Many microorganisms are able to produce compounds with unusual chemical structures that are often specific for the producing organisms. These compounds are termed natural products. Fungi are one of the major sources of natural products. The function of these compounds for the producing organisms is often unknown. Natural products are the most important source of therapeutic agents, e.g., penicillins, cephalosporins are important antibiotics, cyclosporin is an immunosuppressive agent, lovastatin a cholesterol reducing compound. Of the 520 new drugs approved between 1983 and 1994, 40 % were natural products; 60-80 % of these were antibacterials and anticancer drugs. During 1999, 9 of the 20 best-selling non-protein drugs on the pharmaceutical market were either derived from, or developed from, leads generated by natural products.

In addition, fungi such as Candida albicans and Aspergillus fumigatus, are of major importance in the field of infection biology. The frequency of invasive mycoses due to opportunistic fungal pathogens has increased significantly over the past two decades. This increase in infections is associated with excessive morbidity and mortality and is directly related to increasing patient populations at risk for the development of serious fungal infections, which includes individuals undergoing solid-organ transplantation, blood and marrow transplantation, major surgery, and those with AIDS, neoplastic disease, immunosuppressive therapy, advanced age, and premature birth. Specific diagnostic tools are still limited, as well as the possibilities of therapeutic intervention, leading to the fact that e.g. invasive aspergillosis is still associated with a high mortality rate that ranges from 30 % to 90 %.

The Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology (HKI) identifies and investigates natural products produced by microorganisms, mainly fungi, to understand their role as mediators of biological communication and to use them for the elucidation of cellular processes. Furthermore, scientists at the Institute are interested in understanding the pathobiology of human-pathogenic fungi and developing novel natural product-based antibiotics mainly directed against pathogenic fungi.

The HKI provides world-leading education and training of graduates at all levels and provides new technologies and solutions required for the advancement of Natural Product Research and Infection Biology of human-pathogenic fungi.

In close collaboration with Friedrich Schiller University Jena and Ernst Abbe University of Applied Sciences, employees at the Hans Knöll Institute are involved in the education of junior scientists and offer numerous lectures and courses. Students can profit from extensive individual supervision in research laboratories with state of the arte equipment. Graduate schools provide excellent structured training for doctoral researchers at the Hans Knöll Institute.

The Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology – Hans Knöll Institute (HKI) – considers equal opportunities for female and male employees and the compatibility of family and work as an important basis for successful research and is an active partner in the local network “Jenaer Bündnis für Familie”.


The HKI is a world-leading academic research centre in the field of natural product research and infection biology of human-pathogenic fungi. Employing a multi-disciplinary approach the HKI develops new technologies that are used to identify natural products, to characterise their function and exploit their mechanisms of action in order to elucidate cellular processes. In addition, the HKI investigates the pathobiology of infections caused by human-pathogenic fungi. These investigations will find application in the use of natural product-based drugs for treatment and diagnosis of infectious diseases mainly caused by fungi.

Specifically, the HKI is an internationally leading centre in the following areas:

  • Genome Analysis (transcriptome, proteome, metabolome) of fungi and host cells
  • Molecular Biology of fungal secondary metabolite producers and pathogenic fungi
  • Natural Product Chemistry including structure analysis
  • Fermentation/Physiology
  • Systems Biology including establishment of data bases
  • Host/Fungal pathogen interaction