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Evolution of Stemness Control and Multicellularity

Hammarlund Group

Our Research

Why animals evolved on Earth remains poorly understood. In fact, we lack understanding of both what made unicellular ancestors become multicellular and why animals and plants alone managed to become so complex (organ-grade) and diverse. Since long, the rise of animals has been associated with a presumed rise in atmospheric oxygen. Currently, no geological evidence conclusively supports this hypothesis. In contrast and if we ‘listen to tissue’, the opposite is becoming clear. Oxic conditions serve an evolutionary impediment for stem cell-based tissue formation and renewal, by how oxygen drives cell differentiation. My lab aims to test to what extent animal evolution and development is shaped by mechanisms to harness hypoxia – in niches or phases, or through cellular mechanisms such as the hypoxia inducible factors (HIF). We investigate the molecular evolution behind stemness control and multicellularity by applying methods and insights from the natural and medical sciences.


  • Explore the role and evolution of hypoxic niches, phases, and cellular hypoxic response machineries during the rise of animals on Earth.
  • Determine how stemness control links to other capacities of animals that were key in their diversification.
  • Align molecular programs that are shared by unicellular eukaryotes, somatic animal cells, and single cancer cells (so-called dyskaryotes) to control changes in cell size, aggregation, motility, and mediation of toxicity.


Understanding our origins appeals to our curiosity. It also provides a philosophical perspective on our daily challenges (like for example missing the bus or getting into petty conflicts). Not the least, it may inform us on the chance for complex life elsewhere in the universe. In more practical terms, a reversed perspective on the role of hypoxia – rather than merely high oxygen – for tissue renewal allows us to investigate health and disease from a yet understudied angle. To regard tissue formation as a cosmic achievement allows us to investigate common denominators for stemness control in different tissue niches. From this perspective, we can also ask new questions as to when stemness control ceases and tissue formation fails, such as during aging and cancer.


(name linked to profile in Lund University research portal)

Emma Hammarlund

Principal Investigator, Emma [dot] Hammarlund [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Emma[dot]Hammarlund[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Arsalan Amirfallah

Postdoc, Arsalan [dot] Amirfallah [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Arsalan[dot]Amirfallah[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Etienne Baratchart

Postdoc, Etienne [dot] Baratchart [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Etienne[dot]Baratchart[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Christopher Carroll

Postdoc, Christopher [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Christopher[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Qicheng Wu

Postdoc, qicheng [dot] wu [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (qicheng[dot]wu[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Mazharul Islam

Postdoc, mazharul [dot] islam [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (mazharul[dot]islam[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Emma Haxen

PhD student, Emma [dot] Haxen [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Emma[dot]Haxen[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Auraya Manaprasertsak

PhD student, Auraya [dot] Manaprasertsak [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Auraya[dot]Manaprasertsak[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Arthur Boffelli Castro

PhD student, arthur [dot] boffelli_castro [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (arthur[dot]boffelli_castro[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Gustav Christensson

PhD student, gustav [dot] christensson [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (gustav[dot]christensson[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Niklas Engström

Research Engineer, Niklas [dot] Engstrom [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Niklas[dot]Engstrom[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Anuraag Bukkuri

Guest researcher, anuraag [dot] bukkuri [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (anuraag[dot]bukkuri[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Catharina Hagerling

Researcher, catharina [dot] hagerling [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (catharina[dot]hagerling[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Katarina Turesson 

Research Administrator, Katarina [dot] Turesson [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Katarina[dot]Turesson[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se) 

Rikard Mohlin

Clinical assistant, rikard [dot] mohlin [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (rikard[dot]mohlin[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Birgitte Ekholm

Biomedical analyst, birgitte [dot] ekholm [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se

Emma Hammarlund

Portrait of Emma Hammarlund
Emma Hammarlund, PI of the Evolution of Stemness Control and Multicellularity research group.

Principal Investigator
Division of Translational Cancer Research
Department of Laboratory Medicine
Lund Stem Cell Center
Medicon Village, 404
Scheelevägen 2
223 81 Lund, Sweden

Phone: +46 46 222 64 27
Mail:  Emma [dot] Hammarlund [at] med [dot] lu [dot] se (Emma[dot]Hammarlund[at]med[dot]lu[dot]se)

Profile in Lund University's research portal

    Current Major Grants