Photo of Kaarina Sivonen
  • PL 56 (Viikinkaari 9)



  • Viikinkaari 5, Biocenter 2

    00790 Helsinki


1982 …2020

Research output per year

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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

  • 11832 Microbiology and 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

Evaluating Eucalyptus leaf colonization by Brasilonema octagenarum (Cyanobacteria, Scytonemataceae) using in planta experiments and genomics

Alvarenga, D. O., Franco, M. W., Sivonen, K., Fiore, M. F. & Varani, A. M., 27 May 2020, In : PeerJ. 8, 27 p., 9158.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

Open Access

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

Phylogenomic Analysis of Secondary Metabolism in the Toxic Cyanobacterial Genera Anabaena, Dolichospermum and Aphanizomenon

Osterholm, J., Popin, R. V., Fewer, D. P. & Sivonen, K., Apr 2020, In : Toxins. 12, 4, 16 p., 248.

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



Hemholtz centre for environmental research (External organisation)

Kaarina Sivonen (Board member)
7 Jan 2020

Activity: Membership typesAssessment of candidates for academic posts

K. Sivonen acted as custos and chair of evaluation committee of the Ph D thesis by Tania Quirin

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

Activity: Examination typesPre-examiner of doctoral thesis

Drexel University (External organisation)

Kaarina Sivonen (Expert)
11 Dec 2019

Activity: Membership typesAssessment of candidates for academic posts

K. Sivonen opponent of the Ph D thesis by Anita Mäki (University of Jyväskylä)

Kaarina Sivonen (Supervisor)
13 Sep 2019

Activity: Examination typesOpponent of doctoral dissertation