Synthetic Biology of RNA

RNA is a ubiquitous molecule of life that plays intimate roles in how cells function and make decisions. These same properties can be harnessed to create a new generation of engineering tools to further interrogate the properties of biology and control how cells behave. The RNA synthetic biology group aims to better understand the roles RNA plays in biology and to exploit these roles to improve how we study, diagnose, and treat infectious diseases in humans. This group is located at the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI).

Leader

Our Research

RNA traditionally is viewed as a passive information carrier that connect our genomic blueprints to the sets of proteins that determine how each cell behaves. However, the past decade has revealed a myriad of other functions that continues to reshape our understanding of this versatile biomolecule. These insights range from how RNA directs tissue development to aiding how bacteria sense and respond to their environment. From an engineering perspective, each discovery creates the opportunity to develop new technologies to improve how we gauge our health and treat diseases that afflict us.
One of the greatest examples was the discovery of RNAs involved in adaptive immune systems in bacteria and archaea called CRISPR-Cas systems. These systems use RNA to recognize matching genetic material from selfish genetic elements bent on infecting these microbes. However, this property was quickly co-opted to form powerful tools that easily and selectively cut matching DNA sequences, which is revolutionizing our ability to edit DNA sequences at will —whether in industrial bacteria to overproduce therapeutic compounds or in humans to cure otherwise untreatable genetic diseases. These same CRISPR technologies are also being applied to rapidly and cheaply diagnose viral infections and to serve as tailored-spectrum antimicrobials that can selectively eradicate pathogens while sparing our commensal microbiota.
CRISPR technologies hold incredible potential, yet they are derived from immune systems that we are still trying to understand. We are exploring the full diversity of these immune systems in nature and how their functions have evolved to protect microbes against foreign invaders. We are also using these insights to advance how we study infectious disease and how we combat multidrug-resistant infections.

Further Information

A current overview of the team and further information about the research group can be found on the HIRI page.

Video

  • Novel COVID testing method

    CRISPR discovery from Würzburg paves the way for LEOPARD

    Am I infected with SARS-CoV-2? Is it one of the dangerous variants? Being able to answer these and more questions with a single efficient diagnostic test can be decisive for gauging the spread of disease and selecting the right therapy. In a study published today in the journal "Science", researchers from Würzburg at the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI), a site of the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in cooperation with the Julius Maximilians University (JMU), tackle this challenge with a new CRISPR discovery they translated into a diagnostic platform called LEOPARD.

PrintSend per emailShare