Martin Thanbichler receives ERC Advanced Grant

Marburg microbiologist receives almost 2.1 million euros for research on molecular switches

July 05, 2023

The microbiologist Prof. Dr. Martin Thanbichler has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant by the European Research Council (ERC). The project "C-SWITCH" aims to gain comprehensive insights into the biology of novel molecular switches, so-called C-switches, and to elucidate how they can control cellular processes. The funding amounts to almost 2.1 million euros over five years.

Molecular switches play a key role in the control of central life processes such as protein biosynthesis, cell growth, cytoskeletal dynamics and cell differentiation. They are proteins that, like electronic switches, can switch between two different states to turn on or off certain processes in the cell at the right time and in the right place. These switching events depend on the binding and subsequent cleavage of small molecules called nucleotides, which help proteins enter a particular state and maintain it until the next switching event.

"Until recently, molecular switches were thought to involve only two types of structurally closely related nucleotides, the purine nucleotides GTP or ATP," explains Martin Thanbichler. "This paradigm changed recently when our group, together with other international groups, discovered a completely new class of regulatory switches, called C-switches, which require the pyrimidine nucleotide CTP for their function.

Database searches indicate that C-switches occur in nature in numerous variations and are particularly widespread in bacteria. However, the biological functions and modes of action of these proteins are largely unknown.
In the C-SWITCH project, now funded by the European Research Council, researchers will use both bioinformatics and experimental methods to systematically identify new C-switch variants. Using an interdisciplinary research approach, they will then investigate how exactly C-switches can control cellular processes using modern techniques from the fields of biochemistry, biophysics, molecular biology and fluorescence microscopy, as well as computational modeling. The C-SWITCH project will thus pave the way to a comprehensive understanding of C-switches as versatile regulators in biology. Interestingly, despite their almost universal distribution in bacteria, typical C-switches are hardly found in higher organisms. Therefore, in addition to basic research, the project will analyze the pharmacological potential of C-switches as novel targets for antibacterial therapies to support global efforts to combat the rapidly increasing resistance of bacteria to antibiotics.

"The funding once again demonstrates Marburg's research strength in the field of microorganisms, a research area of enormous importance for the future of humanity. The successful ERC proposal strengthens the Philipps University's profile area "Microorganisms, Biodiversity and Climate". I congratulate Martin Thanbichler on this extraordinary success at the European level," says Prof. Dr. Gert Bange, Vice President for Research at the Philipps-Universität Marburg, who is himself an ERC Advanced Grant holder.

ERC Advanced Grants
The European Research Council or ERC is the research funding organization of the European Union. The ERC Advanced Grants are one of the four main funding schemes of the organization.

Martin Thanbichler studied biology in Munich and received his PhD in microbiology. As a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University, he focused on the cell biology of bacteria. In 2009, he moved to Marburg as a research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology. In 2008 he became assistant professor and in 2014 professor of microbiology at Philipps-Universität Marburg. He conducts research at the university's Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO), and was appointed a Max Planck Fellow by the Max Planck Society in 2015 in recognition of his outstanding achievements in the field of microbial cell biology. In 2017-2021, he was the speaker of the Collaborative Research Center (SFB-TRR 174) Spatiotemporal Dynamics of Bacterial Cells.

Source: Press release of the Philipps University Marburg

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