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Decoding new gene functions in the human gut microbiome

German Research Foundation (DFG) funds new Priority Programme for research into unknown structures and functions of intestinal bacteria - coordinated by Board Member Lisa Maier

26.03.2024 CMFI News

Bacteria impact every ecosystem on this planet, but many species remain unexplored, even in the human gut microbiome, which is of great importance to our health. It is currently assumed that the human gut can be colonised by around 4,500 different bacterial species. Of these, around 70% have not yet been cultivated and analysed in the laboratory, and the function of 50% of their genes remains unknown. The scientists of the new Priority Programme Illuminating Gene Functions in the Human Gut Microbiome (SPP 2474) now want to decode these unknown gene functions. To this end, the University of Tübingen (Lisa Maier), Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München (Bärbel Stecher), Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (Jörg Vogel) and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg EMBL (Nassos Typas) have developed a framework programme that will be funded with around 7.8 million euros over the first three-year phase. A total of six years of funding is planned.

The new Priority Programme focuses on the most common gut bacteria that play a central role in the human gut and investigates fundamental aspects of their biology. This includes the cellular structures and functions of these non-model organisms, their ability to produce and process new metabolic products and their interactions with their environment.

In the past, it has been shown that the cultivability and availability of genetic tools for non-model gut bacteria have led to a much better understanding of their lifestyle. This is where the new programme comes in by developing new technologies to facilitate the study of gut bacteria. These technologies include innovative approaches in the fields of genetics, biochemistry, systems-based microbiology, structural and computational biology and the application of artificial intelligence in biology. The DFG funding will now make it possible to bring together experts in the respective technologies with microbiologists from all over Germany in an interdisciplinary consortium to advance research into new gene functions in the human gut microbiome.

At the University of Tübingen, the new Priority Programme is integrated into various key research areas, including the Cluster of Excellence “Controlling Microbes to Fight Infections” (CMFI) and the new M3 Research Centre. The traditionally close links in microbiology between the Faculty of Sciences and the Faculty of Medicine provide an ideal framework here. "Through a Germany-wide funding programme involving international expertise in researching the biology of gut bacteria, we hope to gain a better understanding of fundamental processes in intestinal microbes. The findings will then serve as a starting point for microbiome-based therapies in various areas of medicine," explains Lisa Maier, Professor of Microbiome-Host Interactions at the Faculty of Medicine in Tübingen, who will coordinate the new priority programme. And she adds: "In the long term, this initiative will lay the foundation for research into a wide range of microbial ecosystems, which in turn will help us to tackle pressing challenges of our time, such as the loss of biodiversity and climate change."


About the DFG Priority Programmes:

Priority Programmes are intended to work on topics that are expected to have a formative effect on a scientific field. This can be achieved by discovering new areas of research or by working on known areas from a different perspective or using a new approach. In addition, Priority Programmes are characterised by interdisciplinary and cross-location collaboration between researchers.

The eleven newly funded Priority Programmes from 2025 will initially receive a total of around 72 million euros for three years.


About Lisa Maier:

Lisa Maier studied biochemistry at the University of Tübingen and completed her PhD at ETH Zurich (2014). As part of the interdisciplinary postdoctoral program at EMBL in Heidelberg, she worked in the groups of Nassos Typas and Kiran Patil (2015–2018). In 2019, she returned to Tübingen as CMFI and Emmy Noether junior research group leader. She has been professor for Microbiome-Host Interactions at the Faculty of Medicine since April 2022. Her lab uses automated high-throughput and multi-readout approaches to systematically study the lifestyle of bacteria in the human microbiome. The resulting datasets are then used as a starting point for mechanistic studies to uncover the molecular details of how the microbiome interacts with its host.

DFG Press Release

Website Maier Lab

Scientific Contact

Prof. Dr. Lisa Maier

University of Tübingen
Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine


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