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



  • 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.

Publications 1982 2019

The Biosynthesis of Rare Homo-Amino Acid Containing Variants of Microcystin by a Benthic Cyanobacterium

Shishido, T. K., Jokela, J., Humisto, A., Suurnäkki, S., Wahlsten, M., Oliveria de Alvarenga, D., Sivonen, K. & Fewer, D., 7 May 2019, In : Marine Drugs. 17, 5, p. 1 16 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Open Access

Alternative biosynthetic starter units enhance the structural diversity of cyanobacterial lipopeptides

Mareš, J., Hajek, J., Urajova, P., Kust, A., Jokela, J. K., Saurav, K., Galica, T., Čapková, K., Mattila, A. I., Haapaniemi, E., Permi, P., Mysterud, I., Skulberg, O., Karlsen, J., Fewer, D. P., Sivonen, A. K., Tønnesen, H. & Hrouzek, P., 28 Nov 2018, (Accepted/In press) In : Applied and Environmental Microbiology. AEM02675-18R1 .

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Antifungal and Antileukemic Compounds from Cyanobacteria: Bioactivity, Biosynthesis, and Mechanism of Action

Humisto, A. K., 23 Nov 2018, Helsinki: University of Helsinki. 72 p.

Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisCollection of Articles

Open Access

Biosynthesis of microcystin hepatotoxins in the cyanobacterial genus Fischerella

Heck, K., Alvarenga, D. O., Shishido, T. K., Varani, A. M., Dorr, F. A., Pinto, E., Rouhiainen, L., Jokela, J., Sivonen, K. & Fiore, M. F., Jan 2018, In : Toxicon. 141, p. 43-50 8 p.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Comparative Genomics of the Baltic Sea Toxic Cyanobacteria Nodularia spumigena UHCC 0039 and Its Response to Varying Salinity

Teikari, J. E., Hou, S., Wahlsten, M., Hess, W. R. & Sivonen, K., 8 Mar 2018, In : Frontiers in Microbiology. 9, 13 p., 356.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Open Access

Projects 2000 2022

Activities 1995 2018

Custos and member of evaluation committee of the Ph D thesis by Johannes Cairns (Event)

Kaarina Sivonen (Assessment)
10 Aug 2018

Activity: Membership typesMembership or other role in national/international committee, council, board

Hivana Patricia Melo Barbosa Dall’Agnol

Kaarina Sivonen (Host)
6 Aug 20181 Sep 2018

Activity: Hosting a visitor typesAcademic visit at UH

Leonardo Teixeira Dall’Agnol

Kaarina Sivonen (Host)
7 Aug 20181 Sep 2018

Activity: Hosting a visitor typesAcademic visit at UH

Pre-examiner of the Ph D thesis by Marika Tossavainen

Kaarina Sivonen (Pre-examiner)
15 Jun 201830 Jun 2018

Activity: Examination typesPre-examiner of doctoral thesis