Anna Godhe

Pushing the envelope through collaboration

She is a researcher motivated by curiosity and loves problem solving. “It is best to plan a study together with others and discuss how we might go about discovering something new,” says Anna Godhe, recipient of the 2018 Research Award.

anna godhe is a professor of marine ecology, whose research domain is phytoplankton ecology and evolution. She came from Skåne originally, but moved to Gothenburg in the late 1980s to begin studying at the university. She has remained here ever since.

Congratulations on the award, Anna! How does it feel to receive this recognition?
“It feels fantastic, of course, and it is a great honour to be recognized in this way.”

As I understand it, you often spend time in India. How did that come about?
“I had already travelled to some extent in India as a backpacker by the time I went there in 1996 on a Minor Field Study trip after completing my master’s degree. This is the grant programme offered by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) that gives young graduates the opportunity to go to developing countries. It was fantastic to be working there, and I got along very well with my supervisor in India. Since then we have continued to collaborate. I usually travel there every year.”

Anna Godhe’s current research project in India is related to antimicrobial resistance and how resistant bacteria spread in marine settings.

What is the connection between phytoplankton and antibiotic resistance?
“Prawn farms serve as a source of resistance, and we think the bacteria that acquire resistance genes in this environment, with its concentration of antibiotics, might be able to piggyback on phytoplankton, allowing them to spread farther. Heterotrophic bacteria depend on other organisms to obtain nutrients, especially in warm tropical climates where metabolism of nutrients occurs much faster than it does here. In Sweden we have more nutrients dissolved in water, but in the nutrient-poor environments found there, bacteria are more dependent on phytoplankton and other organisms because they release organic carbon.”

by studying the distribution of phytoplankton downstream from prawn farms, Anna Godhe and her Indian colleagues can see how resistance genes spread in watercourses.
“Not knowing much about antibiotic resistance, I collaborate with researchers from Sahlgrenska Academy and with microbiologists from India. So I am learning a lot.”

An excerpt from the explanatory statement accompanying the Faculty of Science Research Award reads: “She creates groundbreaking research transcending conventional boundaries in widely differing research projects along with national and international colleagues with very diverse disciplinary backgrounds.”

Working with researchers from different disciplines seems to be something you do often?
“I also work with people who have the same specialisation as me, of course, but it is amazing how far you can get when all those working together have different skills. I work with bioinformaticians, molecular biologists, statisticians and others, and for the last six years also with social scientists from the School of Global Studies. The first time my colleague from Global Studies and I wrote a research application together, I thought it was just a bunch of words and wondered when we would arrive at the essence of it. But now several years have passed, and we understand each other much better. It is constructive to work across subject boundaries.”

at home in sweden, diatoms are Anna Godhe’s research field, and she has recently received research funding from the Swedish Research Council to find out how diatoms can survive for over 100 years on the bottom of the ocean without light or oxygen.
“This question has eluded me for 15–20 years. We have conducted experiments showing that diatoms absorb nitrogen without access to light or oxygen. It takes energy to absorb nitrogen, but where do they get their energy? We intend to find out.”

What would the results mean?
“The use of an alternative energy source, such as the nitrates or sulphates that are abundant in sediment, would mean that the diatoms on the ocean floor participate in the circulation of nutrients. But it is uncertain how much importance diatoms have in relation to bacteria living in the sediment. In any case, the results will be exciting, because this is a strategy for how cells survive. We conduct research to generate knowledge about the world around us, and it could take decades before we can apply the results to something.”

Do you find that the results are usually what you expect?
“A bit of both. Sometimes it turns out the way you expect – that you have an explanatory model and that works best – but just as often the results turn out to be something completely different. We believe that we know a lot about the world around us, but sometimes it is exactly the opposite of what you had in mind.

What are the driving forces?

“It is what I very much wanted to do, but it was not obvious. I taught mathematics in upper-secondary school for a while, which was great fun. But when the opportunity for a doctoral studentship cropped up, there was no doubt about what I would do.”

“Almost always – it is the best job there is! What I enjoy most is working with others to plan and discuss ways to learn something more.“

I” don’t think so. We collaborate and have an extremely open climate. If anyone else happened to zero in on exactly the same detail as me, I would be happy because then we could make a lot more progress together. The competition is about money, of course.”

Anna Godhe

Anna Godhe

Is: Professor of marine ecology
Age: 51
Family: Husband and 13-year-old daughter
Hobbies: Likes to run, do yoga, read books, eat good food and go on long walks. A summer cottage on Tjörn, which she enjoys.
When are you happiest: “When I am totally engrossed in the here and now during problem-solving and feel that I am achieving a breakthrough, often together with others in a discussion, and can come up with something. It is a super feeling. And, of course, when I am with my family and friends.”