Biosynthesis of plant secondary metabolites

Plants produce an enormous variety of natural products with highly diverse structures. These compounds fulfil important functions in the interaction between plants and their biotic and abiotic environment. Many of these secondary metabolites also possess distinct pharmacological activities and are therefore used to cure diseases, either as isolated compounds or as plant extract.

The aim of our group is to unravel the biosynthesis of certain plant secondary metabolites in order to provide a basis for their biotechnological production.

Naphthylisoquinoline alkaloids from topical lianas

Naphthylisoquinoline alkaloids are taxonomically restricted to the Ancistrocladaceae and Dioncophyllaceae. Members of these plant families are tropical lianas, which utilize hooked branches or hooked leaves to climb up neighbouring plants. The naphthylisoquinoline alkaloids produced by these lianas show promising activities against malaria, sleeping sickness or leishmaniasis.

The aim of this project is to elucidate the biosynthesis of naphthylisoquinolines at the DNA and protein level. The knowledge gained from these studies will be used for the biotechnological production of these unique metabolites.

Collaborations: Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Gerhard Bringmann
(Lehrstuhl für Organische Chemie I, Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg)

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Biosynthesis of naphthoquinones

Naphthoquinones possess antimicrobial properties and protect the plants, which accumulate these natural products, from herbivores and pests. In addition, some naphthoquinones, for example juglone from walnut, show allelopathic effects in that they inhibit the germination of other plants. In plants, naphthoquinones can be produced from various precursors. The present project investigates the biosynthesis of acetogenic naphthoquinones in carnivorous plants like the Portuguese Sundew (Drosophyllum lusitanicum) and Nepenthes pitcher plants.

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Plant in vitro cultures

Plant in vitro cultures grow under sterile condition on media that contain macro- and microelements, sugar and phytohormones. In contrast to plants in the greenhouse or field-grown plants, in vitro cultures are available throughout the year and grow under constant conditions. Possible applications for plant in vitro cultures are:
- biotechnological production of secondary metabolites
- elucidation of biosynthetic pathways
- production of genetically modified plants

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West African plants with anti-inflammatory properties

This project deals with the analysis of traditional medicinal plants of Bénin (West Africa) with anti-inflammatory and analgesic properties. Main objective is isolation and structural elucidation of the main ingredients and the identification of active compounds using bio-assays. In addition, toxicological effects of plant extracts and isolated substances are investigated in order to ensure safe application. Using this approach, more information can be gained on plants, which are so far poorly investigated, and traditional knowledge can be scientifically evaluated. The project is carried out in close collaboration with scientists from IRGIB-Africa University (Cotonou, Benin).


  • Prof. Virgile Ahyi, Prof. Dr. Zachary Vissiennon (IRGIB-Africa University, Cotonou)
  • Dr. Cica Vissiennon (Institut für Medizinische Physik und Biophysik, Universität Leipzig)
last modified: 03.07.2019