 2018 related to the topic of the symposium.) I found the symposium very exciting and well-rounded regarding functional traits and climate change. As a bonus, I also met the commissioning editor of JExBot at the Expo who oversaw the Insight published about our paper and remembered my name (thank you, double hyphenation :))!

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Fig. 3. Presenting in the Tulip Hall of the main venue: the Shenzhen Convention and Exhibition Centre

There were several options to go to local field trips as well, I opted for the Shenzhen Botanical Garden (with another 440 scientists). Luckily, whoever is in charge of weather there was in a good mood that day as the sun shined bright the whole trip. Shenzhen Botanical Garden boasts a great diversity of plants, but I was most impressed by their Cycad collection (both the living and fossilized specimens) and the petrified forest. The latter is a remarkable assemblage of fossilized tree trunks collected across Asia, but mostly from Mongolia set upright to stand tall once more.

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Fig. 4. Some specimens from the Cycadaceae garden

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Fig. 5. The petrified forest was a sight to see. The artificial structure in the mountains in the background is on top on Mount Wutong, the tallest mountain in Shenzhen (944 m)

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Fig. 6. Me standing in front of one tall dead tree, minute in both size and age in comparison

The congress was a great experience and I came back with lots of new ideas, knowledge and contacts for future collaboration. And a huge dose of extra motivation to work hard in this field so many people love and appreciate.

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Fig. 7. There was also a huge expo

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Fig. 8. The IBC logo constructed from plants and statues as seen after the last session



My trip to China was funded by the Archimedes foundation Dora Plus 1.1. Thank you!

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Fieldwork report: Data collection in Hong Kong and on mainland China

Text and pics Linda-Liisa Veromann-Jürgenson

Two weeks ago, I had an incredible opportunity to collect anatomical samples from plant species native and endemic to the southern Chinese and Hong Kong subtropical region.

As my application to do an oral presentation in the 19th International Botanical Congress in Shenzhen China was accepted, we deemed it reasonable for me to collect some anatomical data toward my PhD from that region as well since I was already flying that far abroad. More importantly, the region is known for an extraordinarily diverse flora due to the warm humid climate and long geological stability. So, I contacted several botanical gardens and nurseries to collect small leaf samples from various species.

Although the weather and the abundant eerily quiet mosquitoes did their best to inhibit my collection, I still managed to collect my data. In fact, it was the first time in decades when seven typhoons hit the area at the same time. However, I got several interesting samples across the local gymnosperm and angiosperm species both from Hong Kong and Southern China. I also made some new friends who we can hopefully collaborate with again in the near future. My special thanks to Professor Qing Ye and his lab with Associate Professor Hui Liu from the Southern China Botanical Gardens and Chinese Academy of Sciences, who were so kind to show us around the gardens as well as introduce their research and facilities.

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Fig. 1. Most of the students working in the lab joined us to see data collection and show us around. The picture was taken in the main greenhouse in a complex boasting 10000 specimens


South China Botanical Gardens located in Guangzhou is one of the largest botanical gardens in Asia covering 1155 hectares and containing thousands upon thousands of species from all across the world from alpine habitats to tropics. The garden is cleverly divided into collections as families, so it is especially convenient to do research in if you are interested in a specific group. The research facilities are equally impressive and the academic staff kind and helpful! Thank you for this opportunity!

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Fig. 2. An endemic subtropical conifer, Nothotsuga longibracteata, the only species in its genus

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Fig 3-6. Data collection

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Fig. 7. Prof. Qing Ye’s students introduced us the group’s lab

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Fig. 8. A formidable, yet adorable Chinese lion

My fieldwork was funded by Archimedes Foundation Dora 1.1. Thank you!


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How do we research in Estonia

Text by Lauri Laanisto

Estonian Research Council released recently a series of ~2 minute long videos introducing the Estonian academic system. The structure of R&D system in Estonia, higher education and funding of R&D, academic staff and rankings, practicalities in research and studying. You can see the clips here (link).

This is all part of a goverment welcoming program Settle in Estonia (link).


A typical road to higher education in Estonia (pic from here)


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Seminar – Julian Schroeder about molecular signal transduction mechanisms mediating abscisic acid and CO2 regulation of ion channels and stomatal movements

Our research neighbors – Plant Signal Research group in Universiy of Tartu – are having a really nice seminar next Friday. Julian Schroeder from University of California San Diego will give a talk “Molecular signal transduction mechanisms mediating abscisic acid and CO2 regulation of ion channels and stomatal movements“.

The seminar will take place July 14, at 13:15, in Tartu, Nooruse st. 1 room 121.


Abscisic acid in work

Here are a few words of introduction by Hannes Kollist, the PI of Plant Signal Research group:

Besides being and excellent speaker it is clear that research by Julian Schroeder has had a major impact in making progress in modern plant biology; he has also been a very successful mentor who has trained number of PI’s currently carrying out their own independent careers all around the world.

I am not particular fan of citation metrics but in case of Julian I make an exception, according to ISI WoS his H-index is 94 and he has been cited 26 500 times.

Make a break in your, holiday or work in the lab or field and come and listen Julian’s talk, it’s worth it!

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Tenure and permanence

Text by Lauri Laanisto

A few years ago Ülo Niinemets was elected as a member of Estonian Academy of Sciences. As he is one of the youngest member, he of course got quite a few assignments right away. One of the committe he was assigned dealt with developing and potential implementation of tenure track system in Estonia. This has been a topic cherished by him for a while. And couple of weeks ago in our university, the Estonian University of Life Sciences, the first round of professors were elected in accordance with the new tenure career model. We are the first university to implement tenure (though it´s pretty much clear by now that all other state universities in Estonia are soon following the same scheme).

Non-tenure in Estonian science is a remnant from the previous system. During the soviet occupancy we had similar higher education and research system to the rest of the USSR – universities dealt with teaching and research institutes with science. And there was little overlap. Somewhat similar system is still used in many countries. But in Estonia, which is a small country – in a words by one Estonian writer “it´s like New York´s taxi drivers decided to have their own country” – there is not enough quality staff to run these parallel systems. Which is why in the 90s basically all research institutions were united with universities. But the remnants of the previous system persisted. Some people are still exclusively teaching, other doing just research. The newly implemented tenure track will try to connect these worlds – each scientist need to be responsible for his or her successors. Also, the new career model states clearly what are the requirements for getting a certain position – so far these conditions were mostly unknown, depending on the person applying for the job. So hopefully there will be less “tayloring” of the positions from now on.

By the way, among the newly elected tenure track professors was Ülo. Congrats!

In addition to Ülo, two permanent positions in our group were decided by the university (though these are not yet tenure positions as the implementation will be stage-by-stage) – Eve Kaurilind was elected as researcher in plant physiology and Lauri Laanisto as senior researcher in macroecology.

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New paper published – Genome sequencing and population genomic analyses provide insights into the adaptive landscape of silver birch

Text by Lauri Laanisto /EMÜ Press

With the help of Ülo Niinemets and Leila Pazouki from our work group, researchers led by Finnish plant scientists have described the whole genome of silver birch – one of the most distinct and widespread woody species in boreal forest ecosystems of Eurasia. Here is the press release from our university:

Researchers of the Estonian University of Life Sciences involved in publishing silver birch (Betula pendula) genome


A research team led by Professors Jarkko Salojärvi and Jaakko Kangasjärvi (Dept. Biosciences, University of Helsinki, Finland), involving multiple partners from research institutions in Finland, Estonia, UK, and USA published the birch genome. Two researchers from the Estonian University of Life Sciences, Dr. Leila Pazouki and Prof. Ülo Niinemets, were involved in this pioneering research.

Silver birch is an extremely wide-spread Eurasian tree, often dominating temperate and boreal forests. Due to high growth rates and high-quality timber, it is the main tree species for commercial forestry in northern countries. Despite its high commercial value, the genome of silver birch had not been sequenced yet.

Due to its wide geographic dispersal, populations of this plant species are and have been strongly affected by environmental changes. Particularly, temperature is the main factor affecting its growth and development. At present, temperature has increased more than 1.5 °C in several birch habitats, and a warming of 4–11 °C is predicted to be reached by the end of current century. To understand how future populations of forest trees may respond to climate change, it is essential to uncover past and present signatures of molecular adaptation in their genomes.

In this study, 80 individuals of B. pendula were sequenced. Sampling was done through Finland, Germany, Norway, Ireland, and Siberia. These 80 sequenced genomes allowed the team to identify several key mutations important for understanding the environmental adaptation of birch and also serve as relevant targets for tree breeding. Such primary mutations may affect growth and development of birth trees and the way they respond to light at different latitudes and longitudes and under varies environmental conditions.

As very few tree genomes have been fully sequenced, this study provides particularly valuable information for genome structure and evolution of long-living plants such as trees. Furthermore, this research is expected to serve as a springboard for more efficient breeding of birch towards achieving higher yield and timber quality in different environments. As birch trees have local adaptations to site climates, understanding these natural adaptations will provide a major means for genetic engineering and forest biotechnology studies.

The study was published in the journal Nature Genetics.

Citation: Salojärvi, J., Smolander, O. P., Nieminen, K., Rajaraman, S., Safronov, O., Safdari, P., … & Rastas, P. (2017). Genome sequencing and population genomic analyses provide insights into the adaptive landscape of silver birch. Nature Genetics, doi:10.1038/ng.3862. (link to full text)



Silver birch (Betula pendula) is a pioneer boreal tree that can be induced to flower within 1 year. Its rapid life cycle, small (440-Mb) genome, and advanced germplasm resources make birch an attractive model for forest biotechnology. We assembled and chromosomally anchored the nuclear genome of an inbred B. pendula individual. Gene duplicates from the paleohexaploid event were enriched for transcriptional regulation, whereas tandem duplicates were overrepresented by environmental responses. Population resequencing of 80 individuals showed effective population size crashes at major points of climatic upheaval. Selective sweeps were enriched among polyploid duplicates encoding key developmental and physiological triggering functions, suggesting that local adaptation has tuned the timing of and cross-talk between fundamental plant processes. Variation around the tightly-linked light response genes PHYC and FRS10 correlated with latitude and longitude and temperature, and with precipitation for PHYC. Similar associations characterized the growth-promoting cytokinin response regulator ARR1, and the wood development genes KAK and MED5A.

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Public lecture by Steffen M. Noe

On Thursday, 18th of May, our senior researcher Steffen Manfred Noe will held a public lecture in our university – in Kreutzwaldi 5-1B27.

The lecture is titled: “Forest, Climate and Grand Challenges” and it will be in English


Steffen in Estonian Public Broadcasting (link from here)

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