Molecular Parasitology

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Funded: European PhD training network to study pathogens




We are very excited that the EU commission has funded our PhD training network Cell2Cell with €3.9 million. The network is co-organized by the Braun Lab and the Siegel Lab and will consist of 15 PhD students located across Europe. Our goal will be to bring single-cell technologies to unicellular pathogens such and T. brucei and P. falciparum and to determine how pathogens benefit from cell to cell heterogeneity.

 More information can be found in the LMU press release.

Infectious diseases kill millions of people worldwide every year. Decades of research have revealed important insights into the molecular mechanisms pathogens employ to establish lasting infections, yet little is known about what renders individual pathogens within a microbial population more successful at establishing an infection than others.
Recent advances in single-cell technologies have started to revolutionize modern biology, unveiling an enormous degree of cell-to- cell heterogeneity. Often, phenotypic variability is not caused by genetic changes in the DNA sequence, but by epigenetic changes in the structural organization of DNA called chromatin. In multicellular organisms, this epigenetic plasticity plays a key role in developmental processes and cancer. In unicellular pathogens, cell-to-cell heterogeneity is hypothesized to promote the establishment of infections by allowing the pathogen to adapt to changing environments or evade the host immune response. To decrease the burden of infectious diseases, it is therefore, necessary to better understand how infections are enabled by cellular heterogeneity at the chromatin level of the pathogen.
Several limitations have previously challenged this endeavor, including small genome size (i.e. low signal-to-noise) and the lack of knowledge of how chromatin is organized in pathogens. Cell2Cell proposes to overcome these barriers by bringing together (1) experts in pathogen biology; (2) the use of unicellular yeast species to serve as chromatin models; (3) single-cell technologies; (4) bioinformatics tools. Using state of the art technologies, we will train early stage researchers to identify the molecular mechanisms that control cell-to-cell heterogeneity in pathogens. The proposed research will contribute to the elucidation of how heterogeneity affects the outcome of diseases and give rise to highly skilled scientists that are well prepared to face the demands of modern genomics research in academia and industry.