Why do bacteria produce natural substances, and which genes are responsible for this process? Professor Helge Bode and his team are searching for the answers to these questions using biochemical analytical methods on different bacteria. Among other research areas, they focus on insect-pathogenic bacteria. Due to their toxic metabolic products, bacteria such as Photorhabdus and Xenorhabdus have a deadly effect on soil-dwelling insect larvae. They enter the bodies of the insect larvae by means of their symbiosis with roundworms (nematodes), in whose intestines they live. The bacterial toxins are analysed regarding their structure and biological activity. Additionally, their biosynthesis is studied on the molecular level, and his group also assesses whether the biosynthesis can be manipulated to the extent that these bacteria produce novel, even more effective substances. The results of Bode's research might serve as a basis for the industrial development of antibiotics, biological pesticides or fungicide production. Since March 2009, Bode's research has focused on the question of whether natural substances could be used in the quest for therapeutically active substances that could be used to treat rare tropical diseases. This research has been a part of one of the European Community's ongoing international research projects.
Bode's research group also works on soil-dwelling myxobacteria, which have the most complex life cycle of all bacteria. Myxobacteria produce a large number of pharmaceutically interesting natural substances, antibiotics, for example, or the anticancer agent epothilon. In 2007, Bode was awarded the "Dechema Nachwuchswissenschaftlerpreis" (Young Scientist's Award) for research on natural products. Along with two colleagues he also received the "Phoenix Pharmazie Wissenschaftspreis" (Pharmacy Research Award) for pharmaceutical biology in the same year.
Describing his research approach, Bode says, "My team and I are attempting to answer biological and ecological questions using chemical and biochemical means." Consequently, he requires that his students take an interest in organic chemistry. In the context of his Merckendowed professorship, Bode coordinates and heads the Molecular Biotechnology Master's Programme. Students can also benefit from an expanded course offering as a result of the Goethe University's collaboration with the Technical University of Darmstadt.
Subsequent to his course of studies in chemistry and biology at the University of Göttingen, Bode completed his doctorate on the biosynthesis of natural products at the Institute for Organic Chemistry. As a postdoctoral researcher, he continued his research on myxobacteria at the German Research Centre for Biotechnology (GBF, now Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research) in Braunschweig. A fellowship from the German Research Foundation (DFG) allowed Bode to work at Stanford University, California, U.S.A. from 2002 to 2003. He subsequently transferred to Saarland University. There, he was appointed assistant professor in the Department of Pharmaceutical Biotechnology and in 2006 founded his own research group as a junior group leader as part of the DFG's Emmy Noether Programme. In late 2008, Bode accepted an appointment to a newly created professorship, which is endowed by the Merck Group, at the Goethe University Frankfurt.
Prof. Dr. Helge B. Bode
Institute of Molecular Biological Science
60438 Frankfurt am Main
Telephone: +49 (0)69 798 29558