Welcome to the GGBC steering group, Åsa. Could you tell us a bit about your background and your new role as the head of BioEnv, GGBC’s host department?
My background is in biology and environmental sciences. My research focus has been on ecotoxicology, i.e. how toxic chemicals affect organisms. My research has mainly been on microbial communities and how the biodiversity can be affected by e.g. antifouling agents, pharmaceuticals and mixtures thereof. After finishing my PhD and some postdoc time, I have now worked as principle research engineer for 10 years. The position has included many different tasks around research, teaching and outreach – the three important responsibilities we have at the University. The last six years I have served as coordinator of the FRAM center, the Centre for Future Chemical Risk Assessment and Management Strategies at University of Gothenburg.
I started as head of BioEnv from April 1st and it is indeed a challenging and rewarding task. I learn new things every day and try to live up to expectations that come with the assignment. Being part of GGBCs steering group is indeed a interesting part of the new job.
You have been a part of another important centre hosted at BioEnv for many year: FRAM. It is no secret that chemicals in the environment affect biodiversity. Can you tell us about some of the initiatives that researchers at BioEnv and FRAM are working on to better understand how chemicals affect our planet?
There are several ongoing projects that focus on different types of chemicals (pharmaceuticals, pesticides, biocides, industrial chemicals and more) and particles (both smaller ones, such as nanoparticles, and larger ones, such as microplastics). It sheds light on all biological levels; genes, cell, individuals, populations, communities and ecosystems, and different environments, mainly aquatic. It focuses not only on potential effects of exposure to a single compound and/or mixtures but includes also monitoring studies in the field to follow trends of effects due to pollutants in the environment. How organisms could be used for bioremediation is also a pressing research question. Another important part of the ongoing research at BioEnv and FRAM is within chemical risk assessment were we evaluate chemical risks (in particular associated with chemical mixtures) to enable a safe and sustainable use of chemicals.
At FRAM we work in different parts of the world to study effects in different types of ecosystems but also different chemical management systems. Chemicals do not see borders and hence there is a need for global action. FRAM has been active in the efforts to establish an International Panel on Chemical Pollution (IPCP) similar to IPCC. The aim is to increase global awareness of the chemical cocktail humans and the environment are exposed to and to fill critical gaps in the communication between science, policy and the public.
How does BioEnv benefit from being a host institution to centres such as FRAM and GGBC? What role do you see that the centres play in connecting BioEnv with the rest of GU and society at large?
BioEnv as a department benefits from the funding brought in by the centres, and with more funding more important research can be done. Importantly, the activities around the centers are not only research but a lot more. All the regular seminars, workshops, courses, and different events that the centers organize are something both we as a colleagues but also our students benefit a lot from. It makes BioEnv an interesting workplace for us and others.
The centers at the University play an important role in connecting faculties, departments, other organizations and the society. They bring together different types of expertise and contribute to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our planet. They accelerate visions and solutions for a sustainable development. I cannot see that any part alone can bring all the answers so the centers provide the necessary links or bridges to other research environments and the society at large.