• 1998 MSc (UTU, Environmental Chemistry)
• 2002 PhD (UTU, Birch leaf hydrolysable tannins: chemical, biochemical and ecological aspects)
• 2005 Docent (UTU, Chemical Ecology)
• 2009 Full Professor (UTU, Chemistry of Natural Compounds and the Environment)
• 2012-2017 Head of Dept. (UTU, Department of Chemistry)
I have had two clear research-related missions that have motivated me since the early days of my PhD: tannin chemistry and chemical ecology. I find these two fields of science highly exciting and their combination especially challenging. Today, our research group is able to dig really deep in science with both of these missions, since consistency is and has been the key to major breakthroughs. With chemical ecology I cannot emphasize enough the importance of top-quality collaborators, since chemists cannot handle that field on their own.
The most important mission for me is to promote the development and utilization of high-quality tannin chemistry in all possible fields of science. For me tannin chemistry includes four focus areas: (1) qualitative analysis of tannins, (2) quantitative analysis of tannins, (3) tannin fractionation and purification, and (4) bioactivity studies with purified tannins or chemically well-characterized extracts. All these areas are quite challenging to develop, since plants complicate our research by producing mixtures of tens and hundreds of tannins with molecular weights well beyond 8000 Da. So far we have been able to characterize the largest ellagitannins in plants, develop novel fingerprinting tools for tannin quantitation, purify tannins previously not known to be even produced by plants, and conduct several detailed structure-activity studies that enable us to estimate tannins’ bioactivities directly from their structures. In fact, now we can estimate plant’s bioactivity potential directly from the pool of fingerprints that are recorded during one 10-minute UPLC-DAD-MS/MS analysis. All this knowledge can be used in multiple ways to support basic scientific research on plants and tannins or to develop new industrial applications for both of them.
My interest towards chemical ecology is based on the fact that variations in plant tannin chemistry between plant individuals, plant parts, plant species, plant genera and families must have clear consequences on how all these are defended against herbivores, be they vertebrates or invertebrates. Currently very little is known of the true role of tannins in this variable picture, since the chemistry component included in most studies of chemical ecology has not given enough credit to the diversity of tannin structures found in plants. We have tried to clarify the picture for a long time now, but the more we learn of plants and animals, the more complex the interplay between plant tannins and plant-eating animals seems to get. What is true with one specific plant-animal interaction may be false with another one, since either the tannin fingerprints of the plant species are very different or the animals have evolved with different types of tannin detoxification mechanisms. Of course, if all this were simple, it would have been solved ages ago.