Philipp Zerbe

Philipp Zerbe

Position Title
Associate Professor

  • Department of Plant Biology, College of Biological Sciences
1220 Green Hall

Research Interests

My research team team focuses on the discovery and engineering of specialized (i.e. secondary) metabolic pathways in medicinal, bioenergy, and food plants. We integrate molecular biochemistry, functional genomics and protein structural-functional approaches to investigate plant metabolic diversity and translate this knowledge into new resources for crop improvement and plant natural product biomanufacture. 

Grad Group Affiliations

  • Plant Biology
  • Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology Program

Specialties / Focus

  • Plant Metabolism
  • Functional Genomics and Metabolomics
  • Molecular Biology and Protein Biochemistry


  • BIS 103 Bioenergetics/Metabolism, Fall
  • PBGG 200B Specialized Metabolism, Winter
  • PBI 298 Plant Specialized Metabolism, Spring
  • FRS 004 Project Link - First-Year Seminar
  • FRS 004 CURE: Plant Biotechnology, Winter/Fall
  • MCB 299 Research
  • PLB 199 Special Study
  • PLB 197T Tutoring

Honors and Awards

  • 2015 Arthur C. Neish Young Investigator Award (Phytochemical Society of North America)
  • 2016/17 Hellman Fellowship
  • 2018 Elsevier/PSNA Young Investigator Award

    Professional Societies

    • American Society of Plant Biologist (ASPB)
    • Phytochemical Society of North America (PSNA)
    • American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)
    • Metabolomics Association of North America (MANA)
    • American Chemical Society (ACS)


    • 2007 PhD Plant Physiology Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany

    Select Publications

    Mafu S, Ding Y, Murphy KM, Yaacoobi O, Addison JB, Wang Q, Shen Z, Briggs SP, Bohlmann J, Castro-Falcón G, Hughes CC, Betsiashvili M, Huffaker A, Schmelz EA, Zerbe P (2018) Discovery, biosynthesis and stress-related accumulation of dolabradiene-derived defenses in maize. Plant Physiol. doi: 10.1104/pp.17.01351

    Mafu S, Zerbe P (2017) Plant diterpenoid metabolism for manufacturing the biopharmaceuticals of tomorrow: prospects and challenges. Phytochem. Rev. 17(1), 113-130

    Pelot KA, Hagelthorn DM, Addison JB, Zerbe P (2017) Biosynthesis of the oxygenated diterpene nezukol in the medicinal plant Isodon rubescens is catalyzed by a pair of diterpene synthases. PLoS One 12, e0176507

    Mafu S, Karunanithi PS, Palazzo TA, Harrod BL, Rodriguez SM, Mollhoff IN, O'Brien TE, Tong S, Fiehn O, Tantillo DJ, Bohlmann J, Zerbe P (2017) Biosynthesis of the microtubule-destabilizing diterpene pseudolaric acid B from golden larch involves an unusual diterpene synthase.  Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 114, 974-9

    Pelot K, Mitchell R, Kwon M, Hagelthorn DM, Wardman JF, Chiang A, Bohlmann J, Ro DK, Zerbe P (2016) Biosynthesis of the psychotropic diterpene salvinorin A: Disocvery and characterization of the Salvia divinorum clerodienyl diphosphate synthase. Plant J.  89,885-97

    Mafu S, Fischer E, Addison JB, Riberio Barbosa I, Zerbe P (2016) Substitution of two active site residues alters C9-hydroxylation in a class II diterpene synthase. ChemBioChem 17, 2304-7.

    Wu X, Chen X, Dan J, Cao Y, Gao S, Guo Z, Zerbe P, Chai Y, Diao Y, Zhnag L (2016) Characterization of anti-leukemia components from Indigo naturalis using comprehensive two-dimensional K562/cell membrane chromatography and in silico target identification. Sci. Rep. 6, 25491

    Andersen-Ranberg J, Kongstad KT, Nielsen MT, Jensen NB, Pateraki I, Bach SS, Hamberger B, Zerbe P, Staerk D, Bohlmann J, Møller BL, Hamberger B (2016) Expanding the landscape of diterpene structural diversity through stereochemically controlled combinatorial biosynthesis. Angew. Chem. 55, 2142-6.

    Chen R, Li Q, Tan H, Chen J, Xiao Y, Ma R, Gao S, Zerbe P, Chen W, Zhang L (2015) Gene-to-Metabolite network for biosynthesis of lignans in MeJA-elicited Isatis indigotica hairy root cultures. Front. Plant Sci. 6, 952.

    Zerbe P, Rodriguez SM, Mafu S, Chiang A, Sandhu HK, O'Neil-Johnson M, Starks CM, Bohlmann J (2015) Exploring diterpene metabolism in non-model species: Transcriptome-enabled discovery and functional characterization of labda-7,13E-dienyl diphosphate synthase from Grindelia robusta. Plant Journal doi: 10.1111/tpj.12925.

    Zerbe P and Bohlmann J (2015) Plant diterpene synthases: exploring modularity and metabolic diversity for bioengineering. Trends in Biotechnology 3, 419-28.

    Zerbe P (2015) Small molecules with big impact: terpenoid phytoalexins as key factors in maize stress tolerance. Plant, Cell & Environment doi: 10.1111/pce.12523 (invited commentary).

    Zerbe P and Bohlmann J (2015) Enzymes for synthetic biology of ambroxide-related diterpenoid fragrance compounds. In Advances in Biochemical Engineering/Biotechnology 148, 427-47.

    Zerbe P, Chiang A, Dullat H, O'Neil-Johnson M, Starks C, Hamberger B, Bohlmann J (2014) Diterpene synthases of the biosynthetic system of medicinally active diterpenoids in Marrubium vulgare. The Plant Journal 79, 914-927.

    Roach CR, Hall DE, Zerbe P, Bohlmann J (2014) Plasticity and evolution of (+)-3-carene synthase and (-)-sabinene synthase functions of a Sitka Spruce monoterpene synthase gene family associated with weevil resistance. Journal of Biological Chemistry 289, 23859-69.

    Pateraki I, Andersen-Ranberg J, Hamberger Br, Heskes AM, Martens HJ, Zerbe P, Spanner Bach S, Møller BL, Bohlmann J, and Hamberger BR (2013) Manoyl oxide (13R), the biosynthetic precursor of forskolin, is synthesized in specialized root cork cells in Coleus forskohlii. Plant Physiology 164, 1222-36.

    Zerbe P, Hamberger BR, Yuen M, Chiang A, Sandhu HK, Madilao L, Ngyuen A, Hamberger B, Bach SS and Bohlmann J (2013a) Gene discovery of modular diterpene metabolism in non-model systems. Plant Physiology 162, 1073-91.

    Zerbe P and Bohlmann J (2013b) Metabolic engineering of terpene synthases of conifer defense: bioproducts, biofuels and perfumes. Recent Advances in Phytochemistry, Vol. 44, Springer, pages 85-108.

    Nystedt B et al. (2013) The Norway spruce genome sequence and conifer genome evolution. Nature 497, 579-84.

    Xiao M, Zhang Y, Chen X, Lee EJ, Barber C, Chakrabarty R, Desgagné-Penix I, Haslam TM, Kim YB, Liu E, Macnevin G, Masada-Atsumi S, Reed D, Stout JM, Zerbe P, Zhang Y, Bohlmann J, Covello PS, De Luca V, Page JE, Ro DK, Martin VJ, Facchini PJ and Sensen CW (2013) Transcriptome analysis based on next-generation sequencing of non-model plants producing specialized metabolites of biotechnological interest. Journal of Biotechnology S0168-1656 00184-3.

    Hall DE, Zerbe P, Jancsik S, Quesada AL, Dullat H, Madilao LL, Yuen M and Bohlmann J (2013) Evolution of conifer diterpene synthases: Diterpene resin acid biosynthesis in lodgepole pine and jack pine involves monofunctional and bifunctional diterpene synthases. Plant Physiology 161, 600-16.

    Caniard A, Zerbe P, Legrand S, Cohade A, Valot N, Magnard J-L, Bohlmann J and Legendre L (2012) Discovery and functional characterization of two diterpene synthases for sclareol biosynthesis in Salvia sclarea and their relevance for perfume manufacture. BMC Plant Biology 12, 119.

    Zerbe P, Chiang A, Yuen M, Hamberger BR, Hamberger B, Draper JA, Britton R and Bohlmann J (2012a) Bifunctional cis-abienol synthase from Abies balsamea discovered by transcriptome sequencing and its implications for diterpenoid fragrance production. Journal of Biological Chemistry 287, 12121-31

    Zerbe P, Chiang A and Bohlmann J (2012b) Mutational analysis of white spruce (Picea glauca) ent-kaurene synthase (PgKS) reveals common and distinct mechanisms of conifer diterpene synthases of general and specialized metabolism. Phytochemistry 74, 30-39.

    Keeling CI, Madilao LL, Zerbe P, Dullat HK and Bohlmann J (2011) The primary diterpene synthase products of Picea abies levopimaradiene/abietadiene synthase (PaLAS) are epimers of a thermally unstable diterpenol. Journal of Biological Chemistry 286, 21145-53.

    Bleeker PM, Spyropoulou EA, Diergaarde PJ, Volpin H, De Both MTJ, Zerbe P, Bohlmann J, Falara V, Matsuba Y, Pichersky E, Haring MA and Schuurink RC (2011) RNA-seq discovery, functional characterization, and comparison of sesquiterpene synthases from Solanum lycopersicum and Solanum habrochaites trichomes. Plant Molecular Biology 77, 323-36.

    Schaller FS, Zerbe P, Reinbothe S, Reinbothe C, Hofmann E and Pollmann S (2007) The allene oxide cyclase family of Arabidopsis thaliana: Localization and cyclization. FEBS Journal 275, 2428-41.

    Zerbe P, Weiler EW and Schaller FS (2007) Preparative enzymatic solid phase synthesis of cis(+)-12-oxo-phytodienoic acid: Physical interaction of AOS and AOC not necessary. Phytochemistry 68(2), 229-36.

    Hofmann E, Zerbe P and Schaller FS (2006) The crystal structure of Arabidopsis thaliana allene oxide cyclase: Insights into the oxylipin cyclization reaction. The Plant Cell 18(11), 3201-17.