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Published: 2021-08-09

Insects in focus for French students during internship in Umeå

NEWS The corona pandemic was making their journey impossible, but eventually a group of French students were able to gain their first international experience as Erasmus scholars. Throughout the summer, together with supervisor Natuschka Lee at Umeå University, they have explored bees, plants that the insects pollinate and microbes in insects that live on wood.

Text: Anna-Lena Lindskog

“It has been really cool, we have not seen so many people on campus, but it has been great anyway” says Pauline Audru who studies biology at the University of Poitiers in France. "Natuschka explains things so well and we have got a good mix between theory and practice and have learned some new lab techniques.”

In summer, the campus is usually quite desolate - and this summer even more deserted. But, the French students are happy with their stay anyway. Due to covid-19, it was uncertain whether they would be able to complete their three-month Erasmus internship abroad at all.

First students three years ago

“When they came here, they were first quarantined for 14 days” says Natuschka Lee, researcher at the Department of Ecology and Environmental Science, Umeå University, who supervised the students.

Three years ago Anita Sellstedt at UPSC and she received the first student from Poitiers and since then the exchange has continued. This year, one student from the historic Université Paris-Saclay and one from the Toulouse University of Veterinary Medicine also did an internship in Umeå through Erasmus.

Biology students Marine Gueylard and Pauline Audru have studied bacteria and parasites in the intestinal flora of honeybees. Tomas Momboeuf, who studies computer science and has mostly programmed before, has in Umeå been given new challenges in developing the Pollen database. Honey is one of the foods in the world where there is most cheating with the origin and the purpose of the database is to be able to identify which plants the bees that gave the honey have visited.

Field work with insects

Damien Arrivé has also worked with a database, but his project has been about beneficial microbes like rhizobia in nitrogen fixing plants. The aim has been to investigate the global diversity of these useful microbes and compare it with the conditions in Västerbotten, which has not been done before.

“I have also done some field work, both here and in Lapland, to observe which insects pollinate these important nitrogen fixing plants” says Damien.

Etienne Guillaume's project has not been about bees, but about wood-living insects, or rather the microbes in the insects' intestines that break down the wood. Diving into biology was completely new to him.

“The last time I studied biology was in high school”, he says. “I study engineering and have mostly read physics, math and computer science.”

Why did you want to come to Umeå University?

“During my first year as a master's student, I studied environmental science and became increasingly interested in it, but wanted to learn more biology and see what research is about. I think I might want to do my doctorate in the future.

What experiences do you take home with you?

“Many great memories and above all I’m pleased that the practice has given me what I wanted and that Natuschka has let me test many different kinds of tasks. It will help me decide what kind of environmental science I want to pursue. It has also been wonderful to experience nature here and the sunlight around the clock that we are not used to at all. The countryside here is also much more "wild" than in France.”

"Something other than my living room"

Damien Arrivé thinks that he, like the others, has learned a lot of new things. Above all, it has been a new experience to do an internship abroad.

“After a complicated year with covid-19, I am also grateful to have been able to travel and see something other than my own living room”, he says.

The whole group has also got a taste for studying abroad. Marine Gueylard hopes to be able to go abroad the last six months of her master's studies. Pauline Audru would like to study in New Zealand, where her father once did his PhD and Etienne Guillaume has already decided to work on a humanitarian project in Burundi during his next year of study.

“I would like to come to Umeå again, but in the winter so that I can see the northern lights and go skiing” says Damien Arrivé.