Hans Knöll Institute

The Hans Knöll Institute (HKI), also called the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology is one of nine scientific research institutes comprising the Beutenberg Campus in Jena, Germany. It was founded in 1992 and employs more than 400 people today. 

HKI collaborates intensively with Friedrich-Schiller University, the Jena University Hospital, and the University of Applied Sciences Ernst-Abbe. Scientists at HKI from disciplines spanning biology, chemistry, immunology, and biotechnology study interactions among microorganisms to advance infectious disease diagnosis and treatment. Researchers within HKI’s Department of Pharmaceutical Microbiology, such as Dirk Hoffmeister, Felix Blei, Janis Fricke, and Claudius Lenz are responsible for progressing much of our understanding of “magic mushroom” species’ structure, function, and psychoactivity.

In September 2017, Lenz et al. identified a new compound, norpsilocin, in Psilocybe cubensis.1 This discovery was made possible by a new extraction method the team developed that avoids dephosphorylation, therefore revealing the mushroom’s true metabolic profile. A Psychedelic Science Review article described their discovery, which paved the way for two important follow-up studies published in 2020. Sherwood et al. produced synthetic norpsilocin and found the compound to have higher psychoactive potency than psilocybin.2 Chadeayne et al. determined norpsilocin’s crystal structure.3 Both studies were covered by Psychedelic Science Review.

Lenz et al. identified the enzymes behind the famed bluing reaction in Psilocybe species.4 Psychedelic Science Review reported on the study upon its publication in November 2019. That same month, Blei et al. announced their discovery of beta-carbolines in magic mushrooms.5 Psychedelic Science Review wrote about the findings and followed up with a deeper dive into how beta carbolines’ presence reconceptualizes our understanding of magic mushrooms and their therapeutic potential. 

In December 2020, HKI initiated a formal research partnership with CaaMTech to study Psilocybe mushrooms compounds. HKI is also partnered with the nonprofit Usona Institute, which facilitates clinical research on therapeutic applications of psilocybin.  Usona medicinal chemist Dr. Alexander Sherwood has collaborated with HKI scientists to advance the synthetic production of Psilocybe compounds. Psychedelic Science Review covered their 2019 in vitro biosynthesis of 6-methylated congeners of psilocybin and baeocystin.6 Another collaborative study in 2020 described the use of the PSiK enzyme in a hybrid biosynthetic and biocatalytic production of psilocybin.7

  1. Lenz C, Wick J, Hoffmeister D. Identification of ω-N-Methyl-4-hydroxytryptamine (norpsilocin) as a Psilocybe natural product. Journal of Natural Products. 2017;80(10):2835-2838. doi:10.1021/acs.jnatprod.7b00407
  2. Sherwood AM, Halberstadt AL, Klein AK, et al. Synthesis and Biological Evaluation of Tryptamines Found in Hallucinogenic Mushrooms: Norbaeocystin, Baeocystin, Norpsilocin, and Aeruginascin. Journal of Natural Products (Washington, D.C.). 2020;83:461-467. doi:10.1021/acs.jnatprod.9b01061
  3. Chadeayne AR, Pham DNK, Golen JA, et al. Norpsilocin: freebase and fumarate salt. Acta Crystallographica Section E Crystallographic Communications. 2020;76(4):589-593. doi:10.1107/S2056989020004077
  4. Lenz C, Wick J, Braga D, et al. Injury-Triggered Blueing Reactions of Psilocybe “Magic” Mushrooms. Angewandte Chemie (International ed.). 2020;59:1450-1454. doi:10.1002/anie.201910175
  5. Blei F, Dörner S, Fricke J, et al. Simultaneous Production of Psilocybin and a Cocktail of β-Carboline Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors in “Magic” Mushrooms. Chemistry – A European Journal. doi:10.1002/chem.201904363
  6. Fricke J, Sherwood A, Kargbo R, et al. Enzymatic Route toward 6‐Methylated Baeocystin and Psilocybin. Chembiochem : a European journal of chemical biology. 2019;20:2824-2829. doi:10.1002/cbic.201900358
  7. Fricke J, Kargbo R, Regestein L, et al. Scalable hybrid synthetic/biocatalytic route to psilocybin. Chemistry: A European Journal. 2020;26:8281-8285. doi:10.1002/chem.202000134