Molecular mechanisms and evolution of adaptive traits

My lab is interested in understanding the molecular mechanism and evolution of adaptive traits. We focus on ecologically important traits that are involved in species interactions, such as traits involved in defense and reproduction in plants and herbivores. The biosynthesis of many defensive metabolites (e.g. toxins) often requires precise control at the cellular or temporal level, as the toxins or their derivatives can also cause autotoxicity. An important aim of our research is to reveal the mechanisms (e.g., chromatin structures) underlying the regulations of the biosynthesis and detoxification of defensive metabolites. In addition, as many adaptive traits and toxins are associated with new cell types, we also aim to understand the genetic and epigenetic controls underlying the evolution of novel cell types.

Research website

Positions held

  • Since 2022: W3 professor, Johannes Gutenberg University, (JGU), Mainz
  • 2018 - 2022: W2 Professor, University of Münster
  • 2011 - 2017: Project group leader, Max-Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology


  • 2011: Doctor of Sciences, ETH Zürich
  • 2007: Masters in cell biology, Kunming Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences
  • 2004: Bachelor in animal genetics, China Agricultural University

Selected publications by Shuqing Xu

Li J, Halitschke R, Li D, Paetz C, Su H, Heiling S, Xu S*, Baldwin IT*: Controlled hydroxylations of diterpenoids allow for plant chemical defense without autotoxicity. Science 2021, 371(6526):255-260. Link

Xu S*, Stapley J, Gablenz S, Boyer J, Appenroth KJ, Sree KS, Gershenzon J, Widmer A, Huber M*: Low genetic variation is associated with low mutation rate in the giant duckweedNat Commun 2019, 10:1243. Link

Xu S*, Kreitzer C, McGale E, Lackus ND, Guo H, Kollner TG, Schuman MC, Baldwin IT, Zhou WW*: Allelic differences of clustered terpene synthases contribute to correlated intraspecific variation of floral and herbivory-induced volatiles in a wild tobaccoNew Phytol 2020, 228(3):1083-1096. Link

Xu S*#, Brockmöller T*#, Navarro-Quezada A, Kuhl H, Gase K, Ling ZH, Zhou WW, Kreitzer C, Stanke M, Tang HB et al & Baldwin IT*: Wild tobacco genomes reveal the evolution of nicotine biosynthesisProc Natl Acad Sci USA 2017, 114(23):6133-6138. Link

Zhou W, Kugler A, McGale E, Haverkamp A, Knaden M, Guo H, Beran F, Yon F, Li R, Lackus N et al Xu S*: Tissue-specific emission of (E)-alpha-bergamotene helps resolve the dilemma when pollinators are also herbivoresCurr Biol 2017, 27(9):1336-1341. Link