Molecular Microbiology and Bioenergetics

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The transfer of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA) and its genetic information between different organisms is a continuous process. Gene transfer between unicellular and multicellular organisms within a biotope enables them to adapt to changing environmental conditions or even to extreme environments. The exchange of mobile DNA elements between cells is mediated by three distinct mechanisms: conjugation, transduction and natural transformation. Adjunct Professor Beate Averhoff analyses the process of transformation, which occurs naturally and randomly, and in which no direct contact between cells is required, since DNA can be released from a dying soil bacterium and taken up by another organism, which has to possess an appropriate DNA transporter. DNA can be taken up by the recipient cell and stably acquired either via integration into the genome or maintained as autonomously replicating plasmid. Genome comparisons show that horizontal gene transfer, DNA transfer between phylogenetically distant bacteria, has occurred to a striking extent and has played a major role in genome plasticity throughout evolutionary history. It is largely responsible for the spread of fitness-enhancing traits including antibiotic resistance and virulence factors. Averhoff and her team focus their research on elucidating the mechanism and regulation of DNA uptake. In 2003, using the thermophilic bacterium Thermus thermophilus as a model strain to elucidate the mechanism of transformation, the group was the first to design a model of this bacterium's DNA transformation machinery. In this laborious and complex analysis Averhoff combined genetic, molecular biological, biochemical and microbiological approaches. In the context of a collaborative project conducted with medical microbiologists, she gains insight into the strategies used by pathogenic Acinetobacter bacteria to adapt to their host cell. Some representatives of the pathogenic Acinetobacters are optimally adapted to the human body, and DNA uptake is suggested to contribute significantly to their adaptation to host cells, such as acquiring multiple resistances which might be spread by horizontal DNA transfer.

"Our knowledge within the field of DNA transfer and our understanding of the role of DNA transfer in the adaptation of pathogenic bacteria to host cells is increasing very rapidly. Thus, students can participate in these highly relevant, current research topics and learn a wealth of different techniques, as well as how to process and present scientific data correctly," Averhoff asserts. Moreover, by taking advantage of her cooperation with partners in industry students are able to gain insight into the different research fields of microbiologists.

Brief Biography

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After studying Biology in Göttingen, Beate Averhoff completed her doctorate at the Institute of Microbiology at the same university. Her doctoral thesis in biotechnology focused on enterobacteria. As a postdoctoral researcher and fellow of the German Research Foundation (DFG), she completed a research project at Yale, U.S.A. In 1992, having spent two years working for the German Research Centre for Biotechnology (GBF, now Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research) in Braunschweig, Averhoff established her own research group at the Institute of Microbiology at the University of Göttingen and in 1998 received her Habilitation in the area of microbiology there. After being appointed an interim professor at the Institute of Genetics at the University of Munich, she became a group leader in Molecular Microbiology and Bioenergetics at the Goethe University Frankfurt in 2004 and in 2006 was appointed adjunct professor at the Faculty of Biological Sciences.

Contact:

Apl. Prof. Dr. Beate Averhoff
Institute of Molecular
Biological Science
Max-von-Laue-Str. 9
60438 Frankfurt am Main
Germany
Telephone: +49 (0)69 798 29509
E-Mail: Averhoff@bio.uni-frankfurt.de
www.bio.uni-frankfurt.de