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Welcome to the Schmidt research group!

April 2023

June 2022

Dr. Sandy Schmidt

Principle Investigator

Sandy Schmidt completed her Ph.D. in 2015 in the group of Prof. Uwe Bornscheuer at the University of Greifswald in the field of protein engineering and enzymatic cascade reactions. After a research stay at Delft University of Technology as postdoctoral fellow within the group of Prof. Frank Hollmann, she was working as group leader at Graz University of Technology. Starting from April 2020 on, Dr. Schmidt has been Assist. Prof. (Rosalind Franklin Fellow) at Rijksuniversiteit Groningen within the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy.

current Group Members

Dr. Niels de Kok

Postdoctoral Researcher

Niels was born on the 3rd of February 1992 in the city of Helmond, the Netherlands. In 2010 he enrolled in the multidisciplinary bachelor programme of Applied science, with a focus on Science and life, at Fontys hogeschool in Eindhoven. After an early graduation, he pursued a master’s degree in molecular biology and biotechnology at the University of Groningen. During his undergraduate studies Niels developed a keen interest in the construction of cell barriers, antibiotic biosynthesis and the effect of antibiotics on said barriers. After his graduation in 2017 he joined the Department of Molecular Microbiology at the University of Groningen as a PhD candidate under supervision of Prof. Dr. Arnold J.M. Driessen. Here his research focused on the biosynthesis of complex phospholipids in Archaea and was completed in spring 2022. By this time, he developed his molecular biology skills to a high level but wanted to keep growing and learn more about both the biological and chemical side of molecular mechanisms found in nature. His interest was piqued by the indole alkaloid research of Dr. Sandy Schmidt; leading him to join the Schmidt research group.

Niels’ research focuses on elucidating the late-stage diversification of indole alkaloid biosynthesis and the development of novel Rieske oxygenases as promising biocatalysts.

In his free time, Niels enjoys to tinker on various electronics- or other DIY projects, gardening, astrophotography, go on motorbike rides or hikes in nature, or simply meet his friends for some drinks and/or games.



Michael E. Runda

PhD student

Michael was born and raised in the countryside of Salzburg, Austria. Motivated by his curiosity about the scientific fundamentals of life, he decided to study molecular biology (BSc) at the University of Graz. Excited about applying his gained biological knowledge for industrial purposes, he proceeded studying biotechnology (Dipl.-Ing.) at the Graz University of Technology. During the work on his master thesis at the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in Graz, he gathered valuable insights in the research field of biocatalysis. With his engineer’s degree in hand, he decided to leave behind the mountains to seize the opportunity and do his PhD at the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy (GRIP) at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. In his project, he deals with the structural and functional analysis of uncharacterized putative Rieske non-heme iron-dependent oxygenases involved in the biosynthesis of indole alkaloids.
Besides his fascination for natural sciences, Michael is interested in sports, politics and music. In his free time, he enjoys hiking, snowboarding, backpacking, cooking, and meeting people. What he does not like is the non-Austrian idea of putting sauce onto a Wiener Schnitzel.

Franziska Meier

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Lars Lauterbach (RWTH Aachen, Germany)

Franziska was born and raised near Hamburg, Germany. Eager to learn about both natural sciences and medical sciences, she decided to study pharmacy at the Free University of Berlin and passed the final state examination in 2021. The interdisciplinary program allowed her to gain experience in various scientific fields, among them microbiology, biochemistry, and inorganic and organic chemistry. In her view, using an interdisciplinary approach is often the ideal way to solve scientific problems. Excited about the aim of the MSCA-ITN-EJD ConCO2rde, she decided to make use of her knowledge and different view on the topic as an early-stage researcher under the guidance of Assist. Prof. Sandy Schmidt and Prof. Lars Lauterbach (RWTH Aachen, Germany) at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen. In her research project, she will explore the potential of the autotrophic bacterium Cupriavidus nectar for the production of isotope-labelled metabolites. Franziska enjoys spending her free time outside riding her bike or hiking. She plays various instruments and is interested in politics, arts and crafts, and gardening.   

Matteo Vajente

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Lars M. Blank (RWTH Aachen, Germany)

Matteo was born in Vicenza, in the north of Italy. He has always been passionate about using science to solve real life problems, and he got his BSc in Biotechnologies in the Università deli study di Padova focusing on molecular and environmental biotechnologies. During his studies he was fascinated by the broad possibilities of microbial metabolisms and decided to move to Milan (University die Milano-Bicocca) to obtain his MSc in Industrial Biotechnologies. During his MSc he worked one year in Prof. Paola Branduardi laboratory, focusing on increasing Saccharomyces cerevisiae robustness to acetic acid through a synthetic biology approach. He then continued as a research assistant in the same lab, establishing a CRISPR/Cas9 system for the editing of the industrially relevant yeast Zygosaccharomyces parabailii. After looking abroad for new stimuli and opportunities, in September 2021 he started as an early-stage researcher within the MSCA-ITN-EJD ConCO2rde under the guidance of Assist. Prof. Sandy Schmidt and Prof. Lars M. Blank (RWTH Aachen, Germany) at the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, The Netherlands. He will work with the bacterium Cupriavidus nectar, building a genetic toolbox to easily obtain novel strains of interest. When he is not in the lab you can probably find him reading in the park, being overly enthusiastic about a new random hobby or hitting people who do not make the tiramisù the right way. If you are interested in his research (or in the recipe of the best tiramisù) feel free to e-mail or to send a message on LinkedIn.

Donato Calabrese

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Lars Lauterbach (RWTH Aachen, Germany)

Yongxin Li

PhD student

Yongxin was born and raised in Guangdong Province in the south of China. Given her interest in studying microorganisms and metabolic pathways, during her postgraduate studies, she was working on the elucidation of the metabolic mechanisms of sugar alcohols (sweeteners) in Bacillus licheniformis. Excited about applying her biological knowledge for industrial purposes and curiosity about synthetic biology, she decided to start her PhD research in Sandy’s group at the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy at the University of Groningen, the Netherlands. In her project, the main focus is on the synthetic application of nitrogen-nitrogen bond forming enzymes. Apart from her scientific research, she enjoys various sports, such as running and yoga. The combination of movement and stillness keeps her motivated and enthusiastic.


Riccardo Clerici

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Lars M. Blank (RWTH Aachen, Germany)

Sander Noordam

PhD student, jointly supervised with Prof. Ricardo O. Louro (Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Portugal)

Charitomeni Angeli

PhD student

Charitomeni was born on the 8th of June 1998 in Athens, Greece and raised in Rhodes Island in the Mediterranean Sea. Motivated by her interest in science and excited by the thought of getting her hands on it, in 2016 she decided to study Chemistry at the University of Crete. She was awarded with the Bachelor of Chemistry in 2020. In her fourth year as an undergraduate student, she completed a Bachelor’s Thesis in the Division of Organic Chemistry. Driven by her eager of learning and wanted to expands her knowledge also in the field of Biochemistry, in 2020 she pursued a master’s degree at the University of Crete, that combined biotechnology and photochemistry. Upon her successful completion of her Master’s degree on March 2023, and captivated by the “Laboratory Environment”, she decided to start her PhD at the Groningen Research Institute of Pharmacy (GRIP) at the University of Groningen, Netherlands. In her project, the main goal is to expand the scope of nitrogen-nitrogen-bond forming enzymes.

Her “safe zone” starts with cooking and drawing, while in her free time she also enjoys sports, hiking, exploring new places and meeting with friends.

Current Bachelor / Master students

2022 – 2023
  • Maria Founti, Master student intern (University Paris-Saclay), February – July 2023
  • Tómas Tómasson, M.Sc. thesis (Medical Pharmaceutical Sciences), Title: A biocatalytic cascade toward the production of functionalized piperazines, December 2022 – July 2023
  • Asjen J.K. Mensik, M.Sc. thesis (Medical Pharmaceutical Sciences), Title: Identification and characterization of so far undiscovered enzymes from secondary metabolite pathways, May 2022 – June 2023

Past Group Members

PhD students
  • Dr. Fatma Feyza Özgen, Ph.D. thesis, Title: Challenge Accepted: Harnessing the Power of Light to Drive Photobiocatalytic Reactions (defended Jan 2023) 
Master students
  • Jannik Witte, Erasmus+ Trainee (University of Freiburg), October 2022 – February 2023
  • Philip Ahmadyar, M.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Engineering promiscuous enzyme activities, January – July 2022
  • Julia Kuiper, M.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Rieske non-heme iron oxygenases involved in the biosynthesis of hapalindole-type alkaloids, January – July 2022 
Bachelor students
  • Freek Burger, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Spring 2023
  • Soufiane El Houzi, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Spring 2023
  • Yewhans Beraki, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Spring 2023
  • Mohammed Sayed Hasan, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Spring 2023
  • Arman Taliehdust Kaskareh, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Lowering CO2 emissions by using a small gene: expression of MetR in Cupriavidus necator, Autumn 2022 
  • Naomi van der Giessen, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Virtual modelling and cloning of enzymes catalyzing the nitrogen-nitrogen bond in piperazic acid, Summer 2021
  • Daan Geertjes, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: N-N bond formation in piperazic acid and derivatives by heme-dependent enzymes, Summer 2021
  • Sander Delwig, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Literature review on the bioactivities of cyanobacterial hapalindole-type indole alkaloids, Summer 2021
  • Jonathan Shaheen, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Hapalindole-type alkaloids: Biosynthetic pathway of the hapalindoles, fischerindoles, ambiguines, welwitindolinones, Summer 2021
  • Marc A. Simon, B.Sc. thesis (Pharmacy), Title: Comparative analysis of synthetic strategies for the histone deacetylase inhibitor largazole from Caldora penicillata – An integrative literature review, Autumn 2020
Co-supervised at Graz University of Technology:
  • Bastian Kremser, M.Sc. thesis, Title: Establishing a Rieske non-heme iron oxygenase purification system for biotransformations in vitro, 2021
  • Magdalena Wessely, M.Sc. thesis, Title: Photozymes – Evolution of light-driven artificial enzymes for redox biotransformations, 2019
  • Michael E. Runda, M.Sc. thesis, Title: Characterization and optimization of light-driven whole-cell hydroxylations catalyzed by Rieske non-heme iron oxygenases, 2019
  • Peter Wied, M.Sc. thesis, Title: Engineering Rieske Non-Heme Oxygenases for Improved Electron Transfer in Light-driven Biocatalysis, 2018
  • Milena Cernko, B.Sc. thesis, Title: Light-driven whole-cell biotransformations catalyzed by naphthalene dioxygenase, 2020