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New professor of natural product chemistry and environmental chemistry

Inge S. Fomsgaard is now employed as Professor of Natural Product Chemistry and Environmental Chemistry at the Department of Agroecology at Aarhus University.

[Translate to English:] Foto: Inge S. Fomsgaard

Aarhus University has hired Associate Professor Inge S. Fomsgaard as Professor of Natural Product Chemistry and Environmental Chemistry with effect from 15 September 2021.

It has been a long and exciting journey for the new professor to get to this milestone in her career. She was the first academic in her family when she studied pharmaceutical sciences.

"I found chemistry really exciting while in high school, and the smell of the pharmacy enticed me. So, I did my MSc in pharmceutical sciences,” says Inge S. Fomsgaard.

But she never got a position at a pharmacy, instead the newly graduated Inge S. Fomsgaard was hired as a teacher at a school for laboratory technicians. And it turned out, she was not only good at teaching, but she also really liked it. Her teaching skills, the strong interest in chemistry, and good language skills later secured her a job at a food laboratory in Nicaragua.

From Nicaragua to Flakkebjerg

“I was in Nicaragua for two years before returning toschool for laboratory technicians. But it turned out that I could not stay away from the country for long. When I discovered that Danida, in collaboration with a Nicaraguan university, was building an aquatic environment research center, I knew I had to leave Denmark again. Luckily, I got the job as an expert in chemical analyzes and could return to Nicaragua,” says Inge S. Fomsgaard. 

Over the next five years, she worked on pesticide contamination, and suddenly it became clear to her what her biggest career goal was. 

“I wanted to find out how all the chemicals we identified during my time in Nicaragua behave over time. Are they transformed into something else, do they become more or less toxic, or do they disappear? All these questions had started to pile up in my head, so when I returned to Denmark, it was with a desire to find a PhD position where I could just work with the fate of pesticides in the environment," says Inge S. Fomsgaard.

And fate would have it. When Inge S. Fomsgaard to return to Denmark in 1992, a PhD position on the fate of pesticides in the soil appeared in Flakkebjerg. And as with the previous jobinterviews, a well-prepared Inge S. Fomsgaard managed to get the position.

“I still work with the fate of pesticides in the environment to this day, and I will continue to do so in my future work as professor,” she says. 

Discovered cancer-inhibiting products in rye

The new professor not only works with environmental chemistry, she also works with natural product chemistry, as her new title also suggests. Here the focus among other things has been and will be on, how to to take advantage of the fact that plants produce chemical products that can inhibit plants that grow nearby. But it is not only the effect on other plants that Inge S. Fomsgaard has worked with. With her background in pharmaceutical sciences and thus with a great deal of knowledge within health and medicine, it naturally occurred to her to also investigate how natural products can affect human health. In 2008 this led to a major discovery of anti-cancer substances in rye.

“I had read that a number of natural substances that occur in the cereal plants were not to find in the mature kernels, which my laboratory technician and I agreed to investigate. I could see that it had not been investigated with our method. It turned out that these substances were actually present in rye. And in a major literature review, I found that precisely those substances are described in medicinal plants as being cancer-inhibiting, and that they can have an antibiotic effect," says Inge S. Fomsgaard.

She finds the subject extremely interesting, and will continue the work in the future. New experiments and articles are on the way, she says. But the health-promoting effects of natural product chemistry are only a small part of what she works with. The natural product chemistry in an agro-ecological context is where she puts most of her focus.

Plants can protect each other

What effect do the biologically active products that occur in plants have on surrounding plants or on microorganisms, insects and those that eat the plants? What happens inside the plant, how are they exuded, do they affect the soil, and how can they affect surrounding mechanisms? These are just some of the questions that interest the new professor.

“In a new project we have found that when cereals grow alongside different legumes, there is a much greater degree of transfer of benzoxazinoids (Red: BXs) from the cereal plant to the neighboring plants Than hiterto known. They are transported through the soil and roots, and for some legumes, they are also transported up the shoots. If a neighboring plant picks up these BXs, as we call them, it may help to further inhibit e.g., plant parasitic nematodes,” explains Inge S. Fomsgaard. 

Focus on a sustainable future

The actual transport mechanisms inside the plants will also be a focus area for the new professor.

“When we know more about the transport and transfer mechanisms between plants, we can e.g., build even better systems for cover crops and co-cultivation,” she says. 

All in all, there is a lot for the new professor to tackle. Much of the research she dives into is relevant to sustainable agriculture and the green transition of agriculture.

“We want to use less pesticides, and we want to utilise what is naturally present in the plants to do so, and that is within my research area. When you put it into perspective, my research is also relevant in relation to new initiatives within e.g., plant-based foods. So, the future of my research area looks bright, and there is plenty to do and a lot of new and exciting research to be done,”concludes Inge S. Fomsgaard, who will give her inaugural lecture on 27 September at the Department of Agroecology in Flakkebjerg, Denmark.

Additional information
ContactProfessor Inge S. Fomsgaard, Department of Agroecology, Aarhus University. Tel .: +45 22283399 or e-mail: inge.fomsgaard@agro.au.dk