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What is New? New Cell Type Yields Anti-Tumour Drug

The alkaloid Paclitaxel from the Pacific Yew (Taxus brevifolia) blocks the division spindle and is a crucial component of many chemotherapies against cancer. The endangered and slowly growing tree was shifted to the verge of extinction during the 1980ies. By the help of cell cultures, Phyton in Ahrensburg succeeded to supply half of the world demand. The process is lengthy and cumbersome, althoughthe cultures grow rapidly in giant steel fermenters. A cooperation project, funded by the Federal Ministry of Research, we found out, why. Paclitaxel is made only by a small fraction of cells. In those cells, cytoplasmic structure is dissolved and the interior is almost completely filled with a vacuole inside a massive membrane. We have now investigated, how the formation of this cell type is regulated and how the valuable product is secreted - not by normal exocytosis, but by fusion of so-called Multivesicular Bodies with the cell membrane.

Veröffentlichung: Manz C, Raorane ML, Maisch J, Nick P (2022) Switching Cell Fate by the Actin-Auxin Oscillator in Taxus – Cellular Aspects of Plant Cell Fermentation. Plant Cell Rep 41, 2363-2378 - pdf

What is New?  Wild Grapevine Combats Salt Stress

An often neglected consequece of climate change is the increase of soil salinity - rising sea levels, but also artificial irrigation make more and more soild go lost. A joint project funded by the German and the Tunisian Ministry of Science investigated this for grapevine. During a comparative study, we could show that a wild grapevine that had been found in the Atlas mountains, can grow even under severe salinity, although it takes up the salt and transfers it to the leaves. A very robust system of antioxidants helps to buffer against the dangerous oxygen radicals. By a comparison of salt-induced genes in the root, we can explain this by the accumulation of flavonoids and the reprogramming of sugar metabolism. This work appeared now in Frontiers of Plant Sciences.


191. Daldoul S, Hanzouli F, Hamdi Z, Chenenaoui S, Wetzel T, Nick P, Mliki A, Gargouri M (2022) The root transcriptome dynamics reveals new valuable insights in the salt-resilience mechanism of Mediterranean wild grapevine (Vitis vinifera subsp. sylvestris). Front Plant Sci 13, 1077710 - pdf

Tumour Drug From a Living Fossil

The Hainan Head Yew (Cephalotaxus hainanensis) is a living fossil that has survived only on the Chinese island Hainin. In the resin ducts of its barks, the valuable harringtonine accumulates, so far the most potent mean against leucemia. The few remaining specimens of this precious tree must be guarded to prevent that the costly bark is stolen, because the bark is traded with eight times the price of gold. In a cooperation with the Chinese Academy of Tropical Agriculture the first part of harringtonine formation could be elucidated. This is now published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of the USA (PNAS). A core finding of this work were the results from Dr. Huapeng Sun, who, during a two year research stay at the KIT, funded by the Helmholtz-OCPC programme, succeeded to identify the decisive enzyme, which forms the template for harringtonins. This paves the way for rebuilding the pathway biotechnologically in tobacco cells. Biotechnology might help, therefore, to rescue this tree from extinction.Broadcast in the Campus Radio


What is New? Eutypinosis - Not Toxin, but Signal

Climate change calls for victims, also in viticulture. Fungi that inhabit also healthy grapes, being harmless commensalists, turn into killers, when the plant is challenged by climatic stress. A grape that was strong and productive, can collapse within a week (so-called apoplexy). Eutypinosis is one form of this disease, where the fungus Eutypa lata is central. In concert with the Institute for Biological Compounds in Kaiserslautern we could show in frame of the Interreg Upper Rhine poject DialogProTec that this is caused by the compound eutypine. We were also able to show, which molecular structures are responsible here. When one oxygen at this molecule is reduced, the toxic effect disappears, instead an effect on microtubules appears. It is even possible to outcompete the effect of eutypine by the reduced variant of the molecule. This is evidence for a receptor. Thus, eutypine is not a toxin, but simulates a signal that in the plant can evoke an overshooting immune reaction culminating in cellular suicide. See publication Guan et al. (2022). more on DialogProTec...

Cell Biology renders Biotech more efficient

The microalga Chlorella is booming as superfood. Packed with proteins and vitamines it is, besides the „blue alga“ Spirulina (actually a photosynthetic bacterium) a valuable functional food. But how to get the proteins out of the alga? So far by High Pressure Extraction. This does not only require a lot of energy, but the valuable proteins need to be separated from other cell components afterwards. At the Institute for High Impulse and Microwave Technology (IHM) at the Campus Nord a procedure has been developed that works with very strong electrical impulses, which allows to produce the protein in pure form. But again, a lot of energy is needed. During her PhD, which was part of a cooperation between IHM and Botany, Damaris Krust has developed an energy-saving alternative. Interestingly, this started as pure science, but then led to unexpected applications. We had observed that this unicellular organism dies, if treated with the supernatant from electrically challenged sister algae. This releases the protein as efficient, as if the algal cell itself had been electrocuted. Thus, there is a mysterious death factor that is released by the electrical impulse. Damaris Krust has now mapped the conditions, under which this death factor is formed, in great detail and was able to generate biotechnological benefit from this. The energy load can be reduced by a factor of more than 100 and this renderst he electrical extraction of proteins more efficient. The Chlorella Smoothie in the supermarket turns by this not only into a superfood but becomes also super-economic. Of course, we have asked ourselves, why Nature has developed such a death factor. The key is found in the life cycle of this alga – it divides into packages of four daughter cells that are enclosed in the maternal cell wall. This cell wall contains, what is unusual for algae, chitin, and must dissolve in order to release the daughter cells. The death factor is rather a birth factor, therefore – the electrical impulse induces a precocious release of this factor which induces the cells to dissolve their cell walls. sondern eine spannende Publikation (Krust et al. 2022) veröffentlicht und am Ende noch den Energiecampus-Preis der Stiftung Energie und Klimaschutz (mehr...) eingeheimst. Damaris Krust has not only successfully defended her PhD with this story, but also published an exciting publication (Krust et al. 2022) and also got the Energy Campus Award by the Foundation Energy and Climate Protection(more...). Review publication on the project.



Anti-microtubular compound from a TCM plant

The Dyer's Woad, also known as German Indigo, is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine under the name of Ban Lan Gen genutzt. Currently, the plant is in the limelight, due to its effect against Covid symptoms. In a cooperation with chemists from Switzerland we succeeded to identify the active compound as glucobrassicine that disassembles microtubules in plant and animal cells. Since the Covid virus hijacks the microtubules of the host for its own movement, this might be the reason for the therapeutic effect of Ban Lan Gen . The work is now accepted in the Journal for Integrative Plant Biology and will be even highlighted on the front page. more...

Bio-Economy-Alternative for Phosphate Fertiliser


What was the question behind this work? Bio-Economy works for circuits that are sustainable. We are still far from that, not only in industry, but also in agriculture. We use mineral fertilisers. Nitrate is generated from atmospheric nitrogen through the energy intensive Haber-Bosch Process, phosphorous minerals are extracted from mines that will be exploited in a few decades from now and often are located in politically problematic countries such as Syria or Saudi Arabia, countries, on which one should not depend on.

How did we approach the question? After our colleague Dr. Adnan Kanbar succeeded to breed in the Botanical Garden of the KIT a new variety of sorghum that thrives under our climatic conditions and is suitable for the production of bioethanol for its high sugar content (press release of the KIT), we work now for closing the circle. A joint project funded by the Division I with Prof. Stapf (Institute for Technical Chemistry, Campus North) showed that Sorghum bicolor can form, under starvation as it is typical for marginal lands, a larger root system. Moreover, it activates genes for phosphate transporters such that it accumulates phosphorous and silicate from the soil. When the residues from sugar extraction are pyrolysed at relatively low temperatures, mineralic phosphate fertilisers can be replaced. This work appeared now in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. more...

Publication 170. Kanbar A, Mirzai M, Abuslima E, Flubacher N, Eghbalian R, Eiche E, Garbev K, Bergfeldt B, Ullrich A, Leibold H, Müller M, Mokry M, Stapf D, Nick P (2021) Starve to Sustain – An Ancient Syrian Landrace of Sorghum as Tool for Phosphorous Bioeconomy? Int J Mol Biol 22, 9312 - pdf

Metabolic LEGO with a Chip

What was the question behind this work? Life is communication. The cells of an organism, but also different organisms are in continuous mutual exchange. Only by this way, Life can organise itself without the need for a Big Boss. We are familiar with the electrical communication of our nerve cells - however, the lion's share of cellular communication is brought about by chemistry. There is negotiating, but also cheating, tossing out of context, and responding. Can we listen to this chemical dialogue and perhaps even steer it one day?

How did we approach this question? In cooperation with the team of Prof. Dr. Guber at the Institute for Mikrostructure Technology at the Campus North we have developed over years a microfluidic chip for plant cells. This allows co-cultivating different cells together, such that chemical communication is possible, while physical distance is kept.

What came out? In our newest work we investigate exemplarily, what one can do with this chip system. We show that lonely plant cells stop dividing, but can be motivated by the chip to reinstall proliferation, when they sense, through the compounds in the microfluidic stream that other cells are around (Quorum Sensing). We show further that the chip allows to study, how fungi that associate with the Esca Syndrome (a grapevine disease that turns into a threat due to climate change) respond to the presence of plant cells by generating toxins. In a third application we play metabolic LEGO and combine two different cell lines from the medicinal plant Catharanthus roseus into a team to generate by synergy vindoline, the immediate pre-cursor of the precious anti-tumour compounds vinblastin and vincristine. The chip represents an important milestone in our Interreg project DialogProTec.

Publication 166. Finkbeiner T, Manz C, Raorane M, Metzger C, Schmidt-Speicher L, Shen N, Ahrens R, Maisch J, Nick P, Guber A (2021) A modular microfluidic bioreactor to investigate plant cell-cell interactions. Protoplasma, - pdf