Kiel University researcher awarded €2M to study function of bacterial extracellular vesicles in the human host-gut microbiome

European Research Council funds research project at Kiel University to investigate the role of bacterial extracellular vesicles in gut ecology and health with two million euros

The European Research Council (ERC) is funding the project “VESICULOME: Origin, evolution and function of bacterial extracellular vesicles in the human host-gut microbiome system” at Kiel University, as was recently announced. Over the next five years, Professor Mathieu Groussin from the Institute of Clinical Molecular Biology (IKMB) at the Faculty of Medicine at Kiel University and the University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH), Kiel Campus, and his research team will be able to investigate how so-called bacterial extracellular vesicles (BEV) influence the human gut microbiome and thus health and disease.

The research project, which starts on June 1st, is dedicated to BEV, to date a little-researched component of the microbiome, whose influence on the composition and interactions of the microbial community in the intestine is barely known. Groussin has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant to investigate these relationships, which includes funding of around two million euros. This topic links various research consortia and institutions at Kiel University and UKSH, including the Cluster of Excellence “Precision Medicine in Chronic Inflammation (PMI)”, the Collaborative Research Center (CRC) 1182 “Origin and Function of Metaorganisms” and the DFG Research Unit 5042 “MiTarget”.

“Congratulations to Mathieu Groussin and his research team on this important success! The European Research Council is honouring his excellent personal achievements in host-microbe research, which are particularly valuable for Kiel University. At the same time, the funding decision confirms the importance of the already particularly well represented health-related microbiome research in Kiel, which is now being extended by a completely new facet,” emphasised Kiel University’s Vice President for Research, Professor Eckhard Quandt.

The bacterial vesiculome: a new dimension in microbiome research

Like many other organisms, bacteria release so-called extracellular vesicles, which are small transport vessels that are formed from their cell membranes. They can contain a variety of messenger substances such as proteins, nucleic acids and lipids and exchange them between cells. The researchers refer to the entirety of these vesicles in an organism as the vesiculome. They assume that it contributes to the communication of microorganisms with each other and with the host organism, thereby influencing various life processes. So far, research has mainly focused on the role of BEV in the development of disease and has already provided evidence of their involvement in certain pathological processes.

“However, we assume that bacterial vesicles play a far more comprehensive role for general microbiome functions, and not only in the case of disease. In our project, we now want to explore and characterise the currently little-known vesiculome that is secreted by the large variety of bacterial species of the normal gut microbiota,” explains Groussin, head of the Genomics and Functions of Host Microbiome Systems research group at the IKMB.

New findings on BEV may be important for human health

The new ERC project aims to describe the origin, diversity and evolution of the bacterial vesiculome in the human gut. This includes, for example, investigating the role of BEV in promoting horizontal gene transfer between bacterial species and possible associated effects on gut microbiome functions.

“To gain insights into this novel, highly complex dimension of host-microbe interactions, we will first analyse diverse BEVs produced by different bacterial species. In addition, we will compare microbiome data from human populations with different geographical origins and compare individuals in states of health and disease. In this way, we try to gain a fundamental understanding of functions associated with the bacterial vesiculome in the human gut,” explains Groussin, who is also active in Kiel University’s priority research area Kiel Life Science (KLS).

In the new project, the researchers hope to compile a pioneering and comprehensive survey of the totality of bacterial vesicles in comparison of different bacterial species and within different human cohorts and to describe their characteristics and functions for the gut microbiome.

“Until now, the impact of the bacterial vesiculome on human health has been almost completely unknown. With our new project, we want to create an important resource that closes this knowledge gap and could therefore be of great importance for biomedicine in the future,” Groussin looks ahead.

SourceKiel University

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