A person grinds plant material with a mortar and a pistil.

© FG Phytochemie

Phytochemistry and Biochemistry of Natural Compounds

Word cloud with research focus terms.

Research Focus

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.

Several test tubes with differently colored liquids are placed next to each other.

© FG Phytochemie


The pH value influences the colour of the anthocyanins.

A pot with a petunia bearing two orange flowers

© FG Phytochemie

Orange petunia

Genetically modified orange petunia.

Experimental field with flowering plants between the buildings on the Campus Getreidemarkt.

© FG Phytochemie

Experimental field for plants

A feast for the eyes, a feast for the bees and - of course - our experimental field for flowering plants. Located at the Campus Getreidemarkt.

Mehrere unterschiedlich gefärbte Zahnräder stellen die Zusammenarbeit zwischen Gene, Enzyme und Metabolite da.

© FG Phytochemie


We investigate genes, enzymes and secondary metabolites.

2. Structure-Function-Relationship

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.

Protein structure model of the dihydroflovonol 4-reductase enzyme.

© FG Phytochemie

Structure model

Dihydroflavonol 4-reductase with substrate

Biosynthetic pathway representing the formation of anthocyanins including structural formulas.

© FG Phytochemie

Anthocyanin biosynthesis

The biosynthetic pathway of anthocyanins.

A mass spectrogram next to a petal with a map showing which areas contain specific ingredients.

© FG Phytochemie

Mass spectrogram

Mass spectrogram of components from different parts of the petals

Comparison of amino acid sequences of several dihydroflavonol-4-reductases from different plants.

© FG Phytochemie

Sequence alignment

Comparison of the substrate binding site of dihydroflavonol-4-reductase sequences.

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.

Overview of the possible uses of hemp roots, leaves and flowers.

© elenabsl - stock.adobe.com


Hemp has many uses.

Blossoms are sprayed individually with a pump sprayer.

© FG Phytochemie

Single flower inoculation assay

Testing of plant protection agents on individual apple blossoms.

Ein Bild von sieben Anthocyan-Extrakte.

© FG Phytochemie


Anthocyanin fractions, Sainz Martinez et al 2020.

Associate Prof. Dipl.-Ing.in Dr.in techn. Heidrun Halbwirth

Head, Research Group for Phytochemistry and Biochemistry of Natural Compounds

Phone: +43 1 58801 166620 Call Heidrun Halbwirth

Send email to Heidrun Halbwirth

Getreidemarkt 9, 1060 Vienna, Austria

Research profile of Associate Prof. Dipl.-Ing.in Dr.in techn. Heidrun Halbwirth , opens an external URL in a new window