I am Assistant Professor for Plant Biotechnology at the University of Hohenheim, Germany, working on pathway engineering in plants.
Our work uses genetic engineering to develop new in planta production systems for pharmaceutically valuable natural products. Since a major focus of our work actually is on increased production, we are focussing on model plants of broader economic importance for which extraction and processing systems are already in place. We found the hop plant being an interesting target because it perfectly meets this condition. Furthermore, although hops (the female flowers of the hop plant) is mainly used as an ingredient for beer, the hop plant - a member of the Cannabinaceae family - has long been known for its many medicinal uses as well. Interestingly, hops contain one of the most potent phytoestrogens known from plants. Furthermore, highly active anti-cancer compounds have also been identified recently in hops. However, both of these unique compounds are produced in very low quantities in hops which currently limits their further exploitation. Therefore, our aims are (a) to dissect the molecular pathways leading to production of these medicinally valuable compounds in hops, (b) to clone the corresponding genes and regulatory elements, and (c) to modify the biosynthetic routes in transgenic hop in order to increase their production in planta. The successful development of transgenic hop with increased content of pharmaceutically active compounds has a great potential to open up new high value markets for the hop industry.