medac Research Award 2022: Successful Collaboration

From the gut microbiome to multicellularity, aspergillosis chips and a new approach to melioidosis

Four groundbreaking research projects at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology (Leibniz-HKI) were awarded the medac Research Award this year. The pharmaceutical company medac GmbH provides 20,000 euros in prize money for the scientists involved in the work. The award recognizes the successful interdisciplinary collaboration of researchers between research groups.

A group of people stand in a seminar room with flowers and certificates in their hands.
Presentation of the medac Research Award by medac Managing Director Heiner Will (left) and Leibniz-HKI Director Axel Brakhage (right). Source: Michael Ramm/Leibniz-HKI

In order to successfully answer complex microbiological questions, collaboration between researchers from different disciplines is often crucial. To promote these collaborations, Leibniz-HKI annually awards the medac Research Award for the most successful team-based research at the institute. medac GmbH, based in Wedel, with which the institute has been closely associated since its foundation, sponsors a handsome prize for this purpose. The scientific advisory board of the institute selects the best papers from the submitted proposals each year. This year, the author teams of four groundbreaking publications won:

A team of researchers anchored by Felix Trottmann from the Biomolecular Chemistry department investigated an enzyme in Burkholderia pseudomallei and received support from Hajo Kries, who heads his own junior research group. The bacterium causes the disease melioidosis, which occurs particularly in Australia and Southeast Asia and is often fatal. The enzyme under investigation is part of the bacteria's central metabolism, but is also used to form a structure that plays a crucial role in infection. It is thus a potential target to fight the disease.

Mai Hoang and Susann Hartung from the Infections in Hematology/Oncology group and their team developed a lung-on-chip model infected with Aspergillus fumigatus. They teamed up with Zoltán Cseresnyés from the Applied Systems Biology research group, who developed algorithms to automatically evaluate the microscopic 3D images. By adding immune cells or antifungal agents to the model, the researchers can observe different infection scenarios in detail over several hours - and can do so without animal testing.

Raquel Alonso-Román from the Department of Microbial Pathogenicity Mechanisms dedicated herself and her team to the gut microbiome. She found that lactic acid bacteria counteracts the growth of Candida albicans - but only when intestinal cells are present. To decipher the underlying metabolic mechanisms, she received support from three other research units at Leibniz-HKI.

Markus Günther and Rosa Herbst from the Department of Paleobiotechnology, together with Christin Reimer from the Junior Research Group Evolution of Microbial Interactions, investigated the multicellularity of the social amoeba Dictyostelium discoideum. They discovered a yellow pigment that is crucial in maintaining multicellular status. It occurs in the fruiting bodies that the otherwise unicellular organism assembles  during times of starvation and prevents spores from hatching too early. For this, they were supported by two other research units.

The medac Research Award has been sponsored by the pharmaceutical company medac GmbH since 2004 and is endowed with 20,000 euros, which are divided among the prize winners. It honors outstanding research work on the institute's core topics in which several of the institute's research units have cooperated.

Original publications

Trottmann F*, Ishida K, Ishida-Ito M, Kries H, Groll M, Hertweck C# (2022) Pathogenic bacteria remodel central metabolic enzyme to build a cyclopropanol warhead. Nature Chemistry 14: 884-890.

Hoang TNM*, Cseresnyés Z*, Hartung S*, Blickensdorf M, Saffer C, Rennert K, Mosig AS, von Lilienfeld-Toal M#, Figge MT# (2022) Invasive aspergillosis-on-chip: A quantitative treatment study of human Aspergillus fumigatus infection. Biomaterials 283: 121420.

Alonso-Roman R*, Last A, Mirhakkak MH, Sprague JL, Möller L, Großmann P, Graf K, Gratz R, Mogavero S, Vylkova S, Panagiotou G, Schäuble S, Hube B#, Gresnigt MS (2022) Lactobacillus rhamnosus colonisation antagonizes Candida albicans by forcing metabolic adaptations that compromise pathogenicity. Nature Communications 13(1): 3192.

Günther M*, Reimer C*, Herbst R*, Kufs JE, Rautschek J, Ueberschaar N, Zhang S, Peschel G, Reimer L, Regestein L, Valiante V, Hillmann F#, Stallforth P# (2022) Yellow polyketide pigment suppresses premature hatching in social amoeba. PNAS 119(43): e2116122119.

*first author, #corresp. author


Raquel Alonso-Román
Marco Blickensdorf
Zoltán Cseresnyés
Marc Thilo Figge
Katja Graf
Rena Rebecca Gratz
Mark Gresnigt
Peter Großmann
Markus Günther
Susann Hartung
Rosa Herbst
Christian Hertweck
Falk Hillmann
Mai Hoang
Bernhard Hube
Keishi Ishida
Mie Ishida-Ito
Hajo Kries
Johann Kufs
Antonia Last
Mohammadhassan Mirhakkak Esfahani
Selene Mogavero
Lars Möller
Gianni Panagiotou
Gundela Peschel
Julia Rautschek
Christin Reimer
Lisa Reimer
Christoph Saffer
Sascha Schäuble
Jakob Sprague
Pierre Stallforth
Felix Trottmann
Nico Ueberschaar
Vito Valiante
Marie von Lilienfeld-Toal
Slavena Vylkova
Shuaibing Zhang

Science communication & accreditation

Friederike Gawlik
Charlotte Fuchs


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