Microorganisms whisper chemically: Christine Beemelmanns appointed as professor

Christine Beemelmanns has been appointed as professor of Biochemistry of Microbial Metabolism at Leipzig University. (Quelle: Leibniz-HKI)

Christine Beemelmanns - head of the Junior Research Group Chemical Biology of Microbe-Host Interactions at Leibniz-HKI – is now a professor at Leipzig University. With the presentation of the appointment certificate, she was appointed to the professorship of “Biochemistry of Microbial Metabolism” and will move to Leipzig with her group later this year.

Christine Beemelmanns studied chemistry at RWTH Aachen University and, after a research stay at the renowned Japanese RIKEN Institute, received her PhD at Freie Universität Berlin. She then returned to Japan for her postdoctoral studies, this time at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. After another postdoctoral stay at Harvard Medical School near Boston, she moved to Leibniz-HKI in 2013 as head of a junior research group.

Her research focuses on symbiotic systems involving microorganisms. With her team, Christine Beemelmanns analyzes the structures, genetic mechanisms and functions of natural products that are involved in symbiosis. Many of these molecules are still undiscovered, but seem to play a central role in the coexistence of different organisms. In the best-case scenario, such natural products could also be considered for use in humans, for example as antibiotics.

For instance, the biochemist is researching a highly specialized symbiotic fungus that certain termites cultivate in specially built nests. The fruiting bodies of the fungus are the food source for the entire termite colony. In such fungal gardens, there are hardly any pests or predators to be found; the symbionts apparently stabilize their alliance and effectively fend off enemies. With her team, Christine Beemelmanns is tracking down the substances that are responsible for this.

She is also fascinated by sea creatures. For example, the hydroid polyp species commonly known as snail fur is not only protected from enemies by its complex microbiome, the microorganisms also control important cellular processes in its life cycle. Christine Beemelmanns was awarded an ERC Starting Grant for her research into the molecular control of this complex community.

With her professional career, the chemist exemplifies the support for young scientists at Leibniz-HKI: promising young scientists who have already gained experience abroad qualify for the next career stage at the institute with the best technical equipment. They are supported by a broad network of highly specialized colleagues, so that they can ultimately bring this experience to the outside world and remain associated with the institute as cooperation partners. For example, Christine Beemelmanns is involved in the Jena Collaborative Research Center ChemBioSys with her own subproject and will remain so once she has moved into her laboratories in Leipzig.

As a professor, Christine Beemelmanns will take on extensive teaching responsibilities at Leipzig University, and will thus be even more involved than before in training the next generation of researchers. With her field of research at the interface between chemistry and biology, she will primarily introduce students to interdisciplinary work in research teams. And perhaps some of them will come back to Leibniz-HKI for their doctoral theses.


Christine Beemelmanns