Plants are the world’s greenest chemists. Powered by solar energy, they produce a variety of structurally complex natural products with a range of medical and industrial applications. Despite decades of research in plant biochemistry, the precise manner in which plants produce and mobilize many of these compounds is not known. Our group combines a solid background in chemistry with state-of-the-art technologies in a quest to uncover the chemical secrets of plants, with special focus on alkaloids and glucosinolates. Biotechnological applications include the production of medicinal compounds in cost-effective systems and the removal of anti-nutritional compounds from promising crops.

Find more information about the group in the menu below.

Research themes

  • Alkaloid biosynthesis. Alkaloids are a class of natural products that have had an enormous impact on the quality of human life. Their impressive range of bioactivities has ensured their widespread utilization as pharmaceuticals, stimulants, and pesticides (e.g. morphine, caffeine, nicotine). Our group specializes in the discovery of enzymes involved in the stepwise conversion from simple metabolic building blocks to complex alkaloids.
  • Synthetic biology. We use the new knowledge generated within our alkaloid biosynthesis work to devise and test strategies for the cost-effective production of medicinal alkaloids in production organisms such as yeast or the model plant Nicotiana benthamiana. In cases where toxic alkaloids accumulate in promising crop plants, we use novel breeding technologies to remove the toxic alkaloids from the edible parts of the plant in a selective manner.
  • Glucosinolates and chemical ecology (Associate Professor Niels Agerbirk). Glucosinolates are natural products in plants of the mustard order (e.g. mustard, cabbage, cress) and whose metabolic products present a variety of defensive or signaling functions. Our group investigates the structural diversity of glucosinolates and their products across a range of plant species. Recent focus has been on winter cress (Barbarea vulgaris), where glucosinolates are precursors of phytoalexins and a range of sulfur-compounds of yet unknown function.
For students wishing to work within these topics,. M.Sc. and B.Sc. projects are currently available. Please contact

Current research projects

  • Towards sustainable protein sources for Europe: biosynthesis of the lupin alkaloids (VILLUM Foundation, 2017-2021)
  • Elucidation of the biosynthetic pathway towards the anti-nutritional alkaloids vicine and convicine in faba beans (WP4 in NORFAB consortium, Innovation Foundation, 2017-2019)
  • Discovery of novel enzymes in alkaloid biosynthesis (NNF Postdoc Fellowship awarded to Ting Yang, 2017-2019)
  • Diversity, regulation and biosynthesis of new chemical defences in wintercress and watercress (Torben & Alice Frimodts Foundation, 2017-2020)

Group members

For students

If you are interested in doing a project, you can read more about your options in the project database

  • Project database for students

  • Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences has various bachelor and master programs.

  • Read more about the options here
  • Research centres

    Partners and networks

    Synthetic Biology:
    • Nicola Patron (Earlham Institute, UK)
    • Sotirios Kampranis (University of Copenhagen, Denmark)
    Alkaloid Biosynthesis in Faba Beans:
    • Stig Uggerhøj Andersen and Jens Stougaard (Aarhus University, Denmark)
    • Fred Stoddard and Alan Schulman (University of Helsinki, Finland)
    • Donal O’Sullivan (University of Reading, UK)
    • Albert Vandenberg and Randy Purves (University of Saskatchewan, Canada)
    Alkaloid Biosynthesis in Lupins:
    • Brigitte Ruge-Wehling (Julius Kühn-Institut, Germany)
    • Matthew Nelson (Kew Gardens, UK)
    • Benjamin Péret (University of Montpellier, France)
    • Magdalena Kroc (Polish Academy of Sciences, Poland)
    Glucosinolates and Chemical Ecology:
    • Caroline Müller (Bielefeld University, Germany)
    • Xiaohui Zhang (Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, China)
    • M. Soledade C. Pedras (Dept. of Chemistry, Univ. of Saskatchewan, Canada)
    • Luca Lazzeri (Research Center for Industrial Crops, Bologna, Italy)