Tommy Norin og Sanni-Leea Aalto foto af Morten Larsen

Free research funding and recognition for two younger DTU Aqua researchers

Thursday 02 Dec 21


Tommy Norin
Senior Researcher
DTU Aqua
+45 93 51 12 34


Sanni-Leea Hellevi Aalto
Senior Researcher
DTU Aqua

Senior researcher Tommy Norin and researcher Sanni-Leea Aalto have received just over DKK 6 million kroner each from the Independent Research Fund Denmark (DFF).

According to DFF, the Sapere Aude grants, which senior researcher Tommy Norin and researcher Sanni-Leea have received, are given to “the most talented, younger researchers in Denmark with excellent, groundbreaking ideas that help to renew and consolidate the knowledge we have today."

Sanni-Leea Aalto from the Section for Aquaculture will find solutions to control the toxic gas hydrogen sulfide in aquaculture environments:

“Microbial-derived hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a major challenge for land-based aquaculture production. During the past couple of years, I have participated in research projects, which have aimed to provide solutions on how to control the production of this toxic gas in aquaculture environment.”

“With this grant, I can advance deeper into the fundamental microbiological research related H2S production, which is not very well known. I am very honored and grateful to be one of the chosen ones and very excited to start the project!” says Sanni-Leea Aalto.

Also for Tommy Norin from the Section for Marine Living Resources, the grant means a lot:

“I am incredibly happy and honored! It is absolutely fantastic to receive the grant and receive the recognition that comes with the title of Sapere Aude Research Leader.”

“The grant allows me to really immerse myself in my research on why and how the metabolism scales with body size and to expand my research group with a PhD student and a postdoc. It is a fantastic opportunity to conduct free and basic scientific research for the next four years,” says Tommy Norin.

Tommy Norin's project: Why does metabolism increase out of proportion to body size?

Tommy Norin's research project is called Unravelling why metabolic rate scales with body size. The rate at which organisms use energy and require food and oxygen, their metabolism, is closely linked to their body size, but for a given increase in body size, the metabolism typically increases relatively less. Tommy's project uses fish as model organisms to study this universal phenomenon.

"Why metabolism changes like this, ie. out of proportion to body size, and why there seems to be variation in how steep this increase is among species, are some of the biggest unanswered questions in biology," says Tommy Norin.

In this project, Tommy Norin will use comparative studies and multi-generational artificial selection experiments, in combination with genetic analyses, to unravel the mechanistic basis for why and how metabolic rate changes with body size.

How does Tommy Norin expect the grant to make a difference for him as a researcher and for DTU Aqua as a research unit?

“The Sapere Aude program is arguably the most prestigious grant program for younger researchers in Denmark. So in addition to the grant directly making it possible to conduct my research, I also expect it to open doors later, by increasing my chances of getting additional funds, and attract research talents to both my group and DTU Aqua,” says Tommy Norin.

Sanni-Leea Aalto's project: How can we control the toxic gas hydrogen sulphide (H2S) in aquaculture?

Sanni-Leea Aalto's project is called Revealing and controlling previously unexplored H2S bacteria.Toxic gas hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a major challenge for sustainable aquaculture production, leading to massive production losses even in very low concentrations. 

"Through the last few years of participating in research projects, I have found that the microbes involved in the process in the aquaculture environments are actually not very well known and can not be quantified with the current molecular microbiological methods," says Sanni-Leea Aalto.

Sanni-Leea Aalto's goal with the project is therefore to clarify the conditions under which hydrogen sulphide production is activated and to develop microbiome-based solutions to control hydrogen sulphide production in aquaculture environments.

How does Sanni-Leea Aalto expect the grant to make a difference for her as a researcher and for DTU Aqua as a research unit?

“With Sapere Aude grant, I establish a research group focused on aquaculture microbiology at DTU Aqua. This will enable me to advance in my scientific career but will also benefit the Section of Aquaculture, as microbes and microbial processes are tightly related to water quality and fish welfare in aquaculture systems.” 

“I am the first one receiving this grant in the Section and second one at DTU Aqua, so I hope this will encourage my colleagues to apply funding combining fundamental and applied science," says Sanni-Leea Aalto.

Dare to know

Sapere Aude, as this grant under DFF is called, means "dare to know" - an apt headline when the two researchers tell what it has required to obtain the grant:

"The application process was long, from submission in March to final decision in November with several rounds of evaluation and interviews for the final 51 candidates. I had already sketched the first scientific framework for the project last year, so the application writing went smoothly.” 

“The most challenging step was the interview, where I really had to pitch my idea and answer to questions on my leadership and project management skills,” says Sanni-Leea Aalto

“The most important thing is to get the good idea, and of course to be able to get it down on paper. It may well be easier said than done, and has required a lot of preparation to read up on the literature both inside and outside my field, ”says Tommy Norin.

Senior researcher Tommy Norin and researcher Sanni-Leea are among five researchers at DTU who have received a grant and a total of 42 in Denmark who have recently received Sapere Aude grants from DFF.

Blue book

Senior researcher Tommy Norin

PhD degree in fish physiology from the Section of Zoophysiology at Aarhus University in 2014
Postdoc for 1.5 years at Memorial University of Newfoundland in Canada
After Canada: an individual postdoc grant from the DFF, as well as a Sapere Aude Researcher Talent Award, which led to the University of Glasgow in Scotland, where he was a postdoc from 2015-2018
2018 return to Denmark as postdoc at DTU Aqua in Lyngby, where he is now employed as a senior researcher specializing in fish ecophysiology
He has published 33 scientific articles which have been cited 1100 times on the Web of Science. In addition to his scientific articles, Tommy has published a book chapter on metabolism in the book The Physiology of Fishes

Researcher Sanni-Leea Aalto

PhD from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland 2013 and MSc from the University of Helsinki, Finland 2006
Researcher at DTU Aqua from 2019
Academy of Finland post PhD Fellow 2017-2019
Post-doc researcher at the Environmental Microbiology group led by Prof. Marja Tiirola 2013-2017
Research area: Microbiology of aquaculture environments, including the microbiology of H2S production, biofilters and systems microbiology in recirculating aquaculture systems and microbial-driven end-of-pipe nutrient removal processes
38 publications
Personal: Lives in Hjørring, two daughters, Kerttu (2012) and Aino (2008), and partner Gorm

Portrait photos by Morten Larsen /DFF