Graduiertenkolleg 2157

Alexander Westermann

Prof. Dr. Alexander Westermann

Chair of Microbiology
Biocenter, University of Würzburg
Am Hubland
D-97074 Würzburg


Research area:

The gut plays a crucial role in human well-being. As a complex ecosystem of countless microorganisms, the intestinal microbiota can be influenced by external factors such as diet or medication - with consequences for our health. The dominant bacterial species in the human gut include Bacteroides thetaiotaomicron. These microbes break down polysaccharides during digestion and are beneficial to human health. At the same time, however, they can also favour infections if the intestinal balance is disturbed, for example after antibiotic treatment. The molecular mechanisms that enable these gut bacteria to adapt to their dynamic environment in the best possible way are largely unknown. However, we hypothesise that post-transcriptional regulatory mechanisms mediated by non-coding RNAs and RNA-binding proteins play a key role. Indeed, in the course of a high-resolution transcriptome mapping of this bacterium, we recently detected hundreds of small regulatory RNAs (so-called sRNAs). Their functional and mechanistic characterisation is a focus of the group.

For example, we are pursuing an innovative, multi-pronged strategy to systematically identify in vivo-relevant Bacteroides sRNAs and understand their physiological significance. To this end, we are developing cross-species RNA-seq approaches (metatranscriptomics, dual and triple RNA-seq) and high-throughput  sRNA knockdown methods and combine them with complex, hypoxic colonisation models. The resulting understanding of the functions of regulatory RNA molecules and their protein partners in abundant intestinal bacteria forms a basis on which the RNA biology of the microbiota could be used in the long term for the diagnosis and treatment of intestinal infections and microbial disorders of the gastrointestinal tract.