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New Emmy Noether junior research group investigates severe fungal infections

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is funding a new Emmy Noether junior research group at the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology - Hans Knöll Institute - (Leibniz HKI) in Jena. Research talent Mark Gresnigt will head the group. Together with his team he wants to find out how the human immune system and pathogenic fungi perceive each other. The results are supposed to provide starting points for new therapeutic options.

Fungi, underestimated infectious pathogens?

Severe fungal infections claim more than 1.5 million lives every year. About the same number of people dies from malaria or tuberculosis. To make matters worse, systemic fungal infections, which affect the entire body, are difficult to diagnose and sometimes difficult to treat.

Pathogen - host: a complex interaction

The biologist Gresnigt would like to understand how the human immune system and fungi perceive each other and how this affects the course of the infection. "The perception of stress is crucial for fungi to be able to adapt to their environment," explains Gresnigt. The young researcher from the Netherlands and his research group are focusing on Candida albicans. In most people, this fungus is a harmless inhabitant of human mucous membranes such as those in the oral cavity or the digestive tract. However, certain circumstances lead to severe infections, which are known as candidiasis. Gresnigt wants to find out which factors are responsible for this.

"I assume that the yeast fungus Candida albicans has been trained during evolution to react to the signals of the immune system. It adapts its lifestyle depending on the factors that promote its survival - either as a harmless inhabitant or as a pathogen," says Gresnigt. However, the human immune system has also evolved. It recognizes changes in the pathogen and reacts accordingly. Gresnigt and his group of researchers are hoping to gain a better understanding of these interactions and the associated development from harmless commensale to a sometimes deadly pathogen, known as pathogenesis. With these findings, the research group also hopes to develop ideas for new therapies and biomarkers that are important for diagnosis.

The Emmy Noether Programme - a great opportunity

"I am very much looking forward to implementing my own research ideas and at the same time training and supervising students and doctoral candidates in the scientific and technical aspects," said Gresnigt, who is very pleased about the funding after the two-stage application process.

With the Emmy Noether Programme, the DFG supports promising young talents at an early stage of their scientific careers. In addition to an outstanding doctorate, applicants should also be able to present challenging publications and should already have international visibility in their field. Through independent leadership of a junior research group and qualification-specific teaching responsibilities, young researchers can quickly qualify for a university professorship.

Link to german press release

Source: Leibniz HKI