Rebekka Sontowski


Research focus


Plants protect themselves from herbivory by producing specific defence compounds. The agricultural used plant family Brassicacae produces glucosinolates (GC), which are stored in vacuoles in shoot and root cells. Upon damage, for example by herbivore feeding, the GC are released and react with the enzyme myrosinase. This results in the production of isothiocyanates (ITC) and nitriles. ITC are toxic for most herbivores. Some specialists adapted to these compounds by evolving detoxification enzymes. Recently, it has been found that insect’s gut microbes can play a role in the detoxification processes. I’m interested in the adaptation of the root fly species Delia floralis and D. radicum, specialists on glucosinolate containing species. My aim is to assess the relatively importance of gut microbial communities and native enzymes in the detoxification of glucosinolate breakdown products. To answer this question I will identify potential genes encoding detoxification enzymes and analyse their expression in this insects. Furthermore, on the part of the gut microbiomes I will determine their necessity to survive on ITC diet and their similarity between species. Therefore, I will use experimental, genomic and transcriptomic approaches.

This project is part of CRC ChemBioSys (CRC-1127, DFG). 



Biological pest control, plant-insect interactions, detoxification mechanisms, microbe-host interactions, endosymbionts.

Short CV


December 2016 - now

PhD student in Molecular Interaction Ecology at the German Institute for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv). Supervised by Prof. Dr. Nicole M. van Dam.

Project title: “It takes three to tango. Tripartite interaction between cabbage root flies, their gut microbiome and host plant defence compounds”.

 2015 - 2016

Research assistant at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv).

2013 – 2015

Master in biology at the Leipzig University

  • Master thesis „Molekulare und experimentelle Untersuchungen zur Symbiose von Rickettsia-Endosymbionten mit ihren Florfliegenwirten“.

2010 – 2013

Bachelor in biology at the Leipzig University

  • Bachelor thesis „Untersuchung zum Vorkommen von Wolbachia bei verschiedenen Taxa der Insekten“.

Selected Publications


Sontowski R, Bleidorn C, Schlegel M, Gerth M (2015)  Wolbachia distribution in selected beetle taxa characterized by PCR screens and MLST data. Ecology and Evolution 5(19), 4345–4353. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.1641



Sontowski, R., Poeschl, Y., Okamura, Y., Vogel, H., Guyomar, C., Cortesero, A.-M. and van Dam, N. M.

(2022): A high-quality functional genome assembly of Delia radicum L. (Diptera: Anthomyiidae) annotated from egg to adult. Molecular Ecology Resources

Sontowski, R., Guyomar, C., Poeschl, Y., Weinhold, A., van Dam, N. M. and Vassão, D. G.

(2022): Mechanisms of Isothiocyanate Detoxification in Larvae of Two Belowground Herbivores, Delia radicum and D. floralis (Diptera: Anthomyiidae). Frontiers in Physiology

Sontowski, R., M. Gerth, S. Richter, A. Gruppe, M. Schlegel, N. M. van Dam, C. Bleidorn

(2020): Infection Patterns and Fitness Effects of Rickettsia and Sodalis Symbionts in the Green Lacewing Chrysoperla carnea. Insects

Sontowski, R., van Dam, N. M.

(2020): Functional Variation in Dipteran Gut Bacterial Communities in Relation to Their Diet, Life Cycle Stage and Habitat. Insects

Touw, A., Verdecia-Mogena, A., Maedicke, A., Sontowski, R., van Dam, N. M., Tsunoda, T.

(2020): Both Biosynthesis and Transport Are Involved in Glucosinolate Accumulation During Root-Herbivory in Brassica rapa. Frontiers in Plant Science

Gerth, M., Wolf, R., Bleidorn, C., Richter, J., Sontowski, R., Unrein, J., Schlegel, M., Gruppe, A.

(2017): Green lacewings (Neuroptera: Chrysopidae) are commonly associated with a diversity of rickettsial endosymbionts. Zoological Letters

Aguado, M. T., Richter, S., Sontowski, R., Golombek, A., Struck, T. H., Bleidorn, C.

(2016): Syllidae mitochondrial gene order is unusually variable for Annelida. Gene
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Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

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