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Head of the Researchgroup

Prof. Freitak is an Estonian biologist, specialized in insect physiology and immunity, her work focuses on the mechanisms behind immune defences in insects. She has been using variety of insect models in her studies. Trans-generation immune priming has been in the centre of her interest for a last decade. Dr. Freitak with her collaborators was a first one to demonstrate a novel mechanism behind immune priming in insects, involving transfer of bacterial fragments from one generation to another. Currently her team is utilizing this discovery to develop a first ever insect vaccine for honeybees.  The effect of the diet on the immunity in insects has been another big interest of Dr. Freitak. She has studied the self-medication behaviour in the wood ants and demonstrated that wood ants are medicating themselves against fungal infections. She and her collaborators are further investigating the occurrence and mechanisms behind self-medication behaviour in ants. 


Dr. Dickel has a degree in agricultural science from the University of Gießen and PhD in Evolutionary Biology from the Jyväskylä University, she is combining both in her work. She is broadly interested in the insect immunity and fascinated by their ability to cope with, and adapt to, different stressors using behavioral changes (self-medication) as well as their immune system. While there is mostly not only a single stressor, also the response by the insect is multilayered and complex, which is why it is extremely interesting and important to always keep an eye on the big picture.
Currently her work is focusing on the health of honeybees.


Project Staff

Mag. Matti Leponiemi

Mag. Sci. Matti Leponiemi has completed his master thesis in the University of Helsinki and is now doing his doctoral studies here in University of Graz with the grant from Finnish Cultural Foundation. He is interested in insect immunity, and is currently working with honeybees to study how trans-generational immune priming affects bee colonies. He is also working with ants to study other aspects of immunity, such as how additional stressors like pesticides affect ant immunity and the fitness of ant colonies.


Jason Rissanen, ESB – University of Helsinki

Ants have been previously shown to medicate themselves using reactive oxygen species (harmful compounds), to fight against an infection from a fungal pathogen in laboratory conditions. I’m trying to identify a natural way that ants could use to fight off infections, and whether they use them successfully when infected, by using a multitrophic experimental set-up that contains ants, plants, aphids and a fungal pathogen.
I’ve liked ants ever since I was a kid. The complexity of their behaviour and the organization of the colonies are very interesting and I am especially interested in the nature and outcomes of the interactions that ants have with other organisms of their environment.



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