My research carries a focus on how plants or plant products interact with other organisms, from insects to humans. Those interactions are usually far more complex than lab studies allow for and require novel approaches that can harness those complexities and bring better societal benefits.
In the area of human nutrition research I therefore focus on establishing hypothesis-free methods that can help to identify tasty, healthy or pharmaceutically active compounds in plants and other sources. For this my group developed a proprietary ‘receptomics’ platform that can establish responses of hundreds of receptors in live cells on a chip of about one square centimeter to very small amounts of compound or extract (www.receptomics.com). The technique is also very suitable for monitoring hormones and neurotransmitters emitted by human cells that are circulating in the body or that are produced by ‘organs-on-a-chip’. Current projects cover tongue-, nose- and gut-on-a-chip approaches. As a result of the insights gained from this work, the role of tomato and potato GABA contents are now being tested in human intervention studies for their effects on diabetes and hypertension.
In the area of plant protection and host plant resistance I focus on novel methods of evaluating bioactivity by means of videotracking behaviour in arena arrays. This approach was immediately successful with the identification of a novel aphid resistance gene in Arabidopsis by means of genetic association studies (Kloth et al. 2017, Plant Cell). I further developed the ethogenetics methodology with EthoAnalysis software to extract many different behaviour components that reflect the well being of the insects in the arena arrays. The system is commercialized jointly with the company Noldus IT (www.noldus.com/entolab).