Recently in Stockholm, the forest geneticist Prof. Ron Sederoff was awarded the Marcus Wallenberg Prize. Informally known as the “Nobel Prize for Forestry”, this two million Swedish Krona award is presented by the King of Sweden each year. It is the first time for a decade that the prize has gone to a biologist.
Dr. Marcus Wallenberg (1899-1982) held an outstanding and unique position in financial and industrial circles, both in Sweden and abroad. Among others, he was managing director and subsequently chairman of Stockholms Enskilda Bank and later chairman and honorary chairman of Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken. He was chairman and honorary chairman of a number of Swedish and international organizations and companies. He was the most respected industrialist that Sweden ever had. Marcus Wallenberg had a big interest in sailing and tennis. For instance, he participated in the 1936 Olympic games and was a Swedish elite tennis player.
Marcus Wallenberg was a member of the prominent Wallenberg family. The Wallenbergs are present in most large Swedish industrial groups, like Ericsson, Electrolux, ABB, SAS Group, SKF, AIK, Atlas Copco and more. In the 1970s, the Wallenberg family businesses employed 40% of Sweden’s industrial workforce and represented 40% of the total worth of the Stockholm stock market.
…and his Prize.
The Marcus Wallenberg Prize was instituted by Stora Kopparbergs Bergslags AB at its annual meeting in 1980 to commemorate the services rendered by Dr. Marcus Wallenberg during his long term as member and chairman of the Board of Directors.
Sustainable use of renewable forest resources to serve society is the main focus and the Prize recognizes efficiency improvements, cost improvements, the opening of new markets and the underlying research. The purpose of the Prize is to recognize, encourage and stimulate pathbreaking scientific achievements which contribute significantly to broadening knowledge and to technical development within the fields of importance to forestry and forest industries.
Why professor Ron Sederoff?
As written the Marcus Wallenberg Foundation website, professor Sederoff was awarded for:
“his breakthroughs in developing methods for gene discovery in conifer species and further exploiting molecular methods in breeding of trees with improved properties. The methods developed have been extensively exploited in research and in practical applications. Improvements in forest tree breeding for enhanced productivity resulting in a more rapid genetic gain are among the most obvious benefits of the work by Professor Sederoff and his group.”
More specifically, professor Ron Sederoff was awarded for his work on the pine genome, in which he has discovered many genes involved in disease resistance (see a PNAS paper here, for example), growth (here is a review), and lignin biosynthesis (here is a review). He was heavily involved in the sequencing of the American Chestnut genome for ecosystem restoration.
I have asked professor Erik Næsset for his comment. Professor Næsset is the Marcus Wallenberg Prize laureate from 2011 for his path breaking research that incorporates the airborne laser scanning method as an integral part of forest inventory. He has significantly contributed to the development of methods for operational use of laser scanning in forestry which provides high quality estimates of forest variables at reduced costs.
I asked prof. Næsset for a comment about what becomes more important in forestry these days, and what will be the focus in the future, regarding the Marcus Wallenberg Prize.
Professor Næsset said:
“My impression is that the laureates mostly are related to forest industries, and not so much to forestry. I may be wrong – that is easy to find, just look at the merits of the prize winners. Nevertheless, when it comes to the forest sector (the primary production), everybody talks about the green economy and climate change these days. Personally, I find the climate change – perhaps the biggest challenge of our time, to really be intriguing. It also affects all aspect of forestry. So I guess the carbon issue – whether it is related to quantification/monitoring (my discipline), ways of increasing the magnitude of the sink (much a biological issue), or to incentivize mitigation actions (social sciences), is perhaps the “hottest” these days.”
Main photo: The 2017 Marcus Wallenberg Prize laureate Prof. Ronald R. Sederoff receives the diploma from the hand of His Majesty The King of Sweden. (Photo: Johan Gunséus). Ref: www.mwp.org.