Allergens in Ecosystems

The majority of allergens in outdoor environments originate from pollen and fungi. Their allergenic potential depends on the amount and composition of allergens which are influenced by the environment. Among the major allergens are mainly stress proteins that are induced upon adverse environmental conditions such as suboptimal temperature, radiation, water regimes and interaction with air pollutants. Such scenarios are predicted to increase under ongoing climate change. Major aims of our group are to understand plant and fungal reactions to environmental conditions that induce stress. Allergenic potentials are studied using a system’s  approach from the organism to the molecular level. This also includes biotic factors that mediate stress responses in plants and fungi, thus potentially altering the allergen composition. Examples are microorganisms interacting with allergenic pollen, allergenic fungi reacting to other microorganisms, and microbial community composition in indoor environments that may affect immune responses of humans.

We aim at identifying factors that influence allergenic potentials such as kind and amount of allergens and interacting metabolites. Therefore, we perform experiments under controlled environmental conditions with increasing levels of complexity (single and combined stress factors) in phytotron chambers and in the greenhouse. Since results from controlled environmental conditions need to be verified in complex outdoor conditions, environmental samples are also studied. In addition, we use indoor dust samples in cohort studies to relate microbiome composition to human health data. From a microbial ecology perspective, we want to know which role biotic components and interactions play on allergenic potentials in outdoor and indoor environments.


The group combines expertise in plant biochemistry and microbial ecology, and works on two topics related to allergy research (1) on pollen, and (2) on fungi. In a broader ecological context of biotic interactions in plants, the group also works on functional ecology of ectomycorrhizae (3). The group also runs a stable isotope lab (4) which offers analytical tools in natural abundance and stable isotope labelling studies in collaboration with partners world-wide.

  1. Environmental Impact on Allergenic Pollen
  2. Environmental Fungi and Human Health
  3. Environmental Impact on Ectomycorrhizal Functional Ecology
  4. Stable Isotope Lab