Secondary Metabolism is a major source of hormones and signaling molecules that regulate literally all aspects of plant’s life from seed to seed. Moreover, it determines the nutritional value of crops, by providing essential vitamins and antioxidants required for human health. The BioActives Lab works on elucidating processes related to hormone homeostasis and vitamin biosynthesis, the discovery of new growth regulators and the translation of acquired knowledge into applications that improve crop performance and nutritional value. Building on the expertise of Prof. Al-Babili gained from his work on Golden Rice, our group combines fundamental research with applied plant science and uses Enzymology, Analytical chemistry, and Omics approaches, as well as Genome Editing, classical Genetic Engineering and Synthetic Biology tools to tackle questions related to plant metabolism, development, biotic interactions and resilience. Thereby, we are focusing on carotenoid-derived small molecules, in particular the plant hormone strigolactone that regulates plant architecture and acts as signal attracting sy​mbiotic arbuscular-mycorrhizal fungi, but also noxious root parasitic weeds, such as Striga hermonthica (s. below). Recently, we have discovered zaxinone, a candidate for a novel plant hormone, and anchorene as two carotenoid-derived growth regulators determining plant development and regulating the level of known plant hormones.

St​ri​ga​, known as witchweed, has become one of the major threats to global food security, by devastating the yield cereals, such as pearl millet, maize and sorghum, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and by KAUST, our group is leading a consortium of research groups from Burkina Faso, Niger, Japan, India, and the Netherlands to develop low-cost, hormone-based technologies that eliminate Striga seeds accumulated in infested soils or reduce pearl millet infestation. In addition, we are investigating Striga susceptibility in pearl millet and the underlying genetic factors, to accelerate its breeding and the generation of resistant varieties. This project is expected to provide innovative and efficient Striga control methods to enhance food security in sub-Saharan Africa and potentially in other parts affected by root parasitic plants.


  •   Strigolactones:

            1- D27 enzymology

            2- 3-Hydroxy Carlactone

  •   Novel Plant Growth regulators

            1- Zaxinone

            2- Anchorene

            3- Cyclocitral

  •    Apocarotenoid metabolism

             1- Analytical chemistry

          ​   2- Synthetic Biology (Metabolic Engineering in cyanobacteria and citrus calli).

  •    Combating Striga:

             Is a major venue to translate our work into the application and to make significant contributions to increasing global food security. 



Latest News

15 November, 2015

KAUST receives Gates Foundation grant for parasitic weed research

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