Meet FEMS Expert: Ulrich Dobrindt

18-06-18 Carianne Buurmeijer

This month we are joined by Prof Ulrich Dobrindt, who is a FEMS Expert from the European Academy of Microbiology (EAM). The EAM is a leadership group of around 150 eminent microbiology experts who came together in 2009 to amplify the impact of microbiology and microbiologists in Europe.

Ulrich is based at the University of Münster in Germany. His research group works on fundamental and applied research questions related to the geno- and phenotypic variability of bacterial pathogens, which can cause disease in humans and animals.

What are you currently researching?

“We try to understand why some Escherichia coli strains cause symptomatic disease while other closely related variants are asymptomatic colonizers or even probiotic. We also try to understand how the bacterial genome can change and how this may affect fitness, virulence and  antibiotic resistance.

One of our best studied models is urinary tract infection caused by E. coli. Uropathogenic E. coli belong to the normal intestinal microbiota of many healthy individuals and do not cause intestinal infections. If they, however, enter extra-intestinal body sites, e.g. the urinary tract (or the central nervous system in case of newborn meningitis) or the blood stream (in the case of septicemia), then they are well-equipped to grow in these niches and cause infection.

Are commensal fecal E. coli already “omnipotent” and do they possess all the traits necessary to cause infection of the urinary tract, the blood stream or the central nervous system? To which extent does horizontal gene transfer and genome plasticity contribute to the evolution and adaptation of such strains, e.g. also during the course of an infection? How can we improve typing and risk assessment of virulent strains? Regarding our studies on bacterial adaptation during infection, we have the possibility to cooperate also with clinicians or experts involved in treatment of patients. This gives us the opportunity to also learn more about the “host aspect” of the bacterial infection.”

What are your future hopes for this research?

“Improvement of preventive and therapeutic strategies against E. coli infections. I feel that we work with a well suitable model organism and also a quite convenient model system. We get a lot of inspirations from microbiologists working with other organisms and topics. I guess that our work also helps to transfer concepts and ideas to other fields.”

What is your research team like?

“Altogether, there are currently fifteen people (undergraduate and graduate students as well as postdocs and technicians) working on different aspects of genome plasticity and adaptation of E. coli. In our group we have from time to time MSc students, but most of the research is performed by MD students and PhD students as well as by postdocs. The team is supported by technicians.

My group would not be “successful” if the group members did not cooperate. The extent of cooperation depends always on the individual question/topic of the individual team members, but scientific work is so complex, that it would be difficult to perform “cutting edge science” and survive without cooperation.”

To find out more about the inspiring network of microbiology experts we work with, take a look at their profiles.

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