Automatgenererad bild.

14 October 2014

Growing family ‘Funded by Mistra’

The Mistra-funded family has grown. But the new member is not another research initiative. It is Maj Palme, born in March to Anna and Johan Palme, each a PhD student on a Mistra programme.

With parents who are both Mistra researchers, the wording on little Maj’s T-shirt is apt. She too is, in a sense, ‘Funded by Mistra’.

 ‘We joked about it already when I was pregnant — that we each work in our own Mistra programme. And when she was born it was fun getting the T-shirt printed,’ says Anna Palme.

She has been on parental leave from her research in Mistra Future Fashion for six months, looking after Maj. Soon she and her husband Johan Palme, who works in MistraPharma, are going to share the time with Maj: each will be at home half of the time.

Anna’s research is on how fabrics could be reused in the textile industry. She was in full swing with her cotton-fibre lab experiments until her bump got in the way at the fume hood.

‘I just had time to finish my first article. It’s about how cotton from sheets that have been washed many times can be recycled.’/

Both the fibres and their building blocks, the polymers — the actual cellulose molecules — proved to be considerably shorter after being washed. This is negative if it lowers fibre quality but, at the same time, may be positive if shorter fibres are easier to weave new textiles from.

‘Now there’s a new, advanced microscope waiting there at the lab. It came just before my parental leave started, so now I’m keen to start using it to study the cotton fibres in more detail.’

Anna and Johan met before they began studying at university. He had been admitted to read molecular biology in Uppsala and Anna to read biotechnology at Chalmers University of Technologyin Gothenburg. To be able to live in the same city, Johan exchanged his place for one in Gothenburg, and they have remained there.

Now Johan is on the final spurt of writing his PhD thesis and the public defence was, in fact, to be held in the spring. But now he has postponed it a bit, thanks to the parental leave.

‘It’ll be great fun being at home with Maj, and it’ll also be nice to have a bit more time to finish off the thesis and summarise what I’ve been doing.’

Johan is researching antibiotic resistance and the risk of this problem increasing now that penicillin and other antibiotics are spreading in the natural environment.

‘I’m looking into the new techniques for treating wastewater and extracting pharmaceutical residues that other researchers in MistraPharma are developing.’

The main lines of investigation are ozone treatment to break down the substances and activated carbon to capture them. But these two treatment stages can be shaped and combined in many different ways. Tests are under way to find out what works best.

To see how effectively wastewater treatment removes resistant bacteria, Johan analyses the gene sequence of bacteria in wastewater before and after treatment. Although data are now available, he explains that it is tricky knowing what is most relevant to compare — whether the number of resistant bacteria declines generally or whether they also decrease as a proportion of all the bacteria in the samples.

His collaboration with technicians and researchers at sewage works is one example of the breadth of work in a Mistra programme that both he and Anna like.

‘Being in these big research initiatives means that we meet lots of other people who are working on similar things. It opens your eyes and enables you to see problems from different angles. And that develops you as a scientist.

Text: Andreas Nilsson, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

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