Phytochemistry and Biochemistry of Natural Compounds
1. Secondary metabolism in plants
Our research focusses on secondary metabolites of renewable raw materials, ornamental plants, fruit and horticultural crops at the level of metabolites, enzymes and genes. This includes various aspects, from the identification of chemical compounds, the elucidation of signaling pathways, the isolation and characterization of new enzymes and genes, to the investigation of their physiological relevance. One special focus is on the flavonoids - especially the colored anthocyanins - since color is an important and conspicuous feature in many areas such as textiles, food and flowers. In addition, the color development in plants has long been used as a simple and visually easy to evaluate model for researching biosynthetic or signaling pathways.
“Secondary” metabolism: Sounds “not important”, but it really isn't. Many secondary plant compounds have important functions for the plant as well as for human nutrition.
Our goal is a deep understanding of how subtle differences in the structure of enzymes can lead to different catalytic properties. This concerns the specificity of the enzymes for different substrates, enzyme-enzyme interactions, as well as the subcellular organization of the cascade of a biosynthetic pathway. A special focus is on the development of different hydroxylation patterns of flavonoids and the enzymes involved (cytochrome P450-dependent monooxygenases, dioxygenases, oxidoreductases, polyphenol oxidases).
Protein Engineering: Fascinating when the substrate specificity of an enzyme can be significantly influenced by the targeted exchange of individual amino acids. On the one hand to understand the molecular basics of enzyme kinetics and on the other hand for practical applications such as the targeted synthesis of molecular structures.
3. High-end products from natural resources
We identify, extract and analyze bioactive plant compounds and other valuable components from agricultural, horticultural and forestry residues. A particular focus is on innovative extraction processes for the separation of high-end products without unwanted by-products, as well as the establishment of rapid identification and quantification methods for bioactive compounds.
Residual materials become raw materials: The identification, isolation and use of valuable ingredients from seemingly worthless organic material means resource conservation and sustainability.
Associate Prof. Dipl.-Ing.in Dr.in techn. Heidrun Halbwirth
Head, Research Group for Phytochemistry and Biochemistry of Natural Compounds
Getreidemarkt 9, 1060 Vienna, Austria