Molecular Infection Biology

Gastrointestinal infections are counted among the most common types of infectious diseases worldwide. In particular in developing countries, diarrhoeal diseases are still a leading course of death. Indeveloped countries, diarrhoeal diseases are under better control, but they still represent a very common affliction, especially among children and the elderly. Among the most important bacterial pathogens of food-animal origin are Salmonella, Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli, and enteropathogenic Yersinia species. Their primary route of transmission from animals to humans is through contaminated food. Once inside our bodies, they trigger an impressive range of different intestinal disorders from diarrhoea to acute infections of the small and large intestines – at times with severe consequences! Our primary focus is on Yersinia. We study the ways in which these bacteria adhere to the intestinal epithelium, penetrate it, and ultimately spread within the host.


Prof Dr Petra Dersch

We are especially interested in the strategies how intestinal bacteria manage to colonize different host tissues and evade host immune responses. I am fascinated by the different kinds of sophisticated regulatory mechanisms that they use to influence the course of the infection.

Petra Dersch

Petra Dersch studied biology in Ulm and Konstanz. She completed her doctoral work at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology and at University of Konstanz, and did her post-doc at Tufts Medical School, Boston, USA, where she worked with Prof. Dr. Ralph Isberg. Upon her return to Germany, Petra Dersch worked as a scientific assistant at the Free University Berlin and, since 2003, headed a junior research group at the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin.

In 2005, Petra Dersch habilitated in the field of microbiology. That same year, she accepted an Associate Professor position at the Technische Universität Braunschweig.

Since 2008, she is also Chair of the Department of Molecular Infection Biology at the HZI. Her special research interest involves pathogenicity mechanisms and virulence genetic regulation of enteropathogenic bacteria, especially Yersinia.

Scientific Activities:

  • Member of the Senate of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)
  • Member of the European Academy of Microbiology
  • Secretary Treasurer of the International Union of Microbiological Societies (IUMS), division of Bacteriology & Applied Microbiology
  • Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Max Planck-Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, Marburg
  • Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the German Collection of Microorganisms and Cell Cultures DSMZ, Braunschweig
  • Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Robert Koch Institut (RKI), Berlin
  • Elected Vice-President of the DGHM
  • Full Member of the Central Committee on Biological Safety (ZKBS) responsible for evaluating genetically modified organisms
  • Member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Berlin
  • Board Member of the Internatial Graduate School of the Hans Knöll Institute (HKI), Jena


  • Junior Scientist Award of the DGHM for Franziska Faber, Postdoc (2018)
  • Main Prize of the DGHM (2013)
  • PhD Award of the VAAM for Frank Uliczka, PhD Student (2012)


      Audio Podcast

      • Bakterien mit Thermometer - Vom Kühlschrank in den KörperYersinien machen uns Bauchschmerzen. Wenn wir die Bakterien mit verseuchtem Fleisch zu uns nehmen, infizieren sie unsere Darmzellen und vermehren sich. Aber wie wissen die Yersinien, dass sie nicht mehr in der vergammelten Wurst sind sondern in unserem Körper? Die Antwort ist simpel: Die Bakterien haben ein Thermometer. Hören Sie zu, wie das funktioniert...
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