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Quorum Sensing and Planctomycetes for the Microverse

We are happy to announce that Kai Papenfort and Christian Jogler are strengthening our cluster research with their expertise. These two new Microverse members will help bring us closer to finding innovative solutions for fighting disease and environmental dysbalance.

Quorum sensing and regulatory RNAs

Kai Papenfort is professor and chair for General Microbiology at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena. He studies the signalling molecules of microorganisms and their significance for diseases such as cholera. “Microbes regulate their behaviour according to their cell density and researchers call this form of chemical communication between microbial cells ‘Quorum Sensing’”, Papenfort says. A further priority research area for Papenfort are regulatory RNAs, which control the genetic activity of bacteria. Hence, they play a key role in ‘Quorum Sensing’. “Our aim is not only to understand the bacteria when they communicate, but also to become actively involved in that communication”, he adds. Understanding the language of microorganisms could lead to new approaches in influencing them. For example, they could be manipulated to inhibit pathogenicity.

After finishing his biology studies, Papenfort went to the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin, where he became familiar with what was then the completely new research field of regulatory RNAs. He obtained his doctorate from Humboldt University in Berlin and then worked as a postdoc at the University of Würzburg, before moving to Princeton in 2012 with a fellowship of the Human Frontiers Science Program. Three years later, he returned to Germany, first to Munich and now to Jena. Papenfort has already obtained many grants and won several awards for his research, including the postdoctoral prize from the Robert Koch Foundation, the research award of the Engelhorn Foundation, the career development award of the Human Frontiers Science Program, a Starting Grant from the European Research Council, as well as a Scholar Award of the Vallee Foundation.

Planctomycetes: their inner structure and cell processes

Christian Jogler follows a different approach to harness the communication of microbes for the benefit of environmental and health applications: he literally dives deep searching for new natural products. The professor for Microbial Interactions at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena is looking for lead antibiotics in habitats that have not been intensely investigated yet. He is specialized in bacteria living in the sea, lakes and other aquatic habitats, in particular the Planctomycetes that are a biochemically unique phylum of aquatic bacteria. “I am especially interested in the environmental microbiological aspects of Planctomycetes. Where do they occur and what do they interact with?” says Jogler. With high resolution microscopes and gene sequencing he investigates the inner structures and cell processes of Planctomycetes. His work has already demonstrated that the seas represent a largely untapped resource for novel antibiotic substances.

Jogler started his career by studying biology and completing his doctorate at the Ruhr University Bochum. In 2005, he worked as a Postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen. After that he went to the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich before working at the German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures in Braunschweig. He left Germany for a postdoc position at the Harvard Medical School in Boston where he honed his skills in high resolution microscopy with a Marie Skłodowska Curie Fellowship from the European Commission. Before he came to Jena, he was an Excellence Fellow at the Radboud University Nijmegen in the Netherlands.

Text: Alena Gold & Hendrik Huthoff
Photo: Kai Papenfort & Christian Jogler