Identifying the molecular causes and ecological consequences of nanotube formation in bacteria

Supervisors: Dr. Christian Kost, Research Group Experimental Ecology and Evolution, MPI-CE; Dr. Aleš Svatoš, Research Group Mass Spectrometry/ Proteomics, MPI-CE; and Dr. Ákos Kovács Research Group Terrestrial Biofilms, Friedrich Schiller University Jena

Background: Recently, we have made the following discovery: auxotrophic cells of Escherichia coli, which had lost the ability to produce a certain amino acid, formed nanotubular structures to attach to other bacterial cells of the same or different bacterial species. Cells used these nanotubes to derive the amino acids they required for growth from the cytoplasm of the respective other cell. This interaction did not only allow auxotrophic bacteria to grow, but also provided two bacterial cells with a synergistic growth advantage upon combining their metabolic capabilities.

Project Description: This project aims at identifying the molecular causes and ecological consequences of nanotube formation in bacteria. The first part of the project will focus on elucidating the regulatory pathways and genes that are involved in the formation of intercellular nanotubes. Second, it is planned to systematically investigate which conditions trigger the establishment of nanotubes (e.g. nutrient starvation, toxic compounds, etc.). Finally, the degree of specificity, with which auxotrophic E. coli cells ‘select’ potential host cells of the same or different species, will be determined.

These goals will be achieved by combining RNAseq analyses and transposon-insertion sequencing with proteomic analyses of nanotubes and nanotube-forming cells. Target genes identified in this way will be individually deleted and the resulting mutants subjected to detailed analyses. Nanotube attachment and transport-processes will be visualized by time-lapse fluorescence microscopy on a single cell level. Exchange of fluorescently-labelled cytoplasmic contents between two bacterial genotypes after cultivation under different environmental conditions will be quantified by flow cytometry.

The results of this project will significantly advance our understanding of the evolution of metabolic interactions within microbial communities. Moreover, the expected findings are likely also relevant to other research fields including the role of nanotubes in the context of bacterial pathogenicity or the question whether or not bacteria are multicellular organisms.

About us:
We offer a stimulating and dynamic working environment as well as excellent, state-of-the-art research facilities. The successful candidate will be co-supervised by Dr. Christian Kost (Research Group ‘Experimental Ecology and Evolution’), Dr. Aleš Svatoš (Research Group Mass Spectrometry/Proteomics), and Dr. Ákos Kovács (Research Group Terrestrial Biofilms). The prospective student will mainly work at the Max-Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, but closely interact with research groups of the Friedrich-Schiller University.

General requirements:

•A strong background in microbiology, genetics, or related fields
•Demonstrated expertise in molecular and microbiological techniques
•Previous experience in analysing proteomics, microarray, or sequencing datasets is a plus
•Scientific and critical attitude
•Curiosity, creativity, and ambition
•Excellent time management and organizational skills
•Ability to work independently
•Good communication skills
•Proficiency in written and spoken English

!!Application deadline is September 11, 2015!!

How to apply:
Please apply online at
Send application to
The International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS)
Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Ecology
Beutenberg Campus Hans-Knoell-Str. 8
D - 07745 Jena
You can also contact us via email:
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About International Max Planck Research School

In a joint initiative, the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology, the Friedrich Schiller University, Jena, the Leibniz Institute for Natural Product Research and Infection Biology and the Leibniz Institute of Plant Genetics and Crop Plant Research are offering an international PhD program. This International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) gives PhD students the possibility to prepare...

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