Photo of Kaarina Sivonen
  • PL 56 (Viikinkaari 9)



  • Viikinkaari 5, Biocenter 2

    00790 Helsinki


1982 …2022

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Personal profile

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


Fields of Science

  • 1183 Plant biology, microbiology, virology
  • microbiology
  • cyanobacteria
  • genomics
  • biosythesis of bioactive compounds
  • bioactive compounds
  • toxins
  • ecology

International and National Collaboration Publications and projects within past five years.


Dereplication of natural products with antimicrobial and anticancer activity from Brazilian cyanobacteria.

Shishido, T. K., Vicentini Popin, R., Jokela, J., Wahlsten, M., Fiore, M. F., Fewer, D., Herfindal, L. & Sivonen, K., Jan 2020, In : Toxins. 12, 12, 17 p., 2020, 12, 12.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Genomic and Metabolomic Analyses of Natural Products in Nodularia spumigena Isolated from a Shrimp Culture Pond

Popin, R. V., Delbaje, E., de Abreu, V. A. C., Rigonato, J., Dorr, F. A., Pinto, E., Sivonen, K. & Fiore, M. F., Mar 2020, In : Toxins. 12, 3, 20 p., 141.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Open Access

Regioselective Prenylation of Peptide Termini during the Biosynthesis of the Natural Product Muscoride

Mattila, A., Andsten, R-M., Jumppanen, M., Assante, M., Jokela, J., Wahlsten, M., Mikula, K. M., Gugger, M., Koskela, H., Sivonen, K., Yli-Kauhaluoma, J., Iwai, H. & Fewer, D. P., Jan 2020, In : Marine Drugs. 18, 1, 1 p., 40.

Research output: Contribution to journalMeeting AbstractResearchpeer-review

Alternative Biosynthetic Starter Units Enhance the Structural Diversity of Cyanobacterial Lipopeptides

Mares, J., Hajek, J., Urajova, P., Kust, A., Jokela, J., Saurav, K., Galica, T., Capkova, K., Mattila, A., Haapaniemi, E., Permi, P., Mysterud, I., Skulberg, O. M., Karlsen, J., Fewer, D. P., Sivonen, K., Tonnesen, H. H. & Hrouzek, P., Feb 2019, In : Applied and Environmental Microbiology. 85, 4, 17 p., UNSP e02675-18.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Antitumor astins originate from the fungal endophyte Cyanodermella asteris living within the medicinal plant Aster tataricus

Schafhauser, T., Jahn, L., Kirchner, N., Kulik, A., Flor, L., Lange, A., Caradec, T., Fewer, D., Sivonen, K., van Berkel, W. J. H., Jacques, P., Weber, T., Gross, H., van Pee, K-H., Wohlleben, W. & Ludwig-Mueller, J., 26 Dec 2019, In : Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 116, 52, p. 26909-26917 10 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review



Hemholtz centre for environmental research (External organisation)

Kaarina Sivonen (Board member)
7 Jan 2020

Activity: Membership typesAssessment of candidates for academic posts

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (Journal)

Kaarina Sivonen (Reviewer)
28 Nov 2019

Activity: Publication peer-review and editorial work typesPeer review of manuscripts

K. Sivonen, Member of the Ph D thesis evaluation committee for Ph D thesis by Enass Salih

Kaarina Sivonen (Member of thesis committee / follow-up group)
27 Sep 2019

Activity: Examination typesPre-examiner of doctoral thesis

11th International Conference on Toxic Cyanobacteria.

Kaarina Sivonen (Member of organizing committee)
5 May 201910 May 2019

Activity: Participating in or organising an event typesOrganisation and participation in conferences, workshops, courses, seminars