Microbial interactions and natural products of marine symbioses

All higher organisms are associated with microorganisms. The coexistence of these diverse partners and their host-microbe interactions are crucial for life on Earth. Detailed knowledge of microbial physiology and molecular interaction mechanisms is therefore essential for understanding biological processes. Bacterial symbionts perform many functions: they provide their hosts with nutrients, provide access to inhospitable habitats or produce antimicrobial bioactive compounds.

To elucidate the molecular mechanisms behind symbiotic associations, we are studying the characteristics of bacterial symbionts of marine invertebrates - in particular shipworms. These wood-boring bivalves thrive in marine ecosystems of all oceans. They are of immense economic importance as they can destroy wooden structures such as ships, groynes and wharves. They live in close symbiosis with nitrogen-fixing bacteria in their gills. Our knowledge of the physiology of the bacterial symbionts and their role in this symbiosis is very limited. We were able to isolate bacterial symbionts of the genus Teredinibacter from specimens of the Baltic Sea shipworm Teredo navalis LINNAEUS, 1758. In cooperation with external partners (Göttingen Genomics Laboratory (G2L) and German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures GmbH (DSMZ)) we characterise the physiology and adaptive strategies of these endosymbionts. Furthermore, we are currently investigating the pharmaceutically relevant potential of the shipworm symbionts for the production of bioactive secondary metabolites in close collaboration with the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology e. V. Hans-Knöll-Institut (HKI) Jena.

Responsible staff members:

Stefan E. Heiden, Christian Schmidt



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