Recent reports published by the World Health Organization (WHO) entitled "The Global Burden of Disease" (GBD) highlights the importance of research on host-pathogen interactions. Evolution is an ongoing process driving the development of highly virulent and multi-resistant bacteria strains or so called “emerging pathogens“. A deeper understanding of the complex interaction between pathogenic bacteria and their host is inevitable to face these problems in the future.
As Cell biologists, we address host-pathogen interaction on the level of single cells, embodying the smallest living unit on both sides. Upon contact, pathogens need to manipulate the normal behavior of host cells in order to establish a niche for survival and to evade the hosts defense mechanisms. We study these induced changes on the cellular and molecular level, in order to exactly understand which host process is targeted by a given virulence mechanism an why.
The HZI department Cell Biology looks at both the defense mechanisms of the host and the virulence mechanisms of the pathogens. Their core expertise is the combination of video-microscopy and protein biochemistry, applied to different models of cell movement in the context of bacterial infections. In the past, the department was able to observe regulatory mechanisms in cell movement and to find examples of how bacterial virulence factors influence them. Our research has shown that during the infection process bacterial pathogens are highly dependent on cooperating with host proteins – an insight which might lead to new strategies for fighting infections.