Maria Falkenberg and Gunnar C. Hansson were recently elected to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (KVA).
Q: What does being elected to the KVA mean to you? How will your research and teaching career be affected?
Maria Falkenberg: It goes without saying that I was thrilled by the news. Both my team and I are delighted that others value the work that we are doing. Now I will have even more opportunities to meet researchers in various fields and learn what they are up to. Hopefully I can pass some of my newly acquired wisdom on to my students.
Q: What will your duties be as a member of the KVA?
MF: It’s hard for me to say right now. Everything is so new. I imagine that I will be expected to do all I can to raise the status of scientific inquiry in Swedish society. No doubt there will be a lot of work in connection with the various seminars that the KVA arranges, as well as the Crafoord Prize and the other honors it awards.
Q: How does it feel to be elected at the same time as someone else who is affiliated with the Institute of Biomedicine?
I love it. I’ve known Gunnar for a long time and have been impressed by the extraordinary achievements that he has made throughout the years. The institute is a great place to be if you’re interested in conducting groundbreaking research. You never run out of astute and energetic people to discuss your findings with. We also have an excellent administration that goes all out to make life easier for both our teachers and our researchers.
About Maria Falkenberg and Gunnar C Hansson:
Dr. Falkenberg is a professor at the Department of Medical Chemistry and Cell Biology, University of Gothenburg. Her research focuses on mitochondria—organelles that are often referred to as the cell’s power plant because they produce most of its fuel, known as adenosine triphosphate (ATP). Mitochondria have a genome (mtDNA) of their own that is completely separate from the genetic material in the nucleus. Though extreme small, mtDNA is vital to the expression of 13 proteins without which ATP cannot be produced. Dr. Falkenberg’s research team is exploring the dynamics and regulation of the process by which mtDNA is replicated. Mutations of mtDNA can lead to a number of different diseases and are presumed to play a key role in biological aging. Dr. Falkenberg and her team have characterized and identified several processes that are essential to replicating mtDNA for the next generation. She was elected to the KVA in the biological sciences category.
Dr. Hansson is a Professor of Medical and Physiological Chemistry at the Institute of Biomedicine, University of Gothenburg. His research focuses on the biological function of mucins (the chief constituent of mucous), particular in the intestines. His discovery that the colon contains two layers of mucous, an outer one that creates a hospitable environment for healthy intestinal bacteria and an inner one that protects against all bacteria, has opened the door to an entirely new field of research. His team recently learned that ulcerative colitis compromises the ability of the inner layer to protect against bacteria and that the layer’s characteristics can be controlled by the composition of the bacterial flora. Ulcerative colitis, an incurable condition at this point, may require removal of the colon and rectum. Dr. Hansson’s research has also explained mucosal problems in the lungs as a result of cystic fibrosis. His breakthroughs have transformed the way that the medical profession looks at the functioning of both healthy and unhealthy mucous membranes in the intestines. He was elected to the KVA in the medical sciences category.
KVA has a total of five new members. The other three are Dan I. Andersson, Uppsala University, Katarina Le Blanc, Karolinska Institutet, and Jan Nilsson, Lund University.