In order to grow and survive in variable and often hostile environments, bacteria have evolved amazing adaptation mechanisms. These include complex stress responses and biofilm formation. Biofilms are multicellular aggregates which cause serious biomedical and technological problems, because within biofilms bacteria are resistent to antibiotics, disinfectants and immune system attacks. Research in the Hengge group focusses on the genetic mechanisms and complex control networks that underlie biofilm formation in the model organism Escherichia coli, which includes commensals as well as important pathogens, such as the recent German outbreak strain EHEC O104:H4. Special emphasis lies on the role of the biofilm-stimulating ubiquitous bacterial second messenger cyclic-di-GMP, which is produced and degraded by diguanylate cyclases (GGDEF domain proteins) and specific phosphodiesterases (EAL domain proteins), respectively. The goal is to elucidate the regulation, function, cooperation and targets of the 29 GGDEF/EAL domain proteins of E. coli and their c-di-GMP-binding effector components during the entire series of molecular events that generate a biofilm. As cyclic-di-GMP is used by most bacteria, understanding its production and mode of action will reveal new and general perspectives for interference with bacterial biofilm formation.
On Sept. 1, 2013 the Hengge group moved to the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.