Thuringia funds two new research units at Leibniz-HKI

The new groups are dedicated to the pathogenic fungus Fusarium and the automated search for active substances

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The Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology (Leibniz-HKI) is growing, starting the year off with the introduction of the new junior research group "(Epi-)Genetic Regulation of Fungal Virulence" and the "Robotic-assisted Discovery of Antiinfectives" group. Both are funded by the Thuringian Ministry of Science and the European Social Fund Plus.

Two women stand in a corridor and smile towards camera
Luzia Gyr (left) and Slavica Janevska (right) head the new groups at Leibniz-HKI. Source: Anna Schroll/Leibniz-HKI

With the two new groups, the research profile of Leibniz-HKI is extended by two highly timely and relevant topics. The junior research group "(Epi-)Genetic Regulation of Fungal Virulence" (EPI) is dedicated to pathogenic fungi of the genus Fusarium. These fungi were recently classified as a "High Priority Group", and thus as particularly dangerous, in the list of infectious fungi published for the first time by the World Health Organization (WHO). The group "Robotic-assisted Discovery of Antiinfectives" (RDA) establishes a technology platform in cooperation with Friedrich Schiller University, aimed at developing automated laboratory procedures to find new active agents against infectious diseases.

The EPI junior research group is headed by Slavica Janevska. She has already conducted research on Fusarium for her doctorate at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. Leibniz-HKI was able to recruit the expert for the position of junior research group leader after a postdoctoral stay at the University of Amsterdam funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). "Fusarium are so-called trans-kingdom pathogens. This means that they can cause both plant diseases and, increasingly, infections in humans," Janevska explains the relevance of her research. In particular, immunocompromised individuals can develop the invasive fungal infection fusariosis. But healthy people can also be affected. The pathogens can cause an infection of the cornea (keratitis) in contact lens wearers. The junior research group is investigating which factors lead to the infection and is developing methods to detect the pathogens at an early stage and thus be able to treat them. The project is carried out in close collaboration with Grit Walther from the National Reference Center for Invasive Fungal Infections, which is also part of the Leibniz-HKI.

The RDA research group is led by chemist Luzia Gyr. She worked on new methods for mass spectrometry in her doctoral studies at ETH Zurich and subsequently worked in bioanalytics at a pharmaceutical startup. Since 2021, she has worked as a postdoc in the Transfer Group Anti-infectives at Leibniz-HKI, to which the new group will now be affiliated. Luzia Gyr is building a robotics platform that will automate many steps in the lab as well as speed them up and make them less error-prone. The group is thus of importance to the entire research site, as scientists from other institutes, especially the Friedrich Schiller University, can also use the technology platform to analyze interesting active substances or carry out test procedures. "We can use it to work according to industry standards at early stages of drug development. This facilitates the search for new anti-infectives and the transfer from academia to the pharmaceutical industry," Gyr explains.

Both groups will be funded for three years by the Free State of Thuringia and the European Social Fund Plus. The funding of research groups offers an ideal springboard for the further careers of young scientists in industry or academia. The Thüringer Aufbaubank continues to support the development of the groups after the application process.

Staff

Luzia Gyr
Slavica Janevska
Grit Walther

Press contact

Ronja Münch

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