The Plant Physiology Department at the RWTH Aachen and the events that led to the foundation of GENAWIF

The founding of GENAWIF is tightly linked to the history of the Department of Plant Physiology at the RWTH Aachen University and the so-called garlic group. To get an idea about Plant Physiology, it is basically the science about understanding how plants function and react to their environment. From the subcellular to the whole organism level of complexity, including the interactions of plants with other organisms like humans, animals, insects, and microorganisms.

Since the beginning of the department in 1974, a major topic has always been how plants react to stress like heat, drought, nutrient deficiency or pathogens, and how these factors influence the health of the plant. One is often not aware that this science is quite beneficial for us. For example, from the consumer point of view, we can address and optimize needs of plants to increase or ensure crop yields with the knowledge obtained from research into plant physiology. With decreasing availability of land mass, we also might find ways to turn hostile environments into fertile farming land.

During the course of evolution, plants developed intriguing strategies to cope with environmental stresses. Especially, the arsenal of biochemical substances with different biological modes of action is remarkable. Indeed, mankind benefits from plant metabolites in many ways, often without being aware of it. For example, salicylic acid is a plant metabolite and the origin of aspirin (acetyl salicylic acid), one of the most used drugs against headaches. Before sophisticated drugs had been developed, people could chew on willow bark for intake of this natural painkiller. 

There is a story quite similar to that of salicylic acid and willow bark about garlic, a plant which almost everyone uses in the kitchen, but probably without knowing about the biochemical power that resides within it. Recently, the so-called Garlic Group said “farewell” to the RWTH due to the retirement of the group leader, Professor Alan Slusarenko, who was also the Head of the Plant Physiology Department at the RWTH Aachen from 1995 until 2022.

As the group name implies, most of the research was focused on garlic, and more precisely, on the astonishing antibiotic allicin, a natural defence substance which is released when garlic cells are damaged. Interestingly, almost everyone is familiar with allicin, because this substance is responsible for the typical smell of freshly cut or crushed raw garlic. Allicin is special because of its very strong antibiotic activity against bacteria and fungi, which was the reasoning why Professor Slusarenko developed his interest for this very odorous compound approximately 20 years ago. Thus, the question arose what mode of action allicin has in comparison to other antibiotics with a rather narrow range of target organisms.

The first experiments were done with garlic juice, using a conventional juicer from the kitchen and a lot of garlic bulbs. For a larger experiment, I remember that we prepared 600 millilitres of juice with three people cutting garlic and me working with the juice under the fume hood, but the lab (and myself) smelled nonetheless. Especially on hot summer days, not every colleague made jumps of pure joy when confronted with the intense garlic odour lurking in the corridors and doors were sometimes demonstratively slammed shut! Allicin is not the only component in garlic juice, but the major one, as we could prove with High Pressure Liquid Chromatography (HPLC) analysis. Additionally, since the juice could be prepared cheaply and easily, we had the idea that the juice might work as a very low tec alternative to cost intensive or synthetic substances.

The early experiments were aimed at getting an idea on the spectrum of microbes that were sensitive to allicin, and since we dealt with a plant defence substance, several plant pathogenic microbes were tested. Allicin proved to be potent against many pathogens, some important examples are Botrytis cinerea (causing grey mould, e.g., on grapevine), Phytophthora infestans (causing potato blight), or Magnaporthe grisea (causing blast disease on rice) 1.

Since garlic juice is a mixture from different ingredients, extraction procedures were developed to enrich allicin, and garlic extract was used until the garlic group worked on the chemical synthesis of allicin. The procedure to oxidise diallyl disulfide (DADS, a natural degradation product from allicin) back to allicin was optimized to a very efficient protocol, which also clarified the exact reaction mechanisms that occurred during the synthesis. Purities up to 98% with a yield of 91% were achieved and confirmed by HPLC, LC-MS (liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry) and 1H-NMR (nuclear magnetic resonance) analysis 2. It is fair to say that the garlic group was in high demand to supply allicin and expertise to several labs, leading to many successful national and international cooperations. 

With pure allicin at hand, experiments were performed to get an idea of the molecular mechanisms behind the antibiotic activity of allicin. For this, various model organisms like Saccharomyces cerevisiae, also known as baker’s yeast 3,4, pseudomonad bacteria 5–7, plants 8,9, and even human cell lines were used 6,10 and investigated with genetic and proteomic techniques. We collaborated with other cooperation partners to research the mode of action of allicin in Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus and Bacillus bacteria 11–14.  In the course of this research, special techniques were developed, for example genetically constructed biosensors to monitor oxidative stress with living cells in real time 4, or the use of yeast mutant libraries to screen for genes important for tolerance against natural oxidants 15. These investigations led to the working model for allicin that we know today.

To make a long story short, allicin has various modes of action, the most important one, however, is its reactivity with free thiol groups, altering protein activities by adding so called allyl groups via oxidation. Normally, the cellular redox buffer glutathione would prevent oxidative damage, but it is targeted by allicin as well. It can be viewed as a kind of “redox toxin” in the cell. One can imagine this as a broad range attack on many different targets while simultaneously weakening the cellular defences, so that a cell can hardly defend itself against allicin.  This ultimately leads to cell death, even dose-dependently, in higher human cells and tissues 16. Other antibiotics often affect one specific cellular target, which is why cells can more easily evolve counter measures against such specific modes of action.

The fundamental research on allicin’s mode of action developed to more applied research during the last few years. For example, since allicin can be smelled, it is volatile, and ideas came up to use allicin as a vapour in lungs infected with bacteria. A lung model was developed together with the Aerodynamic Institute of the RWTH Aachen University, successfully showing that bacteria in this model could be killed using allicin in an air flow mimicking normal inhalation of air 17. Simultaneously, studies on the effect of allicin on human cell lines implicated that allicin might be a potent anti-cancer drug 10,18. Just recently, a study performed in cooperation with the Institute for Virology at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin demonstrated that SARS-CoV-2 infected human cells produced less viral RNA, less viral protein and less infectious viral particles when treated with allicin concentrations physiologically tolerated by human cells 19.

As a safety precaution and disclaimer, it needs to be clearly stated that one should not try self-treatment with garlic or allicin, because allicin is a dose-dependent toxin that can also kill human cells and tissue! An ongoing part of research addresses how allicin can be applied where it needs to be active at the appropriate concentrations, because upon oral application allicin is readily converted to other sulfur compounds once inside the stomach.

All these practical approaches are promising to address serious human diseases, thus we thought about possibilities to continue this research even after the retirement of Professor Slusarenko. Thus, the idea of GENAWIF was born, not just to continue with allicin research, but also to expand our knowhow and techniques to other research areas with the focus on natural compounds. GENAWIF was already founded in 2020 to have enough time to prepare the transition from the RWTH Aachen into privately driven research.

The farewell party on the 25th of march was not only a “farewell“ from the garlic group and the RWTH Aachen, but also a new beginning with GENAWIF. In this background story to GENAWIF, a lot of topics were touched upon, and we are happy to announce that we will address these in more detail, especially in context how our research from the past will develop in the future!


(1)          Curtis, H.; Noll, U.; Störmann, J.; Slusarenko, A. J. Broad-Spectrum Activity of the Volatile Phytoanticipin Allicin in Extracts of Garlic (Allium Sativum L.) against Plant Pathogenic Bacteria, Fungi and Oomycetes. Physiological and Molecular Plant Pathology 2004, 65 (2), 79–89.

(2)          Albrecht, F.; Leontiev, R.; Jacob, C.; Slusarenko, A. J. An Optimized Facile Procedure to Synthesize and Purify Allicin. Molecules 2017, 22 (5).

(3)          Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Portz, D.; Stitz, M.; Anwar, A.; Schneider, T.; Jacob, C.; Schlaich, N. L.; Slusarenko, A. J. Allicin Disrupts the Cell’s Electrochemical Potential and Induces Apoptosis in Yeast. Free Rad. Biol. Med. 2010, 49 (12), 1916–1924.

(4)          Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Schlembach, I.; Leontiev, R.; Uebachs, A.; Gollwitzer, P. U. G.; Weiss, A.; Delaunay, A.; Toledano, M.; Slusarenko, A. J. Yap1p, the Central Regulator of the S. Cerevisiae Oxidative Stress Response, Is Activated by Allicin, a Natural Oxidant and Defence Substance of Garlic. Free Rad. Biol. Med. 2017, 108, 793–802.

(5)          Borlinghaus, J.; Bolger, A.; Schier, C.; Vogel, A.; Usadel, B.; Gruhlke, M. C.; Slusarenko, A. J. Genetic and Molecular Characterization of Multicomponent Resistance of Pseudomonas against Allicin. Life Sci. Alliance 2020, 3 (5), e202000670.

(6)          Reiter, J.; Levina, N.; van der Linden, M.; Gruhlke, M.; Martin, C.; Slusarenko, A. J. Diallylthiosulfinate (Allicin), a Volatile Antimicrobial from Garlic (Allium Sativum), Kills Human Lung Pathogenic Bacteria, Including MDR Strains, as a Vapor. Molecules 2017, 22 (10), 1711.

(7)          Reiter, J.; Hübbers, A. M.; Albrecht, F.; Leichert, L. I. O.; Slusarenko, A. J. Allicin, a Natural Antimicrobial Defence Substance from Garlic, Inhibits DNA Gyrase Activity in Bacteria. International Journal of Medical Microbiology 2020, 310 (1), 151359.

(8)          Borlinghaus, J.; Albrecht, F.; Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Nwachukwu, I. D.; Slusarenko, A. J. Allicin: Chemistry and Biological Properties. Molecules 2014, 19 (8), 12591–12618.

(9)          Leontiev, R.; Hohaus, N.; Jacob, C.; Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Slusarenko, A. J. A Comparison of the Antibacterial and Antifungal Activities of Thiosulfinate Analogues of Allicin. Sci. Rep. 2018, 8 (1), 6763–6763.

(10)        Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Antelmann, H.; Bernhardt, J.; Kloubert, V.; Rink, L.; Slusarenko, A. J. The Human Allicin-Proteome: S-Thioallylation of Proteins by the Garlic Defence Substance Allicin and Its Biological Effects. Free Radical Biology and Medicine 2019, 131, 144–153.

(11)        Chi, B. K.; Huyen, N. T. T.; Loi, V. V.; Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Schaffer, M.; Mäder, U.; Maaß, S.; Becher, D.; Bernhardt, J.; Arbach, M.; Hamilton, C. J.; Slusarenko, A. J.; Antelmann, H. The Disulfide Stress Response and Protein S-Thioallylation Caused by Allicin and Diallyl Polysulfanes in Bacillus Subtilis as Revealed by Transcriptomics and Proteomics. Antioxidants (Basel) 2019, 8 (12), 605.

(12)        Loi, V. V.; Huyen, N. T. T.; Busche, T.; Tung, Q. N.; Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Kalinowski, J.; Bernhardt, J.; Slusarenko, A. J.; Antelmann, H. Staphylococcus Aureus Responds to Allicin by Global S-Thioallylation – Role of the Brx/BSH/YpdA Pathway and the Disulfide Reductase MerA to Overcome Allicin Stress. Free Rad. Biol. Med. 2019, 139, 55–69.

(13)        Müller, A.; Eller, J.; Albrecht, F.; Prochnow, P.; Kuhlmann, K.; Bandow, J. E.; Slusarenko, A. J.; Leichert, L. I. O. Allicin Induces Thiol Stress in Bacteria through S-Allylmercapto Modification of  Protein Cysteines. J. Biol. Chem. 2016, 291 (22), 11477–11490.

(14)        Wüllner, D.; Haupt, A.; Prochnow, P.; Leontiev, R.; Slusarenko, A. J.; Bandow, J. E. Interspecies Comparison of the Bacterial Response to Allicin Reveals Species-Specific Defense Strategies. PROTEOMICS 2019, 19 (24), 1900064.

(15)        Leontiev, R.; Slusarenko, A. J. Finding the Starting Point for Mode-of-Action Studies of Novel Selenium Compounds: Yeast as a Genetic Toolkit. Current Organic Synthesis 2017, 14 (8), 1102–1108.

(16)        Borlinghaus, J.; Foerster (née Reiter), J.; Kappler, U.; Antelmann, H.; Noll, U.; Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Slusarenko, A. J. Allicin, the Odor of Freshly Crushed Garlic: A Review of Recent Progress in Understanding Allicin’s Effects on Cells. Molecules 2021, 26 (6).

(17)        Reiter, J.; Borlinghaus, J.; Dörner, P.; Schröder, W.; Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Klaas, M.; Slusarenko, A. J. Investigation of the Deposition Behaviour and Antibacterial Effectivity of Allicin Aerosols and Vapour Using a Lung Model. Exp Ther Med 2020, 19 (2), 1541–1549.

(18)        Schultz, C. R.; Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Slusarenko, A. J.; Bachmann, A. S. Allicin, a Potent New Ornithine Decarboxylase Inhibitor in Neuroblastoma Cells. J. Nat. Prod. 2020.

(19)        Mösbauer, K.; Fritsch, V. N.; Adrian, L.; Bernhardt, J.; Gruhlke, M. C. H.; Slusarenko, A. J.; Niemeyer, D.; Antelmann, H. The Effect of Allicin on the Proteome of SARS-CoV-2 Infected Calu-3 Cells. Front Microbiol 2021, 12, 746795.

Jan Borlinghaus, 27.04.2022


The course “Symbiotecture” is offered by the Institute of Building Technology at RWTH Aachen University and is aimed at students of architecture and biology. The aim is to design building concepts that use plants as an integral part of the building. In order to consider a further use for these plants, GENAWIF e.V. participates in the course as an external practice partner. We support the students in identifying possible further application potentials for the plant species used by the students for their designs.

Further information at:

A Marketplace for laboratory infrastructure

GENAWIF is still quite young, however, it was important for us to have the opportunity to work in our own labs to let theory and practice come together in evaluating new ideas. But what if we were missing special equipment that we would need to keep on going? For example, for analytics. There is no way it would be cost efficient to buy an expensive piece of equipment just for some tests that might prove our initial idea wrong. This is also an important factor among Start-Ups from the biological or medical fields, possessing only limited funding. On the other hand, in most cases proof of principle is necessary for fund raising, leading to ”the chicken and the egg problem“: no money to show the proof-of-principle, but no proof-of-principle without money. Although for our current projects we are not facing missing laboratory infrastructure, we wanted to inform ourselves about possibilities, just in case.

Therefore, we participated in a virtual meeting on March 3rd entitled Start-ups und wissenschaftliche Einrichtungen durch den Zugang zu Laborgeräten und FuE-Kapazitäten fördern! “Kick-off des Clustermarket Marketplaces in der Metropole Ruhr!“ which would translate into “Supporting Start-Ups and scientific institutions by making laboratory infrastructure accessible!” with the kick-off event for the Clustermarket Marketplace in the German Ruhr area. The event was hold by the Ruhr University Bochum (Ruhruniversität, RUB) together with Oliver Bohnkamp, who is engaged in the BioIndustry Association ( and in the Competence Centre for Biological Safety called ‘Biosecurity’ ( The main topic was the KLIC.RUHR – competence network Lifesciences.Ruhr, which addressed the problem of inadequate scientific infrastructure mentioned above. The problem was dealt with in two aspects.

The first aspect would be a network of research institutes to pool and complement their individual infrastructures and make it accessible for other investigators. For example, the technology centres Bochum, Witten, Dortmund and Bönen were the first participants in such a network to provide basic as well as special scientific infrastructure for Start-Ups and other scientists or institutions.

The second aspect addressed the management of such a pooled infrastructure, managing the information of available machines, lab space and services. For this, a lab software-based system was developed, which runs under the name clustermarket ( and which was presented by one of its founders, Tobias Wingbehrmühle. To get an idea of what clustermarket specifically does, the background of its development over time was quite interesting. In the beginning, it should provide information about the infrastructure in an internal network. Besides the list of machines, the software would track information about their run-time, maintenance, calibration data and name responsible staff. With this data, one can see the workload of the machines and open time slots. This information can be used in two ways: if the workload would be near 100%, the collected data would be a good argument in a grant to fund additional machines, while the machines could be open to be borrowed or used by external people if not fully used. Thus, one could also make some well needed extra money by sharing their infrastructure with others, which was the second stage of the development of clustermarket.

If Universities were to offer their infrastructure to start ups or external people with economic intent, it could be problematic because a publicly funded infrastructure could be in competition with non-publicly funded infrastructure on the open market. However, according to T. Wingbehrmühle, different participating Universities already showed that it is possible, as long as the use of the infrastructure is adequately billed to the user. This needs to be clarified beforehand with the authorities or funding institutions (like for example the German DFG (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft)) by which the infrastructure was originally funded. Being well aware of this problem, the people from clustermarket would offer assistance for cost calculations as well as for the invoicing for the provided infrastructure. That being said, it was also interesting to note that the use of clustermarket itself would be free of charge due to the EU- and EFRE funding of this project.

There were many interesting questions from university staff and Start-Ups among the audience, for example how the invoicing would work (response: either by clustermarket or by the provider itself) and how the data privacy would be addressed (response: by EU law, since the servers are in France and Germany). One Start-Up was concerned about confidentiality within their labs: if they would offer their machines for rent and usage, other people would enter their lab and might see prototypes not meant to be seen by the public. Regarding this question, most providers would offer a service to process samples with their machines themselves, thereby preventing other people entering their labs. Additionally, there is a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) enclosed in the clustermarket’s terms of use.

Another interesting question was about liability: what would happen if an offered machine would be damaged during usage? Most Universities would cover this possibility via a liability insurance. Another aspect of liability would be about the generated data with the machine. What if the machine would be damaged or falsely calibrated, thus producing false data and possible economic damage? Regarding this question, most Universities would deal with that possibility via a special contract, excluding their liability for falsely generated data.

What conclusion do we draw from this for GENAWIF? For us, it is important to know about this marketplace, because it is very likely that we shall depend on external resources at some point. Clustermarket would be the first place to browse the offers from different providers, either in the vicinity within Germany or abroad. GENAWIF is based in Aachen, and providers from the Netherlands or Belgium would also be quite near to us. On the other hand, our association even might be able to offer some services, and clustermarket would be the right platform to start with. We have not yet made use of clustermarket ourselves, but we found this information quite useful and wanted to spread the word for others in need for laboratory infrastructure!

Jan Borlinghaus, 17.03.2022

Participation at the WFMG – Support for the local Food and Drinks Industry 

On January 27th 2022 we participated at the Branchentreffpunkt für Getränke und Lebensmittelwirtschaft, which was organized by the Wirtschaftsförderung Mönchengladbach (WFMG). Simplified, the WFMG is a limited liability company whose primary goal is to secure or create new jobs in the region of Mönchengladbach and the surrounding area by supporting new products or Start-Up´s ideas in their early stages, e.g., by networking with suitable partners or by helping to find investors.

The event was of interest to GENAWIF because natural substances from plants are key ingredients in beverages and food. A good opportunity for those who want to innovate in this kind of industry is certainly the SMART Food Factory, which was presented by Ms. Martina Sokolowski and Ms. Imke Weishaupt. This is a kind of research factory conceived around digitalization in food production. It is worth a look for innovators in the food sector, as there will be experimental areas to test or design prototypes or processes for new food products.

We also learned some current novelties on the topic of alternative ingredients in food. For example, in a presentation by Professor Sabine Kühn of the Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences from the Department of Ecotrophology, several new foods with alternative protein sources were presented, based for example on chickpeas or insects. However, ecotrophology also deals with the sensory impressions that new foods must have to be attractive and tasty for consumers, i.e. an organoleptic assessment. Organoleptic is the technical term for the aspects of food that perceived via the senses, that is: taste, sight, smell, and touch.

In short, and although it had to take place online due to Corona, it was a good networking event, where cooperation opportunities were explored through lively discussions between the participants after the presentations.

By the way, we became aware of this event, for which one could simply register without a participation fee, from a news article on the homepage of FOODHUB NRW.

Jan Borlinghaus, 10.02.2022

Cooperation with Landgard

Climate change is one of the central challenges of our time. In the future, long periods of drought in particular will negatively affect agricultural yields in the long term. With the kind support of the Landgard Foundation, we are working on a way to use a natural substance to increase the stress tolerance of plants, for example to drought stress, through epigenetic manipulation. GENAWIF will continue to develop this absolutely innovative and groundbreaking project. We thank the Landgard Foundation for supporting the project!

Inter-Microbial Competition: Microbes in the Colosseum and New Natural Products

In my function as a scientist at RWTH Aachen University, I participated in the second Bio Natural Conference (, which dealt with diverse topics related to natural products. At the conference I gave a presentation on the work of Dr. Jana Foerster (neé Reiter), who did her Ph.D. at RWTH Aachen University on allicin from garlic as a natural antibiotic 1. There is a separate article on her research, which takes a deeper look at the antibiotic properties of allicin from garlic.

Due to the current Covid pandemic, the meeting itself was not held in Portugal as originally planned, but was held digitally on November 18th and 19th 2021. A wide variety of topics were covered, such as Natural Products (NPs) as drugs, NP chemistry, bioactivity, NPs in food and cosmetics, and NPs from marine organisms. For interested readers, an abstract book is available online and gives an overview of the different topics and speakers (

At this point I would like to take the opportunity to relate a personal highlight, which seemed simple but ingenious to me at the same time. Ms. Deniz Tasdemir from GEOMAR Center for Ocean Research in Kiel ( addressed the topic of “microbial dark matter” and inactive gene clusters in her talk. In a nutshell, microbial dark matter is related to the concept of dark matter in astrophysics. In astrophysics, it is a hypothetical form of matter that is as yet intangible and thus not directly investigable. The analogy in the microbial context here is that we can only cultivate 1-2% of all bacteria in the laboratory, which means that we cannot enrich and study natural products from the majority of bacteria by cultivation yet. But even if we can cultivate bacteria or fungi in the laboratory, this does not mean that they also produce all the natural products in cultivation that they would theoretically be capable of, since corresponding genetic synthesis clusters are not per se permanently active and may only be expressed under conducive conditions. Synthetic processes need energy and resource investment on the part of the cell and that can have fitness costs unless there are associated benefits. Since growth and reproduction can determine the race to the Top of the microbial food chain, certain synthetic processes are thus activated only when needed. Such a need exists, for example, when microorganisms need to suppress the defenses of a host they are trying to infect, or in the struggle against other microorganisms for survival.  

The idea was therefore not to cultivate microorganisms in axenic ‘pure’ culture, but together with another organism. As soon as the two organisms would meet, the researchers expected that new substances would be synthesized by the organisms to fight each other. The strategy behind these ’gladiatorial games‘ was indeed successful, allowing new substances to be synthesized and characterized that had not before been recorded in pure culture.

For example, in one of Ms. Tasdemir’s presentations, a marine fungus was pitted against various terrestrial plant pathogens, namely against the bacteria Pseudomonas syringae, Ralstonia solanacearum, and the fungi Magnaporthe oryzae and Botrytis cinerea 2. The idea was that these pathogens, which are aggressive against plant hosts due to their lifestyle, could behave similarly aggressively in a different competitive situation, thereby provoking a response in the marine fungi. Finally, this competitive situation led to the discovery of new substances produced by the marine fungi that were not produced in pure culture, i.e., in the absence of competitors.

There were many other interesting contributions and the symposium was a great success, allowing discussion between participants in on-line forums.


1 Reiter, J., Hübbers, A.M., Albrecht, F., Leichert, L.I.O., and Slusarenko, A.J. (2020). Allicin, a natural antimicrobial defense substance from garlic, inhibits DNA gyrase activity in bacteria. Int. J. Med. Microbiol. 310, 151359. 

2 Oppong-Danquah, E., Parrot, D., Blümel, M., Labes, A., and Tasdemir, D. (2018). Molecular Networking-Based Metabolome and Bioactivity Analyses of Marine-Adapted Fungi Co-cultivated With Phytopathogens. Front. Microbiol. 9. 

Jan Borlinghaus, 06.12.2021


In order to present our association online to a larger audience we contacted Mrs. Elena Reinders from the city of Aachen. She found our association so interesting that she suggested to publish an article in the online magazine “FUTURE LAB AACHEN”. Future Lab portrays scientists, explains research projects, presents local inventions, shows the new campus architecture and asks Aachen residents about their contact points with future technologies. In our article we show you which scientific relevance garlic really has.
You can find the whole article on Future Lab.
Have fun reading it!

Review of eight months with BioBoosteRR

In October 2020 we began our cooperation with BIOBoosteRR, which was initially planned to run until June 2021. We would like to take this opportunity to look back on this time together. To put it all in context, we need explain what BIOBoosteRR actually is. Very roughly speaking, it is an accelerator programme that helps to bring innovations from research into commercial application through consultation ( The programme is a cooperation between the “BioeconomyREVIER” initiative funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which is coordinated from Forschungszentrum Jülich, and the Cologne-based consultancy “compreneur GmbH” ( In the context of the phasing out of lignite mining in North Rhine Westfalia (Rheinisches Revier), the structural change initiative pursues the goal of developing a model region for a sustainable ”BioEconomy”. In a sustainable Bioeconomy, bio-based raw materials, such as plant or animal residues, are economically utilized and introduced into a self-sustainable economic system. The economic transformation in the lignite mining region therefore offers the opportunity to create such alternative forms of economy with new jobs through new business models and innovations, which is supported by programmes such as BIOBoosteRR.

We became aware of BIOBoosteRR through a visit to the Forschungszentrum Jülich (, FZJ) in summer of 2020, where we were able to exchange ideas with Prof. Ulrich Schurr and Dr. Christian Klar (Institute of Plant Sciences IBG-2), initiators of the BioeconomyREVIER coordination office. On this occasion, we presented GENAWIF – and together we discussed ideas for its further development. This is when we learned about BIOBoosteRR.

In Autumn 2020 we had the first telephone conversation with the Economist Ingmar Stock and the Biologist Niklas Hielscher from the BIOBoosteRR programme in order to explore together how the booster could support GENAWIF. The constellation of business and scientific expertise was of course ideal for us. Once we had agreed on the framework conditions of how cooperation could look, we met twice a month to map out a plan for the short-, medium- and long-term development of GENAWIF and what work would need to be implemented to achieve the various goals. Among these were self-imposed goals such as our own digital events, a concept for financing and implementing our research ideas, and of course ways and means to put the association on an economically independent footing.

A very helpful aspect of our support through BIOBoosteRR was certainly the regular meetings, at which we naturally wanted to show successes and developments. A fitting comparison would probably be that you can resolve to go jogging regularly by yourself, but when you arrange to go jogging with a partner, the motivation to jog is much greater because of the shared responsibility that you have for each other.

Another important aspect was “networking”. GENAWIF is broadly based with interests in many natural substances, which leads to many different points of contact with the free economy and with academic research. BIOBoosteRR was always able to offer us help to establish contacts based on our ideas with various industries, such as cosmetics or food, but also specifically with individual companies. On the other hand, we were very happy to provide to others new contact opportunities and experiences. For example, moving into the multidisciplinary working space LabAix in Aachen, our contacts to FutureLab Aachen and to the editorial team of Quarks & Co.

Furthermore, we also learned a lot from a business perspective, for example when we worked with BioBoosteRR to develop business models for GENAWIF. Of course, as a non-profit association, we are perhaps not a classic start-up, yet there are economic aspects that GENAWIF must take into account when it makes the transition to financial independence.

The bottom line is that we would like to express our gratitude to BioBoosteRR and specifically to Ingmar Stock, Niklas Hielscher and his successor Carlotta Muhle, for the stimulating discussions in a trusting working atmosphere and for the professional advice that we have been able to enjoy for eight months up to now.

Jan Borlinghaus, 01.07.2021