Research Group Biochemical Ecology and Molecular Evolution

Evolution of pyrrolizidine alkaloid biosynthesis

Several hundred different compounds, a mostly unknown biosynthesis and several technical challenges: the understanding of the Pyrrolizidine alkaloid (PA) biosynthesis is a tricky field of study but could be highly rewarding with regard to the breeding of medicinal plants and for food safety. As PA biosynthesis evolved

independently multiple times in the plant kingdom, this pathway is a valuable research system for the understanding of pathway evolution.

In our lab, a team of biologists, biochemist and pharmacist, is working on the identification of enzymes, cells and the toxic products of this pathway, which make this system so unique. Until now, only the first pathway specific enzyme, the homospermidine synthase (HSS), was identified. This enzyme produces the polyamine homospermidine as the first pathway specific intermediate. It is exclusively incorporated into the toxic PAs. The successive steps of the pathway are still undescribed.

Presently, the identification of the further steps of PA biosynthesis is our major goal. This question is addressed via various methods from the fields of molecular biology, bioinformatics, biochemistry and analytics.