DTU is opening a new Center of Excellence for Microbial Secondary Metabolites (CeMiSt), which aims to identify why microorganisms produce penicillin and other antibiotic substances, so-called secondary metabolites.
The centre will be a training platform for a new generation of researchers, and the research will both pave the way for discovering fundamental biological principles and potential for discovering new substances with medical potential.
“Microbial antimicrobial agents have enormous importance for society and technology, and yet we know far too little about their function in nature. The aim of CeMiSt is to unravel the role and evolution of microbial secondary metabolites in natural microbial systems. The new centre is an excellent example of the science that is possible when biology and engineering meet. We have high expectations and believe that the research will pave the way for new scientific discoveries in the areas of biology and medicine,” said DTU President Anders Bjarklev at the opening of the new research centre.
CeMiSt is being established based on a DKK 58 million grant from the Danish National Research Foundation. With CeMiSt, DTU is creating a new platform for training the next generation of PhD students and postdocs. The centre will draw on 10 professors and associate professors from DTU Bioengineering and DTU Chemistry, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Biosustainability, which together have many years of experience with fungi and bacteria.
CeMiSt researchers will carry out basic science, literally from the ground up, notes Professor Lone Gram, head of CeMiSt.
“We must first of all answer some fundamental biological questions and unravel the function of antibiotic substances in bacteria and fungi which we do not yet fully understand. It is basic science on the function, origin and chemistry of secondary metabolites, and we want to understand these by studying the microorganisms in their natural environment, such as soil, algae, and fruit. We will also isolate microorganisms and examine whether they have genes that enable them to produce antibiotic substances. We will construct laboratory models where we manipulate genes and investigate how the production of these substances affects the biological diversity and functionality of microbiological societies,” says Lone Gram.
CeMiSt will be anchored in DTU Bioengineering, where Department Director Bjarke Bak Christensen emphasizes that the new research centre will be much more than a centre.
“CeMiSt is a collaborative project with some of our nearest neighbours—the Department of Chemistry and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Biosustainability—and a collaboration between some of our leading researchers in the fields of bacteriology, fungi science, natural product chemistry, molecular biology, and bioinformatics. The broad collaboration reflects the fact that research is not something you can do alone. Expertise has to be drawn from many different areas in order to be successful,” said Bjarke Bak Christensen.