Merja Penttilä receives honorary title of Academician of Science

19 Jan 2023

Professor Heli Jantunen, Professor Emeritus Martti Koskenniemi and Research Professor Merja Penttilä have been awarded the honorary title of Academician of Science. President of the Republic Sauli Niinistö granted the titles at a presidential session today, 19 January 2023.

Professor Heli Jantunen’s expertise is in the field of materials science and engineering; Professor Martti Koskenniemi has his expertise in international law; and Research Professor Merja Penttilä has her expertise in biotechnology and synthetic biology. They are all highly distinguished scientists and scholars with a pioneering track record in their respective fields of research. Their work has wide-ranging relevance across different sectors of society and as such contributes to solving global challenges.

The title of Academician can be held by no more than 16 distinguished Finnish scientists and scholars at a time. The title of Academician of Science is awarded by the President of the Republic based on nominations by the Academy of Finland.

Biobased products from living microbes

Merja Penttilä (b. 1956) has been Research Professor for Biotechnology at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland since 1999. Since the beginning of 2016 she has also served as a part-time Professor of Synthetic Biology at Aalto University.

Merja Penttilä’s major research interest is the development of new production processes that replace fossil raw materials. Her specific focus is on so-called cell factories, microorganisms that are engineered to produce biobased products for energy, health, materials and other applications.

Microbial cell factories can be used to produce almost anything: bioethanol, human antibodies, animal-based foodstuffs such as egg whites and new materials that combine the best qualities of natural materials, such as light weight, durability, flexibility and recyclability. The use of synthetic biology methods allows for computer-aided modelling of cell and enzyme functions and makes it possible to introduce changes into the genome that induce new biochemical reactions and improve cell production efficacy.

New solutions to support sustainable development

Merja Penttilä has worked extensively with a number of national and international companies to develop industry-changing applications. Throughout her career she has worked to foster dialogue and cooperation between academic research and industry. She is the founder of the Synbio Powerhouse ecosystem, which offers a collaborative platform for research organisations, businesses and investors in the synthetic biology field.

“Synthetic biology and bioproduction will have a significant future role in developing sustainable development solutions. The merger of AI and biosciences will bring about unprecedented advances both in fundamental research and in biotechnology applications,” Penttilä says.

“New biological observations can be quickly applied in practice, and AI-assisted design opens up completely new opportunities for the industrial exploitation of biological mechanisms.”

Merja Penttilä took her doctorate at the University of Helsinki in 1987. During her career at VTT in 2000–2017, she has been Centre of Excellence director, vice director and team leader in Academy of Finland CoE programmes. She has led EU research projects as well as major projects funded by foundations, and has served as a committee expert for multiple national and international institutes. Penttilä has published around 300 original scientific articles and holds some 50 patents.

Merja Penttilä received the Charles D. Scott Award in 2019 (Society for Industrial Microbiology and Biotechnology, USA) and The Wihuri International Prize in 2012.

Learn more about Academicians of Science.


  • Paula Eerola, President of the Academy of Finland, tel. +358 295 335 001, firstname.lastname(at)
  • Johanna Myllyharju, Chair of the Board of the Academy of Finland, tel. +358 294 485 740, firstname.lastname(at)
  • Research Professor Merja Penttilä, VTT, tel. +358 40 700 0163, firstname.lastname(at)

Academy of Finland
Riitta Tirronen, Director of Communications
tel. +358 295 335 118

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