Camilla Knudsen Baden – University of Copenhagen

Camilla Knudsen Baden


Cyanogenic glucosides group
Section for Plant Biochemitry
Department for Plant and Environmental Sciences
Faculty of Science 

“I get inspired to look at thing is in different ways by my collaborators both within and outside my field. This helps me troubleshot in the lab as well as sustain the direction the research should go.”

Strategy for Isolation of the Dhurrin Metabolon

Strategy for Isolation of the Dhurrin Metabolon

What is your research area?
Plants possess an immense diversity both in appearance and the compounds they produce to survive the harsh environment that nature really is. Many of these compounds are bioactive and have been used for many years as flavors, colors, perfumes, bio-pesticides and medicine. The complexity of these compounds is enormous and synthesis by traditional organic chemistry is very difficult.

In our group we study how these highly valuable compounds (specialized metabolites) are biosynthesized by the plants and how we can use synthetic biology to produce them in yeast or plant production systems such as algae or moss. 

I focus on enzyme dynamics involved in the biosynthesis of specialized metabolites called cyanogenic glucosides. These compounds are our model compounds as they have been studied immensely through the last 30 years. So we already know a lot about the three different enzymes that are involved in the biosynthesis. These enzymes belong to the classes of Cytochrome P450 (CYP), P450 oxidoreductase (POR) and UDP-glucosyltransferases. They make cyanogenic glucosides by all coming together in a multienzyme complex called a metabolon. We want to identify the factors regulating metabolon formation and product formation. This can help us in engineering yeast or algae to produce other more complex and valuable compounds such as anti-cancer drugs.

Synthesis of dhurrin

Lately, I’ve also engaged in a project focusing on another high-value compound, the diterpenoid forskolin together with Irini Pateraki. The project will focus on using synthetic biology to increase the flux through the forskolin pathway and thereby increase the production of forskolin in vitro and in yeast.  

Why did you choose to work with this? / with synthetic biology?
I started studying classical plant biochemistry during my bachelor and master and expanded more into plant genetics during my PhD by working on the genetic model plant Lotus japonicus. In lotus I primarily studied UDP-glucosyltransferases involved in the biosynthesis of hydroxynitrile glucosides which includes cyanogenic glucosides. This lead me back to doing biochemistry as my knowledge about UGTs made me collaborate with Tomas Laursen, who studied metabolon formation in the dhurrin pathway of Sorghum bicolor.

Isolated dhurrin metabolon in a SMALP - styrene maleic acid lipid particle

How would you like your work to be applied?
The basic science that we do on the model compounds cyanogenic glucosides can be transferred to the biosynthesis and production of valuable compounds, which can be used within the food, feed and medicinal industry and thereby be of value to the society. 

Do you collaborate with other researchers?
Currently, I collaborate with both investigators in the cyanogenic glucoside research group, within the synthetic biology center and with a proteomics expert Jonas Borch at the University of Southern Denmark. We also started collaboration with a group at Oxford University, led by Carol Robinson that performs mass spectrometry on protein complexes. And on the analysis of lipids we established a collaboration with Markus Wenk’s Lab, Singapore Lipidomics incubator, SLING to identify the lipid composition in the microsomes isolated from sorghum, and especially the native lipids co-isolated with the dhurrin metabolon using the SMALP technique. But in general I interact and get inspired or advice from everyone at the Plant Biochemistry lab and the synthetic biology center.

Do you collaborate with industry?
Yes, I am starting a collaboration with the Danish-Swiss biotech company Evolva on the diterpenoid forskolin together with Irini Pateraki supervising a master student. The project will focus on using synthetic biology to increase the flux through the forskolin pathway and thereby increase the production of forskolin in vitro and in yeast. 

What motivates you in your work?
Curiosity and fascination of how plants can produce very complex metabolites in often much simpler ways then we as scientists suggest.

What accomplishment are you most proud of?
Probably being a part of a project that can finally prove an almost 30 year old hypothesis within the field – namely the metabolon formation in plant compound production.  This has only become possible through the collaboration of a number of scientists in order to thoroughly investigate the hypothesis as all participants have different strengths and competences used in this project.   

When not doing science; how do you like to spend your time?
I started trail running during my maternity leave as running in the forest, in different terrain and any weather condition really is very challenging, rewarding and lots fun! Otherwise I like to play soccer and do sea kayaking when I’m not spending time growing plants in my garden.  

Short CV

Since 2014 Post Doc, Center for Synthetic Biology, Section for Plant Biochemistry, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Copenhagen.
2011-2014 PhD student, Plant biochemistry lab, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Copenhagen (Supervisor: Birger Lindberg Møller)
2010-2011 Research assistant, Plant biochemistry lab, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, University of Copenhagen 
2008-2010 MSc Biology - Biotechnology, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen
2005-2008 BSc Biology - Biotechnology, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen

Collaborations within the Center for Synthetic Biology

Birger Lindberg Møller
Tomas Laursen
Irini Pateraki

Scientific Publications

The evolution of plant chemical defence - new roles for hydroxynitrile glucosides in Lotus japonicus. / Knudsen, Camilla. Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Faculty of Science, University of Copenhagen, 2014. 156 s.

Visualizing metabolite distribution and enzymatic conversion in plant tissues by desorption electrospray ionization mass spectrometry imaging. / Li, Bin; Baden, Camilla Knudsen; Hansen, Natascha Kristine Krahl; Jørgensen, Kirsten; Kannangara, Rubini Maya; Bak, Søren; Takos, Adam Matthew; Rook, Frederik; Hansen, Steen Honoré; Møller, Birger Lindberg; Janfelt, Christian; Bjarnholt, Nanna. I: Plant Journal, Vol. 74, Nr. 6, 74, 2013, s. 1059-1071.

Camilla Knudsen, Tomas Laursen, Rubini Kannangara, Nicolas Bertram, Marité Cárdenas Gómez, Birger Lindberg Møller (2013): The binding of UDP-glucosyltransferase to the cytochrome P450s in dhurrin biosynthesis. Poster presented at the Plant Biotech Denmark meeting, Copenhagen, Denmark

Knudsen, C; Bjarnholt, N; Jensen, K; Robson, F; Olsen, CE; Motawia, MS; Moller, BL; Takos, A; Rook, F (2013): Specialized roles of the two UDP-glucosyltransferases UGT85K2 and UGT85K3 in hydroxynitrile glucoside metabolism in Lotus japonicus. Poster presented at the Gordon Research Conference in Metabolic Engineering, Waterville valley, New Hampshire, USA

Direct and indirect imaging of secondary metabolites and enzymatic reactions in plant material by Desorption Electrospray Ionization. / Li, Bin; Bjarnholt, Nanna; Knudsen, Camilla; D'Alvise, Janina; Hansen, Steen Honore'; Janfelt, Christian.
2012. Poster session presented at 19th International Mass Spectrometry Conference, Kyoto, Japan

Knudsen, C; Mikkelsen, L; Robson, F; Motawia, MS; Olsen, CE; Moller, BL; Takos, A; Rook, F (2012): Specialized roles of the two UDP-glucosyltransferases UGT85K2 and UGT85K3 in hydroxynitrile glucoside metabolism in Lotus japonicus. Pharmaceutical biology. Vol. 50, issue 5, p.549 Poster session presented at the 50th anniversary meeting of the Phytochemical Society of North America, 2011 on Hawaii, Big Island, USA.