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Natuschka Lee lab

Research group Our lab conducts research into relevant microbes for our environment and health.

We conduct research into how microorganisms interact and develop with the various biospheres and geospheres on our planet, and how this knowledge can increase our chances of creating a sustainable and healthy existence on Earth and, where possible, in space. Based on basic research into microbiological ecology, we try to develop new biotechnological processes and products, especially in the fields of insect biotechnology, environmental biotechnology and astrobiotechnology.

Insect biotechnology – microbes in insects for better or worse

Insects are our oldest and largest group of animals, and they have thus had a long time to develop various relationships with a wide range of different microbial species.  Some of these microbes (for example beneficial microbes that produce antimicrobial substances) are crucial to the health and resistance of insects. Other microbes, from viruses and bacteria to fungi, may cause several different diseases in various insect species. These diseases can thus weaken important insects both in nature and in bee communities, which may have negative consequences for the biodiversity and our food production.

The purpose of our research is to:

  • Study beneficial microbes (for example lactic acid bacteria) in the intestinal flora of bees and in their products such as honey and pollen – how they can contribute to the health of bees and why, as well as whether these beneficial microbes may also be relevant to human health.
  • Study pathogenic fungi (microsporidia) in bees that cause the intestinal disease Nosema – monitor the spread of this disease in bee communities in Sweden.
  • Monitor the spread of parasitic mites in bee communities in Västerbotten.
  • Study the nutritional value and occurrence of environmental toxins in pollen in different plants – and their significance to insect resistance.
  • Study pollinating insects in their natural habitats.

Within this research, we use several different methods – from field studies in nature and in bee communities, (see Campus Bigården), enrichment and cultivation of microbes, microscopy, various chemical analyses, spectroscopy, to molecular biology and bioinformatics.

Environmental biotechnology – for a more sustainable environment

Microbes play a major role in the biogeochemical cycles of nature – including the decomposition and transformation of waste and pollutants. Our purpose is to screen for beneficial microbes that can enable more sustainable processes in industry, primarily in forest biotechnology and biological water treatment. In collaboration with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, we conduct research into:

  • How wood waste from the forest industry can be reused for local cultivation of edible fungi
  • How natural biocides such as tannins from plants and antimicrobial substances from beneficial microbes can be used to develop more sustainable production processes in the paper industry

Astrobiotechnology and our future in space

Space is no longer an exotic research platform, but will take a central role for our future society. According to Hellmark Knutsson, Minister for Higher Education and Research, “an investment in space is ultimately an investment in the Earth”. Since 2018, the Swedish Government has presented a national strategy to strengthen Swedish space activities, where the benefit to society will take centre stage (The Government launches new space strategy - Regeringen.se)

Our research is based on studying extremophiles in different environments, and what benefit they may have for different biotechnological applications – on Earth and in space: New book on life in extreme environments.

Within this context, we conduct research into how photosynthesising organisms (larvae, mosses, cyanobacteria, nitrogen-fixing bacteria in plants), which are important model organisms for our ability to grow plants on long-term space missions, can survive in space: Can life from Earth survive on Mars?

Financing

EU project INTERREG (Sweden-Norway): “Support for the dark bee” – in collaboration with Nordens Ark,  the universities in Gothenborg, Skövde and Norway
Kempe postdoc grant
Noble Prize Museum – the Pollenhunt (Forskarhjälpen 2021)
Ekhaga foundation
The Swedish Board of Agriculture
The LONA program within the Swedish Environmental Protectin Agency
Umeå University – collaboration with Umeå city
The foundation of Göran Gustafsson for nature and environment in Lappland
The foundation of Bo Rydin
Europlanet Horizon 2020
SASUF South Africa Sweden University Forum

Head of research

Natuschka Lee
Research fellow
E-mail
Email

Overview

Participating departments and units at Umeå University

Department of Chemistry

Research area

Infection biology