Philipp Zerbe

image of Philipp Zerbe

Assistant Professor


Plant Biology

Offices and Labs

LSA 1220
LSA 1211, 1215


2007 PhD Plant Physiology Ruhr-University Bochum, Germany

Research Contribution

My lab focuses on studying the genetic and biochemical factors that contribute to the immense natural variation of plant specialized (i.e., secondary) metabolism. We further utilize this knowledge to develop innovative biotechnology applications for producing bio-based pharmaceuticals, food additives, pesticides and other products promoting human well-being. Terpenoid metabolites as one of the largest and most diverse classes of plant metabolites with many industrial uses are a major focus of our research. To decipher terpenoid metabolism in a range of medicinal, horticultural and food crops, we have established large-scale gene discovery and pathway elucidation platforms that enable the rapid identification of complete biosynthetic pathways. We combine metabolomics- and transcriptomics-guided discovery of novel genes with various genetic, protein biochemical and structural-functional studies to gain insight into the often lineage-specific evolutionary diversification, molecular organization and biological relevance of terpenoid metabolism. This portfolio of newly-discovered genes, enzymes and pathways then forms the foundation for developing plant or microbial metabolic engineering platforms and strategies for precision breeding or engineering of crop plants with enhanced environmental stress tolerance.

Research Interests

Discovery, characterization and engineering of plant terpenoid metabolism


2015 Arthur C. Neish Young Investigator Award (Phytochemical Society of North America)

Department and Center Affiliations

Plant Biology Department


American Society of Plant Biologist (ASPB)
Phytochemical Society of North America (PSNA)

CBS Grad Group Affiliations

Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
Plant Biology

Specialties / Focus

Biochemistry, Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology
  • Genomics, Proteomics and Metabolomics
Plant Biology
  • Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, and Genomics

Graduate Groups not Housed in CBS

Designated Emphasis in Biotechnology Program


Zerbe Lab website

Teaching Interests

Biochemistry, Plant Biology, Plant Metabolism

Personal Interests

Mountain/Road biking, Trail running, Rock climbing website


7/21/2015 3:56:00 PM
  • 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.