EUCYS exhibition 2017 Tallinn

Text and pics by Linda-Liisa Veromann-Jürgenson

The 29th European Union Contest for Young Scientists (EUCYS) took place for the first time in Estonia. According to their webpage: “The European Union Contest for Young Scientists was set up at 1989 to promote the ideals of co-operation and interchange between young scientists. The Contest is the annual showcase of the best of European student scientific achievement.” Brilliant students from 38 countries presented their work. We saw very high level and clever solutions from high school students to serious problems. For example, Jasper Tootsi, a student from Tartu presented his research into screening galactosemia to prevent infant mortality from this rare but extremely serious disease.

Fig. 1. EUCYS

Fig. 1. Our corner of the Research Estonia exhibition booth

In concert with this event, there was an exhibition organized by Research Estonia on Sunday where PhD students from different Estonian universities and fields of research introduced their work. I was lucky enough to be invited to talk about the research I do in plant physiology as one of the young members of the top group in Estonia in this field.

Fig. 2. EUCYS

Fig. 2. Demonstrating the differences of leaves between plant groups

There was a lot of interest in our group’s research both from the public as well as the international students competing in EUCYS. I think the exhibition was a success.

Fig. 3. EUCYS

Fig. 3. Research Estonia’s very serious Sunday team measuring the muscle tone and elasticity of a Zamia plant. The plant was tense

EUCYS webpage:

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New paper published – Global climatic drivers of leaf size

Ülo is a coauthor of Ian J. Wright et al´s new paper in Science. Below is a press release from our university (link).

Citation: Wright, I. J., Dong, N., Maire, V., Prentice, I. C., Westoby, M., Díaz, S., … Niinemets, Ü., … & Leishman, M. R. (2017). Global climatic drivers of leaf size. Science, 357(6354), 917-921. (link to full text)


A cover story co-authored by Ülo Niinemets is published in Science

14:58 04.09.2017

A global team of researchers, our Professor Ülo Niinemets included, have cracked the mystery of leaf size. Their research was published on Friday as a cover story in Science.

Why are leaves generally much larger in tropical jungles than in temperate forests and deserts?

The research, led by Associate Professor Ian Wright from Macquarie University, reveals that in much of the world the key limiting factor for leaf size is night temperature and the risk of frost damage to leaves.

Ian, and 16 colleagues from Australia, the UK, Canada, Argentina, the USA, Estonia, Spain, and China analysed leaves from over 7,600 species, then teamed the data with new theory to create a series of equations that can predict the maximum viable leaf size anywhere in the world based on the risk of daytime overheating and night-time freezing.

The researchers will use these findings to create more accurate vegetation models. This will be used by governments to predict how vegetation will change locally and globally under climate change, and to plan for adaptation.

For scientists it’s been a century-old conundrum: why does leaf size vary with latitude – from very small near the poles to massive leaves in the tropics?

“The conventional explanation was that water availability and overheating were the two major limits to leaf size. But the data didn’t fit,” says Ian. “For example the tropics are both wet and hot, and leaves in cooler parts of the world are unlikely to overheat.”

“The most surprising result was that over much of the world the maximum size of leaves is set not by the risk of overheating, but rather by the risk of damaging frost at night. Larger leaves have thicker, insulating “boundary layers” of still air that slows their ability to draw heat from their surroundings – heat that is needed to compensate for longwave energy lost to the night-time sky,” says co-author Colin Prentice from Imperial College London, who co-ordinated the mathematical modelling effort.

Ülle Jaakma, Prorector of Science of Estonian University of Life Sciences, said that to get your article published on the front page of Science is a really big acknowledgment for every scientist.

Professor Ülo Niinemtes is one of the most cited scientists in the world.

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Seminar – Assaf Mosquna about the selective activation of ABA receptors

Tomorrow, Wednesday the 23th, is another guest seminar in our research neighbors – Plant Signal Research group in Universiy of Tartu.

Speaker: Dr. Assaf Mosquna from Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Title:Selective Activation of ABA Receptors

Time and place: Wednesday, 23.08.17, 11:15; Institute of Technology, room 121 (big auditorium in 1st floor).

Abstract: In land plants, the ABA signaling cascade is comprised of numerous receptors. We defined a set of mutations that stabilize the receptors either, in their activated forms, constitutively or in the presence of an orthogonal ligand. This enables us to systematically reconstruct plant stress response by activating a single receptor at a time.

Contact: Hannes Kollist

p.s. ps. Coffee and pretzel will be served!


Stress signalling… (pic from here)

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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 🙂

IBC Fig1

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 :))!

IBC Fig3

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.

IBC Fig4

Fig. 4. Some specimens from the Cycadaceae garden

IBC Fig5

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)

IBC Fig6

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.

IBC Fig7

Fig. 7. There was also a huge expo

IBC Fig8

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.

China Fig1

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!

China Fig2

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

China Fig3

Fig 3-6. Data collection

China Fig4China Fig5China Fig6

China Fig7

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

China Fig8

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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