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Dew on a blade of grass.

Scholars of molecular ecology to meet in Joensuu

The 5th Finnish Molecular Ecology Symposium will be held on the Joensuu Campus of the University of Eastern Finland on 24–26 April 2024. The symposium will bring together dozens of researchers from across the world to discuss the latest findings and trends in molecular ecology.

Boasting more than 30 presentations and numerous posters, the symposium offers a view to the field’s latest research in Finland. The presentations will provide comprehensive insight into nature conservation and, for example, the management of endangered fish populations. The symposium will culminate in an excursion to the landscapes of Koli National Park.

Finland has a solid track record in research both in the field of ecology and in the field of genetics. Over the past 20–30 years, however, these two fields have joined forces in a way that has led to the emergence of internationally recognised research in molecular ecology in Finland.

Nowadays, methods of molecular biology are used for various purposes, such as identifying individuals within species, determining population structures and sizes, assessing the risk of extinction, and monitoring species diversity and genetic variability. These methods have played a key role in revealing significant intraspecies variation, and they have brought clarity to the classification of taxonomically difficult groups.

According to Jaakko Pohjoismäki, a newly appointed Professor of Molecular Biology and Molecular Genetics at the University of Eastern Finland and the main organiser of the symposium, basic research in genetics and genomics provides foundational knowledge for both medicine and evolutionary biology. Pohjoismäki notes that tools familiar from genetics can, besides traditional evolutionary research, be broadly applied to address questions of community and population ecology.

While it was still customary 20 years ago to study evolutionary mechanisms simply by measuring and comparing individual phenotypic traits, today it is almost routine to identify the genetic factors linked to variation between individuals using various genome scanning methods. Hundreds of thousands of genomic variants can be screened to search for genetic markers associated with a trait, which help to identify nearby genes that control the studied trait. Further studies can then be conducted to understand variation among these genes and its implications for population differences and adaptation.

For instance, in studies assessing temporal changes, genetic markers can be used to verify that the observed changes are indeed heritable, and are thus significantly slower to reverse or completely irreversible. This type of evolutionary change differs from mere phenotypic flexibility, upon which many previous studies, such as those investigating the effects of climate change, have relied.

An example of the above will be highlighted in a symposium presentation discussing the Atlantic salmon and its vgll3 gene, whose allele variation explains a large part of the variation in the salmon’s age and size of reaching sexual maturity. Professor and Vice-Dean Craig Primmer and his team at the University of Helsinki have studied this ‘salmon sexual maturity gene’ and, according to him, the vgll3 gene is a good example of how modern molecular ecological research has produced new model species that are useful in various fields of biology. The same vgll3 gene has been associated with the onset of puberty in humans, so the Atlantic salmon can be used as a model species to investigate factors influencing the onset of puberty in general. This type of research has also helped to understand why large salmon have become rare on the Teno and Tornio rivers.

According to Professor Primmer, research in molecular ecology represents top-tier research valued by universities and funders, but it also aids in population conservation and management, and creates an understanding of species resilience and factors that affect human health.

For further information, please contact: 

Professor Jaakko Pohjoismäki:

Symposium website: