People

Ykä Helariutta is a professor of Plant Developmental Biology at the University of Helsinki, Finland (2005-) and University of Cambridge, UK (2014-). 

He received his MSc (1990) and PhD (1995) from the University of Helsinki. Following his PhD work on floral development in gerbera and a post-doc investigating root development in Arabidopsis at the Benfey lab, New York University, he returned to Helsinki (1998) to launch his own research group focused on vascular development and wood formation. His group has been pioneering the understanding of gene regulatory network underlying phloem morphogenesis in Arabidopsis. He has been also focusing on understanding and engineering cambial development in tree species. Recently, he has started to pursue the genetic basis of sink tissue formation with a possible reference to engineering and breeding such tissues in plants. 

Ykä has a large network of international collaborators. His lab has frequently been part of the Centre of Excellence Programmes of the Academy of Finland. In 2013, he was selected to be a professor of the Academy of Finland. During the last 10 years his research has been funded by the Academy of Finland, EU, Gatsby Charitable Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and other sources. Recently, he has received Jane and Aatos Erkko Foundation award for his studies on enhancing the carbon sink effect in trees and ERCPoC award for “Assessing the technical and business feasibility of Callose Enriched Plant Biomass as a solution for improving Biorefinery Industry processes and profit margins”. He has filed several patents during his career and is an Editor or member of the editorial board for several journals including Science and Development.

Throughout my scientific career, I have been interested in developmental biology.  My PhD project (Kangasjärvi-lab, Helsinki, Finland) dealt with bud dormancy in trees.  As a postdoc, I first studied flower development in various non-model species (Albert-lab, Buffalo, NY), then had an opportunity to look into developing mouse retina (Mu-lab, Buffalo, NY).  Since joining the Helariutta team, I’ve focused on genetic screens to identify novel mutants with altered vascular patterning in Arabidopsis.    

I obtained my PhD degree in 2015, at the Umeå Plant Science Centre (UPSC), Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences under the guidance of Prof. Ove Nilsson. In March 2016, I moved to the University of Helsinki as a postdoctoral researcher and joined the Helariutta wood development team. I am interested in understanding how plant hormone cytokinin regulates cambial development and wood formation in trees.

After completing an MSc degree in Harbin, China, I moved to Finland in 2015 to conduct my PhD studies in the Helariutta lab. I have been interested in plant developmental biology since my earlier education. Now, I am focusing on strigolactones and their effect on tree crown architecture. My major interests are genetics, automated phenotyping systems and data analysis.

I graduated from the University of Helsinki and started my PhD training in the Helariutta lab in August 2019. I am using Betula pendula as a model plant and I am focusing on different birch variants with distinctive shoot system phenotypes. My fascination is to explore developmental mechanisms that produce distinct tree crowns. I believe that understanding these processes will give us a possibility to grow trees of optimal properties in a given environment, such as orchards, parks and forests.