Environmental Microbiology

Phage Group

The focus of my group´s research is bacteriophages. Bacteriophages, or in short phages, are viruses that specifically infect bacteria. Phages are extremely simple organisms, composed of a nucleic acid containing the genetic information, and a protective protein shell (capsid). Despite its simplicity, they have been extremely useful for understanding the fundamental principles of molecular biology. Nowadays, we know that phages are the most abundant entities on the planet with a total estimate of 1031 particles. It is, therefore, well-accepted that they play a critical role shaping the microbial diversity and composition in the environment. Phages also have been the subject of research in multiple biotechnological applications as phage display and phage therapy. 

Our projects are directed towards two general aims: 

  • Understand the ecological role of phages in the environment and in technical settings. 
  • Develop strategies for the use of phages as biocontrol agents to avoid undesired bacterial growth.

At present, we are focused on understanding the biology, diversity and ecology of phages infecting bacteria of the family Comamonadaceae (COM project - add link)

To this end, we use a combination of culture-dependent and -independent methods. We have a developed pipeline for isolation and characterisation of phages. We use qPCR for quantification of specific phages, and we use Fluorescence in situ Hybridisation, FISH and phageFISH for studying host-phage interactions at single-cell level. We also use bioinformatics to annotate the genomes of our isolated phages. 

 Furthermore, I offer a semester course for master students of the TU-Berlin called “Phages: biology, ecology and biotechnological applications”. The course includes a theoretical lecture (two hours per week) and a two-week practical. It is offered for small groups between 10 -15 students. This gives the student the chance to actively interact and get personalised feedback. Furthermore, in the semester, the students are encouraged to talk and critically think, read up-to-date papers with an analytical perspective, and develop their own ideas by giving a talk about a free topic.