Suvi Vanhakylä

PhD thesis topic

Distribution of the diversity of plant polyphenols across the plant phylogeny and its effects on plant defensive properties

Main aims

(1) To examine plant polyphenol-based defensive chemistry in thousands of plant species across the phylogeny of land plants.

(2) To search links between specific metabolite types and functional activities.

(3) To draw conclusions about where in the plant phylogeny the crucial steps of different biosynthetic pathways of defense chemistry evolved.

(4) To estimate the chemical diversity’s effect on the plant species’ herbivory rates to resolve the effectiveness of different defenses.


Currently the distribution of plants’ polyphenol-based defensive chemistry within plant phylogeny is relatively poorly known, even though tannins are among the most common group of plants’ secondary metabolites. Their high prevalence and variability make them an excellent tool for studying the evolution of plant defenses. I have a background in biology and I’m now facing a great and interesting challenge to learn how to become a chemist. Luckily my PhD work allows me to learn and use the cutting edge methods in chemistry and combine those with my knowledge of ecology and evolutionary biology. All of this is very fascinating!

Results so far

I will add thousands of new plant species into previously collected data sets. I have planned the upcoming plant samplings to cover all branches of land plant phylogeny. At the moment the data set contains 3400 plant species altogether. All of the species are now screened for their composition of major groups of polar polyphenols and two bioactivities. I have also started to study seasonal and between individuals variation of selected species to build a better understanding of the patterns of variation of different chemical fingerprints.

Suvi Vanhakylä, M.Sc.
Doctoral candidate

Email: smhvan(at)

Postal address:
University of Turku
Department of Chemistry
Vatselankatu 2
FI-20500 Turku