Department of Systems and Synthetic Microbiology

Inner workings of microbial cells and communities

All cellular processes are carried out by groups of interacting proteins. The main goal of our research is to understand how these protein networks function in a highly dynamic, crowded and noisy environment within microbial cells, and to elucidate general principles of their organization, operation and evolution. We focus on processes that are characteristic to most cellular life forms – motility, environmental sensing, signal exchange and division – using well-tractable bacterial (Escherichia coli) and yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) models. Besides intracellular networks in individual cells, we also investigate networks formed by interactions of multiple cells in microbial communities.

 Specific questions currently investigated in our department include:

  • How do bacteria respond to various chemical and physical stimuli encountered in their animal hosts and in aquatic or terrestrial habitats?
  • How do chemical communication and physical interactions between cells contribute to organization of microbial communities?
  • What enables reliable transmission of signals in the noisy cellular environment?
  • What determines the spatial organization of protein networks within cells?
  • How do protein networks carry out mechanical functions in the cell?
  • How can networks adjust their functions dependent on environmental changes?
  • How do protein networks evolve under selection pressure?
  • How could we use our knowledge to construct synthetic networks and to equip microorganisms with novel functions?

To address these questions, we perform quantitative analysis of the network functions, using a range of fluorescence microscopy techniques combined with molecular biology, proteomics, transcriptomics, and metabolomics. Furthermore, we use mathematical theory and computer simulations to describe protein networks and to predict their behavior under different conditions. Our department offers a highly international and interdisciplinary environment that includes biologists, physicists, engineers and chemists. Our department has been established as a part of the
Center for Synthetic Microbiology (SYNMIKRO), a joint initiative of the Philipps-Universität Marburg and the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology.



Biophysics of environment sensing by motile microorganisms  
Small proteins in bacterial signaling network  
Mechanisms of Spatial-Organisation  



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