Jarone lab

Jarone Pinhassi appointed Wallenberg Scholar – receives grant for research on the ability of marine bacteria to utilise sunlight

Jarone Pinhassi, professor of microbiology at Linnaeus University, has been designated a Wallenberg Scholar. The Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation awards 18 million SEK to Pinhassi’s research on how the carbon cycle is affected by bacteria's ability to utilise sunlight. This is an important factor that can contribute to a better understanding of how marine ecosystems respond to upcoming environmental changes.

The Wallenberg Scholar Programme aims to provide outstanding researchers in The Wallenberg Scholar Programme aims to provide outstanding researchers in Sweden with generous funds. Professor Jarone Pinhassi is one of these researchers and receives funding for research on how the carbon cycle is affected by bacteria's ability to utilize sunlight with the help of the light-sensitive protein rhodopsin


Professor Jarone Pinhassi is Linnaeus University's first Wallenberg Scholar and is thus one of the 118 foremost active researchers now included in the program. One of them is the 2023 Nobel laureate Anne L'Huillier, professor of atomic physics at Lund University.

Nearly 500 international expert opinions were collated during the application evaluation process. Each application has been reviewed by four to five international experts.

"This is extremely gratifying and shows that our research is at the forefront. Living Seas is one of Linnaeus University's profile areas, and this gives us additional strength to truly set knowledge in motion for sustainable future development," says vice-chancellor Peter Aronsson.

A substantial part of Swedish research funding is target-driven. Wallenberg Scholars support free basic research.

The Wallenberg Scholars program was initiated in 2009 with the aim of providing some of the country's best researchers with a larger, unrestricted research grant.

"Now we have the opportunity to address questions we haven't been able to tackle before. It's also an important recognition of how significant microorganisms are for the ecosystems of the oceans." Peter Aronsson adds.


Rhodopsin converts energy in sunlight into chemical energy for improved growth - similar to photosynthesis. The protein is related to the rhodopsins that occur in the retina of the human eye, which in turn enables vision.

”There are on average a billion bacteria in every litre of seawater, and bacteria grow actively and breathe like other living creatures," says Jarone Pinhassi. Half of all photosynthesis on Earth is carried out by microscopic algae in the ocean and bacteria turn over half of the organic material that is produced. This corresponds to an almost inconceivable amount of 72 million tons of carbon per day.

Bacterial processes in the ocean play a crucial role in the global cycles of carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus. Yet there are only a handful of studies that show how the energy from rhodopsin stimulates and affects bacteria's ability to break down dissolved organic carbon in the ocean.

“An as of yet unexplored hypothesis that we will now investigate, is how rhodopsins stimulate the efficiency of bacterial growth in light. We are particularly interested in how the ability to absorb various nutrients increases.”

The research group will also investigate how bacteria's utilization of light affects the composition of the dissolved organic material in the ocean. They will measure which genes and proteins are used in light versus darkness to gain an understanding as to how the utilization of light is regulated.

It is particularly interesting to study during which seasons different types of bacteria use their rhodopsins and how gene expression varies in connection to algal blooms.

“These are fascinating, still unresolved, questions and we want to try to understand how bacteria contribute to the production of vitamins and other trace elements that are needed in the ocean's food chain as well as for human health. It's an intriguing thought that we could potentially use this new knowledge to optimize the production of for example dietary supplements or to improve water purification processes.”

The project will run over five years. Research will be conducted in both Swedish waters as well as in the Mediterranean and Atlantic, in collaboration with international colleagues.

Additional information