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New professor in plant pathology

Mogens Nicolaisen is now employed as Professor in Plant Pathology at the Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University.

[Translate to English:] Mogens Nicolaisen er ansat som professor i plantepatologi. Foto: Janne Hansen

Aarhus University has chosen to employ Senior Researcher and Section Manager Mogens Nicolaisen as Professor in Plant Pathology in the Department of Agroecology with effect from 1 June 2018. 

The 55-year-old newly minted professor is an explorer in terra incognita. The uncharted territory is not new continents but a world of small things with great importance. It is a world that most of us never see, namely the world of microbes, which is populated by bacteria, viruses and fungi. 

- There are many unknown areas in microbiology, so there is still a lot to learn. There is a colossal species diversity that can be used in many ways, says Mogens Nicolaisen, who has specialised in plant pathology. This means that his focus is particularly on microorganisms that can be harmful to plants. One of his visions is to use the great diversity of microorganisms to combat plant diseases to improve plant health. 

Early interest in the microbial world

Mogens Nicolaisen’s interest in plant pathogens was kindled already during his Master of Agricultural Science studies at the then Royal Veterinary and Agricultural University in Copenhagen, where his thesis was about pea seed mosaic virus. From 1992 to 1996 he carried out his PhD studies in molecular mycology. He shared his time between DTU and the company Bioneer A/S, where, among other things, he worked with diagnostic methods for identification of toxin-producing fungi. 

Thereafter, Mogens Nicolaisen went to Risø, where he worked as a postdoc studying powdery mildew in cereals on a molecular level. In 1999, Mogens was employed as a researcher at the research centre in Flakkebjerg with the aim of delving into virus, especially development of methods to detect virus, and often in collaboration with large nurseries. The place of employment is still the same but after a few years, focus was shifted from virus to fungi, and Mogens became a senior researcher and, later on, also section manager in the Department of Agroecology. 

Knowledge put to practice

The time at Bioneer and the collaboration with the nurseries made their mark, in that it helped Mogens Nicolaisen realise the value of applied research.   

- Working with a commercial company gave me other perspectives on research, i.e. having a focus on applying results in real life and preferably right away, he says. 

His practice-oriented approach and strong skills and expertise in plant pathology come actively into play in connection with policy support, which is one of Mogens Nicolaisen’s key areas. On behalf of the authorities, he has his finger on the pulse with regard to quarantine pests, including understanding their transmission pathways and risk assessment. 

One of the things that the policy support tasks have led to is that Mogens Nicolaisen and his colleagues have developed new molecular techniques for diagnosis, detection and monitoring of plant pests. This work has resulted in numerous assays that are used in commercial and governmental laboratories worldwide.   

Snapshots of whole microbial societies

A relatively new research area in which Mogens Nicolaisen sees great perspectives, is taking genetic fingerprints of ”everything” all at once with the aid of new technology that can identify DNA from a symphony of microorganisms. This is the so-called metabarcoding. 

- Metabarcoding enables us to determine millions of individual organisms in one sample. For years, we have studied the plant and its interactions with individual species of organisms. The novelty is that we can now study all the microorganisms, i.e. the complete microbiome, all at once and their interactions with each other and the plant, says Mogens Nicolaisen and adds: 

- I strongly believe that we should view things in a broader perspective and not just look at a single plant or pathogen at a time but whole ecosystems.  

He predicts that by working with this concept it will be possible to develop a much better understanding of, among other things, plant disease, soil health, the importance of good crop rotations, sanitised crops, plant nutrition and soil structure. 

- By gaining a better understanding of these very complex interactions, in the long run it will be possible to design microbiomes that can result in healthier and more resistant plants either directly by adding synthetic microbiomes to the environment or indirectly by changing the living conditions for the microorganisms in the environment, says Mogens Nicolaisen. One of his visions is that the techniques that he and his colleagues have helped develop can also be used in other areas. 

- I hope for future collaborative projects, e.g. in connection with how microorganisms affect soil structure and how they themselves are affected by soil structure, he says. 

Mogens Nicolaisen will give his inaugural lecture later this year.  

For more information please contact: Professor Mogens Nicolaisen, Department of Agroecology, email: mn@agro.au.dk telephone: +45 8715 8137