Department of Cell and Molecular Biology

Research projects

Our group has a strong track record in the field of bacterial regulatory RNAs. In earlier years, we studied plasmid-related functions (copy number control, stability of maintenance) that are controlled by antisense RNAs. Often in international collaborations, we investigated in depth the biological aspects of control and their underlying mechanisms of action.

Subsequent projects identified many new so-called small RNAs (sRNAs), an abundant class of regulatory RNAs now known to be ubiquitously encoded by all bacterial and archaeal chromosomes. Most of these act by an antisense mechanism reminiscent of that used by their plasmid-encoded friends, and by their eukaryotic cousins, the miRNAs. We study the roles of sRNAs in stress responses and lifestyle decisions, and elucidate their modes of regulation on a molecular level. sRNAs usually but not exclusively inhibit translation of target mRNAs. As we have shown, this sometimes involves non-conventional mechanisms such as an inhibition of "ribosome stand-by". A more recent focus is on stochastic gene regulatory processes in which sRNAs play a role. This involves sometimes bistable expression patterns that govern phenotypic heterogeneity in isogenic bacterial populations.

We are also interested in the biological roles, and the mechanisms of action, of helper proteins such as the Sm-like Hfq, which is required for the activity and/or stability of most sRNAs.

Our group conducts work that involves molecular genetics, bacterial physiology, biochemistry, molecular biology, and systems biology.