Technical University of Denmark, Department of Physics

Research field

Fluid dynamics

Contact info

Email: khjensen@fysik.dtu.dk
Phone: +45 2231 5241

Research leader

Kaare Hartvig Jensen

Associate Professor, PhD, born 1980

Project title

Order from chaos: How plants control fluid flows

What is your project about?

The challenge of controlling fluid flow using pumps and valves is ubiquitous in both nature and technology. From the blood flowing in our veins to the fuel-injection system in a car engine, we rely critically on precise control of liquid and gas transport. Fluid flows are most often controlled by a centralized unit, such as the brain or a microprocessor. Plants, however, are able to guide flow effortlessly without this. Surprisingly, we do not yet completely understand how this happens, despite the obvious importance of plants to humans. In particular, it is unclear how transport between individual cells organize and translate into large-scale flow patterns. This project is about revealing the collective behavior of intercellular transport in plants.

 

How did you become interested in your particular field of research?

The exchange of water for carbon dioxide to synthesize sugars in plant leaves is the most fundamental currency of terrestrial life. Many processes that influence this exchange, however, remain poorly understood. My goal is to determine the fundamental physical limits to plant form and function, to elucidate evolutionary patterns, to inspire geneticists seeking higher yields, and to use biology as inspiration in design and engineering.

What are the scientific challenges and perspectives in your project?

Plant cells are physically separated from their surroundings, yet remain coherent with their neighbors and able to exchange specific sets of molecules. Previous research has shown that the junctions which facilitate transport between cells exhibit remarkable flow control features, a process which is currently believed to be energized and tightly regulated. My key hypothesis is that the flow control occurs passively and that it is encoded in the material properties of cell-to-cell junctions. We face major scientific challenges in combining experiments on biomimetic devices and plant model systems with theory to elucidate the behavior of cell networks.

Kaare Hartvig Jensen.jpg

What is your estimate of the impact, which your project may have to society in the long term?

Understanding how plants are able to operate as uniquely large - yet decentralized - organisms is a fundamental scientific question, which I will address. This new knowledge is important because humans rely critically on plants. For instance, around 95 % of the food we eat comes either directly or indirectly from plants. Even a small improvement to crop yield will thus have a significant impact. 

Which impact do you expect the Sapere Aude programme will have on your career as a researcher?

This grant from the Sapere-Aude program will significantly impact my career. It will allow me to consolidate and expand my research group as we endeavor to address new scientific questions. Moreover, the project will strengthen my international network. 

City of your current residence

Birkerød

High school

Solrød Gymnasium