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Published: 2023-02-09 Updated: 2023-02-10, 14:53

Honorary award from the Royal Court to Umeå professor

NEWS H. M. The King's medal in the 8th size in the ribbon of the Order of Seraphim is awarded to Professor Bernt Eric Uhlin at Umeå University for his meritorious efforts in the development of microbiological research. The ceremony took place last week in solemn forms with the King and Queen at the Royal Palace in Stockholm.

Text: Ingrid Söderbergh

It is essential for the renewal within microbiological research that the young new group leaders, recruited in strong competition, get good resources to independently conduct the research they want to focus on

"The announcement that I was awarded this award came as a complete surprise and I naturally feel very honoured, says Bernt Eric Uhlin," senior professor at the Department of Molecular Biology and research leader at the Umeå Centre for Microbial Research, UCMR, at Umeå University.

He continues:

"At the same time, I want to emphasize that in my activities in microbiological research, both in terms of my own group's research projects and in my role as head of department, coordinator or director, I have had the privilege of working successfully in teams with many coworkers and colleagues who are thus involved in this award".

42 years at Umeå University

Bernt Eric Uhlin grew up in Jämtland-Härjedalen and in 1969 he moved to Umeå to begin university studies in chemistry and microbiology. After about six years of research studies in Denmark and in USA, he returned to Umeå in 1981 to stay. Today, he has been faithful to Umeå University for over 42 years, of which 30 years as a professor, first in medical molecular biology (1992-1995) and then in medical microbiology (1995 – now). He was head of department and led the Department of Microbiology/Molecular Biology during the period 1988-2001.

Bernt Eric Uhlin's efforts to build up microbiological research in Umeå are largely associated with his activities as director of the Umeå Centre for Microbial Research, UCMR, and The Laboratory for Molecular Infection Medicine Sweden, MIMS.

Interdisciplinary microbiological research

"The formation of the UCMR consortium at the beginning of the 2000s became for us an opportunity to both describe the existing very active and successful microbiological research that had been going on in Umeå since previous decades and that we, within an interdisciplinary and faculty-wide small group of researchers, could coordinate our aspirations for new collaborations and apply for larger external grants. We also wanted to work towards the vision that we formulated early on: To establish a world-leading and sustainable scientific environment that promotes groundbreaking biomedical research in molecular infection medicine at Umeå University".

In 2008, UCMR was established by the rector as a virtual centre at the university and Bernt Eric Uhlin was appointed director from the start in July 2008 until December 2019, that is, during the ten-year period when the Swedish Research Council gave the centre support as a national Linnaeus Centre of Excellence.

UCMR – which today includes more than 60 research groups at ten departments and two faculties – has become both a nationally and internationally recognized Centre of Excellence. Among other things, UCMR was early on in identifying new strategies to combat the problems of antimicrobial resistance. Molecular infection research has become an important area for Umeå University with strong competence and successful research in all areas of infections, bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.

Also MIMS, where Bernt Eric Uhlin was director for just over eleven years (2007-2018), has its origins in the vision for UCMR. The original UCMR consortium was behind the application from Umeå University, which was successfully selected by the Swedish Research Council to establish a Swedish molecular biology laboratory "ad modum EMBL". Bernt Eric Uhlin's role as director included responsibility for the applications for support from the Swedish Research Council, which mainly financed MIMS during three five-year periods (2007-2021).

"The partnership with the European organization EMBL, which is an international flagship for molecular biology research and advanced education in life science research, has been very significant for international recruitment to Umeå in several research fields apart from microbiology".

UCMR has also been a driving force in developing funding for new programmes for the recruitment of postdoctoral fellows for the benefit of many different research projects in Umeå. To stimulate contacts and collaborations with clinically active researchers, UCMR and MIMS initiated an investment in the "MIMS Clinical Research Fellows Programme", which can provide support to young research-active doctors both at the university hospital in Umeå and around the country.

Important equipment for life science research

An important part of the ambition and vision for UCMR and MIMS has been to work for a research environment that offers the best possible research infrastructure for biomedical research.

"We invested particularly in chemical biology in combination with molecular biology and various advanced microscopy methods. After initial direct support to local technology platforms, strategic recruitment of competent key personnel and successful applications for larger grants for equipment from external research funders (primarily the Kempe Foundations, the Knut and Alice Wallenberg's Foundation and the Swedish Research Council) as well as in collaboration with the Umeå Plant Science Centre, the Chemical Biological Centre and the Wallenberg Centre for Molecular Medicine, this has resulted in the establishment of research infrastructures that have received funding and status as national resources linked to SciLifeLab".

Support for independent young researchers

What have UCMR and MIMS meant for microbiological research in Umeå?

"The establishment of UCMR and MIMS with long-term external funding from the Swedish Research Council and strong support from the university management at the time meant that we were able to recruit and support new group leaders, postdocs and doctoral students in microbiological research who, over the past decade, have successfully contributed to the realization of the vision with ground-breaking and innovative research. It is essential for the renewal within microbiological research that the young new group leaders, recruited in strong competition, get good resources to independently conduct the research they want to focus on".

Bernt Eric Uhlin was also the one responsible for the recruitment of MIMS' first group leader Emmanuelle Charpentier. It was during her time in Umeå that she discovered the mechanism of the gene scissors CRISPR-Cas9, which led to a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2020.

"It was of course extremely fortunate for Umeå University!"

About Bernt Eric Uhlin:

Bernt Eric Uhlin was born in Tännäs in Härjedalen and grew up on Frösön where he went to primary school before continuing with high school studies at Wargentinskolan in Östersund.
He started studies at Umeå University in the fall of 1969, first in chemistry and (after a roughly 1.5-year break for, among other things, military service) continued with studies in microbiology until Phil. Bachelor's degree in early 1974.
In the spring of 1974, he was accepted as a doctoral student at the Department of Microbiology and conducted doctoral studies 1974-1978 (first year at Umeå University and then at Odense University, Denmark, where his supervisor moved as a new professor at the turn of the year 1974/1975). After his PhD defense in May 1978, he was for three years (1978-1981) a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Berkeley in the USA before returning to Umeå University in the fall of 1981.
Chair of the Department of Microbiology/Molecular Biology during the period 1988-2001.
Professor of Medical Molecular Biology 1992-1995 and professor of Medical Microbiology since 1995. From 2017 he is a senior professor.
Director of UCMR 2008-2019.
Director of MIMS 2007-2018

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