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ERC starting grants for two EMBL Heidelberg researchers

Jordi van Gestel and Maria Zimmermann-Kogadeeva each receive 1.5 million EUR funding for research projects on microbial predators and the gut microbiome respectively

Credit: Photolab/EMBL

Two EMBL Heidelberg group leaders have received prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grants. Jordi van Gestel and Maria Zimmermann-Kogadeeva will each receive 1.5 million EUR for a period of five years to carry out cutting-edge fundamental research.

Studying microbial predation in soil

Jordi van Gestel and his group investigate how collective microbial development evolves in the context of predation. To do so, they combine different experimental approaches, including microfluidics, functional genomics, and high-content expression libraries.

In his ERC-funded project, Jordi van Gestel will study the coevolution between microbial predators and prey in the soil. Soil forms a hotspot of microbial predation: it contains a remarkable diversity of eukaryotic amoebal predators that feed on bacterial prey. Predation is thought to massively impact soil communities and hence soil function. So far, however, the way in which species coevolve in the context of predation is not well understood.

“We will use the ERC grant to study how amoebae and bacteria coevolve in soil,” said van Gestel. “To do so, we will systematically build complexity into our experimental set-ups. We will start by examining a predator-prey model system under fully controlled conditions in the lab. From there, we will then move to studying soil communities in the field.”

How microbes and metabolites interact in the gut

Maria Zimmermann-Kogadeeva’s group combines computational modelling and multi-omics approaches to study how microbes interact with and adapt to the environment.

The ERC grant will allow Zimmermann-Kogadeeva to study the mechanisms by which microbes in the gut interact with the host through metabolites – small molecules that can be exchanged between organisms. She will focus on a set of metabolites that are relevant for human health and have been associated with differences in microbiota composition. Through the project, she plans to combine bacterial culturing and metabolomics with computational modelling to systematically assess the capacity of gut bacteria to produce, modify, and exchange these metabolites.

“Metabolic interactions in gut microbial communities are known to have a role in human health and disease,” explained Zimmermann-Kogadeeva. “I’m excited to use the generous ERC grant to further our understanding of the mechanistic principles of these interactions and hope that this will help to design future dietary and therapeutic interventions that modulate these interactions in order to improve human health and to prevent or treat diseases.”

Read the ERC announcement, including all awardees, on the ERC website.

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