Chemical Communication in Microbial Communities

Microbial communities are omnipresent and found, e.g., within cells as endosymbionts, in intestinal tracts or on epithelial surfaces of eukaryotes, in the rhizosphere, in soil and marine surfaces. They are often of complex and dynamic composition including microbial species of many different taxa. Microbial symbionts fulfill a variety of roles and functions within the host environment, such as assisting the digestive process of nutrients or the production of essential vitamins and other building blocks. Some microbes also serve as defensive symbionts to protect the host against pathogenic or invasive microbes.

While many factors driving and orchestrating the interaction of microbes and host organism remain enigmatic, natural products have been identified as one possible way for intra- and interkingdom communication. Due to their essential communication function, production levels of natural products are often tightly controlled by dedicated regulatory system encoded within their biosynthetic pathways. As microbial natural products show intrinsic bioactivities, they can be exploited for drug discovery efforts and thus the treatment of a wide variety of different diseases.

Identification of Natural Products

Our research efforts are dedicated to the identification and functional analysis of these natural products that are of importance to maintain host-associated symbiotic microbial communities. We use microbial co-cultivation techniques coupled with microbial community sequencing studies to profile, identify and characterize important microbial taxa on genomic level.

To identify the natural products that are produced within communities upon defined triggers, we apply state-of-the-art analytical tools (UHPLC, UHPLC-MS, NMR, MALDI etc.), combined with molecular biological approaches, and organic synthesis (total synthesis and natural product derivatization).