Department of Biochemistry

Why do some plants smell so strange or taste so bad? Plants produce many smelly, pungent, bitter or sharp-tasting chemical compounds that have been suggested to serve as defenses against herbivores and pathogens. However, it has been very difficult for researchers to prove the roles of individual plant compounds in defense, and no good explanations have emerged to account for the huge structural diversity of potential defenses and their scattered distribution in plants.

In the Department of Biochemistry, we study the biosynthesis of putative plant defense compounds as a means to explore their ecological roles. By isolating and characterizing the genes and enzymes involved in plant defense biosynthesis, we develop tools to manipulate defensive phenotypes in order to help understand their costs and benefits. At the same time, detailed knowledge of plant defense pathways gives us important insights into the control and evolution of defense.

To gain new perspectives on the ecology and evolution of plant defense, we have also begun to study how herbivores and pathogens metabolize plant defense compounds. Knowledge of the metabolic fates of defenses in plant enemies will shed light on their effectiveness and mode of action, and will help understand enemy host ranges. In addition, the discovery of detoxification reactions, including the genes and enzymes responsible, can reveal much about the adaptation of herbivores and pathogens to plants.

Prof. Dr. Jonathan Gershenzon
+49 (0) 3641 57 1300

Department Assistant:
Angela Schneider
+49 (0) 3641 57 1301

Project Groups in the Department of Biochemistry

In the Department of Biochemistry, there are nine project groups whose research encompasses a range of different topics and chemical compounds. Several groups investigate the biosynthetic pathways leading to plant defenses, including their regulation and evolution. Others focus on the ecological roles of defenses in protection against enemies, while others trace their fate and action in herbivores or pathogens. Most of the previous work in the department was carried out on two groups of chemical defenses, glucosinolates and terpenoids. But, projects have been recently established on phenolics, benzoxazinoids, alkaloids and nitrogen-containing volatiles. Project Groups

Laboratory for Chemical Analysis

We use state-of-the-art instrumentation for chemical analyses of plant and insect samples, including several GC-MS instruments for the identification and quantification of volatile organic compounds, LC-ESI-Triple-Quadrupole mass spectrometers for high-throughput, high sensitivity target analysis of primary and secondary plant metabolites (i.e. amino acids, sugars, phytohormones, prenyl diphosphates), an LC-ESI-Ion-Trap mass spectrometer for the identification of unknown compounds, and a number of HPLC-UV systems for the target analysis of plant defense compounds (i.e. glucosinolates, salicinoids).

Chemical Engineer:
Dr. Michael Reichelt
+49 (0) 3641 57 1326