The causative agent of corn smut, Ustilago maydis, has matured as an excellent model system throughout the last decade. Currently, it belongs to the best 10 fungal pathogens in molecular plant pathology. Using this model pathogen, the Institute for Microbiology is focusing on three different aspects: cell biology, pathogenicity and biotechnology. In cell biology, we study in vivo the microtubule-dependent mRNA transport in pathogenic filaments applying fluorescence microscopy. In pathogenicity, we study the unconventional secretion of effector proteins as well as the function of chitinases and lipases during infection. In the applied sciences, we establish and apply U. maydis as novel expression system for heterologous proteins. As a unique feature we use unconventional secretion for export of functional proteins.
At the Institute of Microbiology we are focusing our research on fungal plant pathogens that can be genetically modified very efficiently. It is important to learn more about plant microbe interaction as well as to work out new strategies for plant protection. This results in higher yield of plant biomass.
Alternatively, smut fungi like Ustilago maydis are very interesting for applied microbiology, because they produce biosurfactants. To this end specific laboratory strains are used that are safe and no longer infectious. The resulting biosurfactans are environmental friendly and of interest for the laundry and cosmetics industry and cosmetics. Thus, they serve as perfect example for sustainable bioeconomy.
As a plant pathogen U. maydis harbours many plant biomass degrading enzymes. Using genetic engineering we were recently able to activate the expression of such enzymes in our laboratory strain to produce biosurfactants from plant biomass.
Hence research at our institute covers a broad area of expertise, which enables us to collaborate with groups covering plant oriented research as well as with those following a microorganism centered approaches like improving microbial metabolism.