Ecological functions of bioactive natural products from lichens  

Imke Schmitt


The goal of this project is to understand the biosynthetic potential of lichen-forming fungi, investigate links between natural product biosynthesis and the ecological niche, and elicit the pharmacological potential of lichen substances. The lichen symbiosis produces a wide range of aromatic substances. These natural products protect the slow growing lichen from being overgrown or grazed, or serve as sunscreen for the light-sensitive algal symbionts. However, the high number of biosynthetic genes in the genomes of lichenized fungi suggests that many natural products from lichens – and their ecological functions – are presently unknown. Here we will use a reverse ecology approach to identify genes which are environmentally selected. Biosynthetic genes which differ strongly in populations from different environments (e.g. high versus low altitude sites) are candidates for heterologous expression. In parallel we will compare the natural product profiles of populations from ecologically differentiated sites. We will subject isolated substances to a pharmacological screening.