Infection Biology and Molecular Biotechnology

The Department of Molecular and Applied Microbiology (MAM) is devoted to research in the two main areas of the Leibniz Institute of Natural Product Research and Infection Biology (HKI), i.e., infection biology of fungi and natural product research. The Department is organised in several research teams reflecting the research areas:

  • Virulence of Aspergillus fumigatus and Host-Pathogen Interactions
  • Molecular Biotechnology of Natural Products
  • Microbial Communication and Natural Products
  • Eukaryotic Transcription Factors and Signal Transduction
  • Stress- and Immunoproteomics
  • Zygomycetes – Pathogenicity and Biodiversity

Aspergillus fumigatus has become the most important airborne fungal pathogen in humans. It causes different diseases ranging from allergies, to systemic, life-threatening infections. Individuals at risk for developing invasive aspergillosis are immunocompromised patients. Invasive aspergillosis is associated with high mortality because diagnostic and therapeutic options are inefficient. Furthermore, the pathophysiology of A. fumigatus infections is poorly understood. Scientists of the MAM study diverse aspects of the biology and virulence of A. fumigatus including signal transduction, the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites, the improvement of genomics, transcriptomics and proteomic tools and analyse the host-pathogen interaction.

Fungi produce numerous secondary metabolites including mycotoxins and antibiotics. By using Aspergillus nidulans as a model organism but also the pathogen A. fumigatus the Department uncovers the regulatory pathways and physiological conditions, which lead to the biosynthesis of secondary metabolites, which at the same time can respresent virulence factors. In collaboration with other Departments of the HKI we focus on the search and characterisation of new secondary metabolite gene clusters and their molecular regulation. In this context, we have discovered a novel principle of activation based on the interaction of A. nidulans with a Gram-positive soil bacterium, Streptomyces rapamycinicus, which reprograms the fungal histone modification machinery.