Würzburg, July 27, 2021 – The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is funding three Würzburg research projects on the topic of phages as part of its current priority program SPP 2330. For a project period of three years, the scientific organization is awarding a total of around 830,000 euros to scientists at the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) and at the Julius Maximilians University (JMU).
Everyone knows bacteria; there are trillions of them in the human microbiome alone. However, phages are more common in nature than bacteria themselves: These are viruses that in turn infect bacteria. Phages are of particular interest in translational research, i.e. basic research aimed at medical applications. For example, they can serve as a substitute for antibiotics and thus offer a way out of increasing resistance. The German Research Foundation (DFG) is now funding three Würzburg research projects on the subject of phages as part of its current priority program SPP 2330, awarding a total of around 830,000 euros to scientists in the city on the Main River.
One of the successful applicants on the Medical Campus is Jörg Vogel, professor at JMU and managing director at the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI). He wants to conduct research on so-called giant phages. Their large genome and complex way of life offer the best prerequisites for addressing the molecular factors of host manipulation that act during an infection process. In the process, novel proteins with specialized functions could be discovered and analyzed, the biochemist hopes.
Chase Beisel also emerged successfully from the application process. The professor and group leader at HIRI plans to study novel immune systems for defense against phages in native bacterial hosts to better understand and compare them with other inherent protective mechanisms. The third Würzburg funding grant goes to Mercedes Gomez de Agüero, junior research group leader at the Institute of Systems Immunology (Max Planck Research Group) at JMU. She will use the DFG funding to decipher the dynamics and mechanisms that interact between phages and bacterial hosts in the skin of neonates.
Infection Research Outstanding in Würzburg
The fact that this time three completely independent Würzburg projects were funded by the DFG is quite remarkable, says Jörg Vogel. "The total of three successful third-party funding acquisitions demonstrate the importance of infection biology at the Würzburg research location," the HIRI director is pleased to say, adding, "Phages were very important research objects in the early days of molecular biology in the 20th century, but have tended to be sidelined in recent decades." The fact that the subject is currently experiencing a strong renaissance is due to new analytical techniques and a better understanding of the number and diversity of these bacterial viruses.
The DFG Priority Program SPP 2330 is now starting its first funding period and is entitled "New concepts of virus-host interaction in prokaryotes – from single cells to microbial communities." Its goal is to pave the way for the discovery of fundamentally new concepts and mechanisms in biology. The focus is on three complexes of viral organization: viral cell biology, novel single- and multicellular antiviral defense mechanisms, and viral effects on microbial communities.
DFG Priority Program SPP 2330: The Selected Würzburg Projects
Prof Jörg Vogel
Institute for Molecular Infection Biology (IMIB)
Julius Maximilians University (JMU)
Project: "Molecular factors whereby giant phage ΦKZ modulates host protein synthesis"
Prof Chase Beisel
Biology of Synthetic RNA
Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI)
Project: "Interrogating the contributions of novel immune systems to anti-phage defense in their native bacterial hosts"
Dr Mercedes Gomez de Agüero
Institute of Systems Immunology
Max Planck Research Group
Julius Maximilians University (JMU)
Project: "Dynamics and mechanisms of early interactions between bacteriophages and its bacterial host in the skin"