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Contact Info

Björn Usadel.
Worringer Weg 1
52062 Aachen
Email: usadel /ta/
usadel /ta/

Phone: +49 241 80 26767
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Fascination of Plants Day 2015

On May 18, 2015 the group will particpate in the Fascination of Plants Day.

Learn about the fascinating world about nightshade plants (Solanaceae). Beside the well-known representatives tomato, potato or tobacco there are a lot more species like cape gooseberry or the blue colored Mexican tomatillo. Alongside the use as food and animal feed, Solanaceous plants have a high potential in production of novel pharmaceuticals or bioactive compounds. We will open our collections of Solanaceae for demonstration. Apart from scientific introduction, there also will be interesting experiments with on fruits in which you can participate (suitable for people from 9-99).

You can find us in the greenhouses close to the biological institutes (Worringer Weg 3, 52074 Aachen) between 10 and 16.


Am 18. Mai beteiligt sich die Gruppe am Fascination of Plants Day.

Lernt die faszinierende Welt der Nachtschattengewächse kennen. Neben den bekannten Vertretern wie Tomate, Kartoffel oder Tabak gibt es noch viele andere, wie die Kapstachelbeere und die aus Mexiko kommende blaue Tomatillo. Nachtschattengewächse sind nicht nur Obst und Gemüse, aus ihnen können auch neue Arzneimittel und Zusatzstoffe gewonnen werden. Wir zeigen Beispiele aus unserer aktuellen Forschung und Experimente zum Anschauen, Anfassen und Mitmachen. (Für Interessierte von 9-99)

Das Event findet von 10-16h bei den Gewächshäusern der biologischen Institute der RWTH Aachen statt (Worringer Weg 3, 52074 Aachen)


The effect of the Carbon Status on minor carbohydrates and the cell wall

(Co-PI A.Womit)

As the cell wall represents a major carbon sink it seems likely that its metabolism might be affected by the carbon status. Indeed there are several pieces of omics data that suggest at least a coordination of cell wall synthesis by decreasing amounts of C. As an example, it has been consistently observed that the nucleotide sugar converting enzymes seem to be transcriptionally regulated by changing carbon availability. To pursue this question, we have established an LC-MS/MS based method to measure nucleotide-sugar pools which –as the precursors for cell wall synthesis- represent the link between primary metabolism and cell synthesis.

As several enzymatic reactions in the sugar conversion pathways are currently unknown, we are cloning candidate genes and investigating their role in Arabidopsis profiting from the output of the protein classification and network approaches. Furthermore, we have conducted a forward genetic screen where the seed mucilage was used as a simple system to study cell wall polymer synthesis and are currently studying the obtained candidate lines.

Identifying Cell Wall Biosynthesis genes using a simple model

The plant cell wall is complex consisting of cellulosic fibres embedded into a matrix of pectins and hemicelluloses. Whilst a tremendous amount of data was generated using mutant collections, not all cell wall mutants are viable and not in all cases is it possible to directly determine changes in the cell wall composition without a fractionation of the cell wall.

Interestingly Arabidopsis thaliana seeds extrude a substance called mucilage upon contact with water. As it turns out a major component of the mucilage is rhamnogalacturonan-I which is also one of the major components in cell wall pectin. However, the mucilage is extremely easy to extract and Arabidopsis seeds are perfectly viable with relatively little mucilage or in mutants and/or ecotypes not extruding mucilage.


Identifying beneficial cell wall traits in natural populations

(Co-Pi Markus Günl)

Plant cell walls are a major resource which can be used for biofuels or for a material use. Whilst the last few years have seen major advances in our understanding of how the plant cell walls are constructed and plant cell walls can be decomposed, we are still far away from tailoring plants to our needs. We therefore investigate the cell wall composition of naturally occurring plant species or variants (e.g. wild relatives) to identify potentially beneficial traits that could be introduced into modern breeding varieties.

Specifically we focus on the use of residual material such as plant parts that would end up as straw and thus don’t compete with food or feed usage.




Network reconstruction, network learning and biological pathways

Given the ample amount of “omics” data that is being generated, it becomes more and more important to devise schemes to best profit from the mass of generated data and to extract the most likely biological interpretation. The group is thus aiming to develop methods and tools to abstract, visualize and interpret high throughput data.

These tools are applied to data that is generated in the group to find new candidate genes for cell wall synthesis and the response to carbon limitation. Furthermore these approaches are used to build predictive models.

Using Next Generation Sequencing to answer biological problems

Currently the group is involved in various RNASeq projects (454 & Illumina Solexa), the assembly of a wild tomato species and in using sequencing to pinpoint mutations. Here the group is interested in developing new tools and algorithms that expedite the analysis of data and which help a biologist to find answers to biologically relevant questions. The group thus tries to enable biologists to e.g. find new candidate genes.

A first release tool is Trimmomatic which can be used to quality trim and adapter clip NGS data (Illumina Solexa).

Databases, Ontology and Tool Development

The group is involved in develop tools to faster evaluate, interpret and visualize omics data. Major tools the group has developed are MapMan a GUI application to visualize omics data on biological pathways. ROBINa is a graphical frontend to BioConductor/R. It allows you to quality control and visualize microarray and RNASeq data. In addition experimental questions can be formulated by visually drawing experiments and the data is then statistically evaluated using state-of-the-art statistical algorithms developed in R. All these tools are supported by forums.

Within the MapMan tool we have also developed a specific ontology to support the annotation of genes and metabolites for plant omics data. This onotology has been expanded to more than 10 plant species and can be applied to any plant species where transcript data is available based on sequence similarity searches. We thus provide an easy way to learn about plant transcriptome projects.

Also the group hosts the GABI PRIMARY database. A database for primary data generated within the BMBF financed German GABI programs.



Funding has been provided by

  • MPG society and Helmholtz association
  • DAAD
  • BMBF in the GABI-II, GABI-Future, BioEnergy2021, KBBE programs and through the goFORSYS grant
  • EU FW7


We are always looking for bright and motivated students.

Thus if you want to pursue a career in

  • cell wall research
  • high throughput data analysis
  • cutting edge next generation sequencing data projects
  • development of ontologies


Just contact us.