Research Group Biochemical Ecology and Molecular Evolution

The medicinal plant butterbur

Humans have always used different plants as medicine. Although they often help, they also share risks because of their chemical ingredients. If they are containing alkaloids their medicinal use might have negative side effects. Therefore, we are cooperating with a pharmaceutical company to identify plants that are low in alkaloids and, therefore, can be used for breeding and production of pharmaceuticals.

This research project is dealing with butterbur (Petasites hybridus) which extracts are used as medicine against migraine and hay fever due to the spasmolytic properties of the included petasines. Unfortunately, butterbur also contains liver toxic pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). We are looking for natural mutations inactivating enzymes involved in PA-production. Finding such mutations would pave the way for breeding of PA-deficient plants for medicinal usage.

For this purpose several methods like immunolabeling were established to identify the specific location of the enzymes involved in PA-production. Furthermore we try to identify the genetic sequence of the genes involved in PA-production, to look within these sequences for mutations. Our methods can also be transferred to other PA-containing plants making them accessible for medicinal use.