40 years ago, Woese and Fox described the tripartite structure of the tree of life as they discovered the third domain of life: the archaea. Although they are prokaryotes like bacteria, archaea possess a fundamentally different biology. For a long time, they have been considered as ancient, extremophilic microorganisms, but their picture is about to change.
The human body is submersed in trillions of microorganisms, which impact human health. The microbiome is not only composed of bacteria, but also contains small eukaryotes, fungi, viruses – and archaea. Archaea are prokaryotes like bacteria, but possess a fundamentally different biology.
Although they compromise a substantial part of the human microbiome (up to 10% on skin and in gut), and can even outnumber the most abundant bacterial species, the presence and importance of human archaea is constantly neglected (not a single archaeal pathogen has been identified) or overlooked due to methodological reasons.
Our human archaeome research is dedicated to these neglected components of the human archaeome, and we are interested to understand their diversity, abundance and impact on human health.
The human body is associated with trillions of microorganisms (the microbiome) which appear to have tremendous effects on health, disease, behavior and other aspects of human life. The composition of the microbiome (and thus its function) changes during the course of life, and in particular diversity-reduced microbial communities seem to be correlated with a variety of symptoms. The microbiome is capable to communicate with the human body cells and affects functions of human tissues and even brain.
These projects aim to decipher the role of the human microbiome in the course of life and its association with human well-being and disease.
Hospital-acquired infections (HAIs) are a serious problem worldwide: for example in the United States, HAIs are the 6th leading cause of death, killing more people than diabetes or influenza. Despite efficient disinfection procedures pathogenic bacteria are commonly found in hospital environment and equipment. Risk of getting HAI is often connected to invasive procedures, such as catheters, but the infection can also be transferred via bed space earlier occupied by a diseased patient. With more stringent cleaning and disinfection procedures, fatal infections are increasing, suggesting that current practices are inadequate to protect the patients.
In these projects, we follow the transfer of microbes from environment to patient and vice versa using DNA based techniques.
Determining if life exists or ever existed beyond Earth is one of the most interesting scientific questions. Reports on numerous habitable planets have increased the speculations about potential extra-terrestrial life.
In these projects, we are interested to analyze life which could potentially survive on other planetary bodies and to improve life detection in extreme terrestrial samples. Beyond, we are interested in the microbiome of the International Space Station, in order to understand how microorganisms behave under extreme situations and complete encapsulation.