Research


Our research focuses on the dynamics of host-microbe interactions as a model to enhance our understanding of evolution, taking into account ecological factors and the underlying genetics. As model organisms, we study the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans and various bacteria, such as the human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa,  or different nematode microbiota members.

Our work is based on an interdisciplinary research approach, combining concepts and methods from different fields, such as ecology, microbiology, genetics, genomics, and immunology. Evolutionary biology serves as the integration point, providing the focus and the core questions of the research projects. Below, we briefly outline examples of our specific projects.


The evolution and genetics of C. elegans-microbiota interactions


All complex organisms originated in the presence of microbes and, thus, their evolution is shaped by multifaceted interactions with the microbial associates, the so-called microbiota. Our aim is to enhance our understanding of the evolution of host-microbiota interactions, using C. elegans as a model host. We are interested in how host adaptation to new environments is influenced by the microbiota and also how microbes themselves adapt to a host-associated life-style.

C. elegans pathogen defenses and microbiota-mediated protection


The nematode C. elegans interacts with diverse harmful microbes in nature. We are interested in understanding how the worm defends itself against such pathogens. We focus on two main aspects: the nematode's immune system and protection provided by the microbiota. We study the genetics of C. elegans immunity, especially the specificity of immune responses and the role of immune gene families (e.g., C-type lectins). We further analyze the molecular basis of microbiota-mediated protection, which can be direct (e.g., through expression of antimicrobial compounds) or indirect (e.g., through activation of host defense).

Bdellovibrio and like organisms (BALOs) and their probiotic potential


BALOs are obligate predatory bacteria that are ubiquitous in nature and prey on Gram-negative bacteria. Predation by BALOs can remove pathogenic bacteria and/or dominant members of microbial communities. The latter frees niches for other taxa, thereby influencing the diversity of microbial communities, including microbiomes and, as a possible consequence, host health. We want to understand if BALOs can be used to (a) treat pathogens and (b) promote microbiome diversity and thereby fitness in C. elegans.

Antibiotic resistance evolution in Pseudomonas aeruginosa


The spread of multi-drug resistant pathogens has become a major threat to global health. Evolution is at the core of this antibiotic crisis, yet evolutionary concepts are only rarely considered for the design of novel therapy. Our aim is to take advantage of evolutionary insight to develop and test new treatment protocols. One focus is to improve fast sequential therapy by exploiting evolutionary trade-offs (e.g., collateral sensitivity) or inducible physiological effects (e.g., cellular hysteresis), using the opportunistic human pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa as a model for lab-based evolution experiments and clinical studies.


Funding

German Science Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG)

DFG Research and Training Group 2501 on Translational Evolutionary Research (RTG TransEvo)

DFG Collaborative Research Center 1182 on Origin and Function of Metaorganisms

DFG Clinician Scientist Program on Evolutionary Medicine (CSEM)

DFG Excellence Cluster Precision Medicine in chronic Inflammation (PMI)

Max-Planck Society and the International Max-Planck Research School for Evolutionary Biology

Leibniz Science Campus Evolutionary Medicine of the Lung (EvoLUNG)

Volkswagen foundation

Alexander-von-Humboldt foundation

European Science Foundation (ESF)

University of Kiel and the State of Schleswig-Holstein