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 Jokelapost-doc Danillo Alvarenga, Ph D students Anu Humisto, Julia Österholm, Lassi Heinilä and Rafael Popin, technical assistants Maria Christodoulou, Sila Arsin and Anna Jortikka

More information:
Cyanobacteria Group



Latest publications

  1. Strains of the toxic and bloom-forming Nodularia spumigena (cyanobacteria) can degrade methylphosphonate and release methane

    Teikari, J. E., Fewer, D. P., Shrestha, R., Hou, S., Leikoski, N., Mäkelä, M., Simojoki, A., Hess, W. R. & Sivonen, K., Jun 2018, In : ISME Journal. 12, 6, p. 1619-1630 12 p.

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

  2. The Swinholide Biosynthesis Gene Cluster from a Terrestrial Cyanobacterium, Nostoc sp. Strain UHCC 0450

    Humisto, A. K., Jokela, J. K., Liu, L., Wahlsten, M. P-V., Wang, H., Permi, P. E. I., Machado, J. P., Antunes, A., Fewer, D. P. & Sivonen, A. K., Jan 2018, In : Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 84, 3, 14 p., e02321-17

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

  3. Lipid biomarker signatures as tracers for harmful cyanobacterial blooms in the Baltic Sea

    Bauersachs, T., Talbot, H. M., Sidgwick, F., Sivonen, K. & Schwark, L., 16 Oct 2017, In : PLoS One. 12, 10, 25 p., 0186360

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Latest activities

  1. Custos and member of evaluation committee of Ph D thesis by Jari Hirvonen

    Sivonen, K. (Member of thesis committee / follow-up group)
    2 Dec 2017

    Activity: ExaminationMember of doctoral thesis committee / follow-up group

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