Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Urban Plant Ecophysiology


Research Group - Research Information System - equipment


Working group ecophysiology

Plants are exposed to many stressors under urban conditions. The working group works largely on three topics: 1) how plants sense and respond to environmental factors, 2) what are the consequences of biochemical adjustments for the biochemical quality/nutritional value of crops, 3) on the chemical interactions (bio-communication) between different species within a community. Since plants can not avoid certain stressors plants must be phenotypically plastic having an impressive array of genes that aid in adapting to changing conditions. We are using new biochemical (HPLC, GC / MS, and PAS) and molecular technologies to study plant stress responses.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Dr. Christian Ulrichs


Working group quality dynamics/postharvest quality management of perishable crops

Research is focused on the quality dynamics, postharvest physiology and quality assurance of highly perishable fruits and vegetables of temperate and tropical/subtropical origin. Special emphasis is placed on the comprehensive evaluation of the interactions between ecophysiological impacts (e.g. drought, temperature, UV-radiation, ozone) in pre- and postharvest on the product quality dynamics in terms of primary and secondary health promoting compounds. The aim of the research is to gain a better understanding of physiological processes leading to product quality decay by stress impacts during production and postharvest allowing prediction and minimization of quality losses in food supply chains. Further research activities are concentrated on the improvement and establishment of new emerging postharvest technologies and postharvest treatments (e.g. UV-C/UV-B, ozone, heat treatment 1-MCP, film-packaging, coatings) to ensure a consumer oriented safe, nutritional and health-sensitive food supply.

Contact: Prof. Dr. agr. Susanne Huyskens-Keil


Working group tree nursery, propagation and in-vitro culture

Research is focused on tissue culture technologies, here especially propagation, of woody plants. We teach students, conduct relevant research, and serve the native plant industry by sharing information and producing high-quality nursery stock. Tissue culture enables to test at a very early stage stress tolerance of plants. Stress can be used to initiate plant metabolism leading to substances valuable for their nutritive value or the pharmaceutical industry.

Contact: Dr. agr. Matthias Zander


Adjunt Professorship of Dendrological Ecology

The adjunct professorship of dendrological ecology combines research on tree physiology with genetics of wood and ecological genetics at the level of individual trees and populations. The primary focus lies on the physiological limits of the adaptability of tree species, genetic provenances, and selected genotypes under the conditions of climate change. We investigate biomarkers that indicate the metabolic states in various tree compartments under multiple stress conditions. Such biomarker-based diagnostics is applied for the monitoring of forests, for identifying the causes of arboreal damages, and for the selection of genotypes with particularly desirable adaptations. Beyond that, strategies for the conservation and propagation of valuable forest-genetic resources are developed.

Contact: Dr. habil. Ralf Kätzel


Working Group social-ecological systems

The working group on social-ecological systems investigares reciprocal interactions between ecological systems (e.g. horticultural production in urban souroundings) and the social environment (user, horticulturalists, urban dwellers). Formal and informal rules that influence the interaction are in focus. The working group employs quantiative and qualitative research methods from social sciences. One main interest is the investigation of resource users' behaviour with methods from experimental economics.

Contact: Dr. Christine Werthmann


Working Group Food and Health

The main research focus is to investigate the nutritional composition of plant products and their possible health promoting effects. One such example is vitamin D, which is present in few foods and it is difficult to obtain the recommended vitamin D requirements through diet alone. In fact, vitamin D is often referred to as the sunshine vitamin, as it is primarily obtained by dermal photosynthesis upon UVB exposure. The recent application of LC-MC/MS methods has confirmed that vitamin D metabolites can be detected in some plant species. Our goal is to identify futher plant sources of vitamin D metabolites and to decipher the vitamin D metabolism in these species.
Another area of interest is the plant microbiome. As with humans, there is extensive bacterial diversity present in plants which varies depending on the part of the plant investigated. This parallels the microbial diversity documented in humans, with different microbial diversity seen in the intestines as compared to the mouth, and skin for example. Much remains unknown about the plant microbiome. For instance, does this microbial variation in plants have functional significance and can they affect plant health? We know that in humans, a diverse microbiome can make us more resilient towards pertubations from disease. Thus, another aim of this reseach group is to investigate the molecular interchange between plants and the microbiome and manipulate it with the form of probiotics or altering the rhizosphere to assess whether plants can become more resilient to their environmental perturbations. We would also like to investigate whether the microbiome can influence the nutrional properties of plants and thus offer greather health benefits.

The working group works in close collaboration with the Department of Molecular Toxicology, German Institute of Human Nutrition Potsdam-Rehbrücke (DIfE). The former group Nutrients and Health at the DIfE has now formally integrated with the current group Food and Health at HU Berlin.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Caroline Stokes




Ongoing projects can be found in the central database of the university: Forschungsinformationssystem



All laboratories of the division are regulated as security level 1 genetic engineering facilities (GenTG), allowing the ability to safely handle and work with genetically modified plant material.


Community laboratory for plant metabolism – Room 019 (lead: Dr. Nadja Förster )

The analytical lab of the division located in Berlin-Dahlem is specialized in wet-chemical analysis of plant compounds. With the help of chromatographic separation processes as well as spectrometry, secondary plant metabolites, amino acids such as proline, the sugar/acid ratio as well as single sugars (for example the cell wall components pectin or cellulose) can be qualitatively and quantitatively determined. 

The division is able to use a variety of specifically developed methods to detect secondary plant metabolites in aqueous, ethanolic as well as methanolic extracts (for example glucosinolates, stilbenes, salicylates, flavonoids). To measure the extracts, U-HPLC and LC-MS are used.

Additionally, the lab offers the possibility of electrochemistry, which forms the basis for analysis to develop biosensors.

The equipment housed in the community laboratory for plant metabolism is accessible to all divisions of the Lebenswisschenschaftliche Fakultät.

In consultation and under supervision, analyses of plant compounds are performed in our lab. Next to teaching activities (practical laboratory courses), the support of student theses (BSc, MSc, PhD) is our focus.

Molecular Lab - Room 019(Lead: Dr. Nadja Förster)

Molecular investigations can be performed at the location Berlin-Dahlem. The expression and regulation of genes can be specifically analyzed by devices classically used for molecular biology, including a PCR cycler, systems for gel electrophoresis, real time PCR and station for photo documentation. By using gene expression analysis and genetic modification, it can be analyzed if/how defined gene regions (protein-coding regions) affect plant properties. Additionally, with the help of sequencing, the genetic code of relevant plants can be further identified. By working together with the molecular laboratory of the faculty, additional equipment can be used, like sequencing instruments to analyze interesting chromosome sections as well as special equipment for identification of genetic variations with the help of Random Amplified Polymorphism (RAPD analysis), microsatellite analysis or Pyrosequencing analysis.

Analytical Lab (Lead: Dr. Nadja Förster)

The analytical lab is specialized in wet-chemical analysis of plant compounds. Therefore, U-HPLC and LC-MS systems can be used. Additionally, the lab offers the possibility of electrochemistry, which form the basis for analysis to develop biosensors. To analyze volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which play a role in inter-organism communication, bioboxes and a number of phytotrons are available. In the bioboxes, climatic parameters (temperature, rel. humidity, light) are set and gas exchange (CO2, O2, C2H4, O3) can be measured.  Additionally, the division has high-quality light microscopy and imaging capabilities.

Tissure Culture Lab (Head: Antje Schmidt)

The tissue culture lab is based in Berlin-Dahlem. Research is focussed on plant physiology and the development of methods for in in vitro propagation of plants, especially woody plants.


Mikroskopy – Room 120 (Head: Prof. Dr. Christoph-Martin Geilfus)

Together with the junior professorship "Controlled Environment Horticulture", the department uses various microscopes. Among them are stereo microscopes and digital imaging platforms (Keyence). The latter one enables to acquire 3-D images, including quantitative size measurements