Kaarina Sivonen


Description of research and teaching

Research Interests: Cyanobacteria, toxins and bioactive compounds

Principal investigator: Professor in Microbiology, Kaarina Sivonen


Cyanobacteria (blue-green algae) carry out oxygen evolving plant-like photosynthesis and are thus important for the survival of life on Earth through the production of oxygen and sequestration of carbon dioxide. In aquatic environment they may form harmful toxic mass occurrences which pose a serious health hazard for animals and human beings. Some of them are also able to fix nitrogen and form symbioses (e.g. lichens). Cyanobacteria are prolific source of biomedically interesting bioactive compounds.

The cyanobacteria research group found toxic mass occurrences of cyanobacteria to be common in Finnish lakes and in the Baltic Sea, isolated the toxin producing cyanobacteria, investigated toxin production and identified the toxins. Toxic and non-toxic cyanobacteria cannot be differentiated by microscopy and we have developed molecular methods to detect producers of toxins and odorous metabolites.

Cyanobacteria are prolific source of interesting bioactive compounds. We have identified number of novel bioactive compounds (toxins, bioactive compounds having cytotoxic, enzyme inhibiting and antifungal and antibacterial properties) from strains in our culture collection and genome projects have revealed number of new biosynthetic pathways. Bioactive compounds are synthetized by both ribosomal and non-ribosomal pathways in cyanobacteria. We have sequenced number of cyanobacteria and used genome mining to identify the biosynthetic pathways for cyanobacterial natural products. We use physiological experiments, field studies and post genomic analyses of toxic and bloom forming cyanobacteria to study the ecology of these organisms.

Key facilities in our research are the culture collection of cyanobacteria (UHCC part of HAMBI collection) and mass spectrometry and NMR facilities of the University of Helsinki. By chemical analysis methods we can quantitate the toxin and bioactive compounds, purify the compounds and solve the structures of unknown new compounds.  We have also found promising hydrogen producers from our culture collection.


Research group belonged to the Finnish Research Center of Excellence in Integrative Photosynthesis and Bioactive Compound Research at Systems Biology Level (2008-2013).

Members of the research group:
Docent Jouni Jokela,  Dr. Tania Shishido, and  Ph D students Anu Humisto, Jonna Teikari, Sebastian Coloma, Hanna Sipari, and  Julia Österholm.

More information:
Cyanobacteria Group



Curriculum Vitae

Latest publications

  1. Production of High Amounts of Hepatotoxin Nodularin and New Protease Inhibitors Pseudospumigins by the Brazilian Benthic Nostoc sp CENA543

    Jokela, J., Heinila, L. M. P., Shishido, T. K., Wahlsten, M., Fewer, D. P., Fiore, M. F., Wang, H., Haapaniemi, E., Permi, P. & Sivonen, K. 9 Oct 2017 In : Frontiers in Microbiology. 8, 14 p., 1963

    Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

  2. Rearranged Biosynthetic Gene Cluster and Synthesis of Hassallidin E in Planktothrix serta PCC 8927

    Pancrace, C., Jokela, J., Sassoon, N., Ganneau, C., Desnos-Ollivier, M., Wahlsten, M., Humisto, A., Calteau, A., Bay, S., Fewer, D. P., Sivonen, K. & Gugger, M. Jul 2017 In : ACS Chemical Biology. 12, 7, p. 1796-1804 9 p.

    Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

  3. Newly isolated Nodularia phage influences cyanobacterial community dynamics

    Coloma, S. E., Dienstbier, A., Bamford, D. H., Sivonen, K., Roine, E. & Hiltunen, T. Jan 2017 In : Environmental Microbiology. 19, 1, p. 273-286 14 p.

    Research output: Scientific - peer-reviewArticle

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Latest activities

  1. Adjunct Professorship Evaluation, D. Dziga, Åbo Akademi (Event)

    Sivonen, K. (Expert)
    26 May 2017

    Activity: MembershipAssessment of candidates for academic posts

  2. Pre-examiner of Ph D thesis by Andreas Helfenstein (Faculty of Pharmacy, University of Helsinki)

    Sivonen, K. (Pre-examiner)
    2 Feb 2017

    Activity: ExaminationPre-examiner of doctoral thesis

  3. Aalto University (External organisation)

    Sivonen, K. (Expert)
    9 Jan 2017

    Activity: MembershipAssessment of candidates for academic posts

View all (188) »


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