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Posted: December 15, 2009
European Research Council funds biofilms project with two million euros
(Nanowerk News) Prof. Dr. Regine Hengge at the Department of Biology, Chemistry, and Pharmacy at Freie Universität Berlin has been awarded funding from the European Research Council (ERC) for her research project to investigate the formation of bacterial biofilms. Hengge will receive an ERC Advanced Investigator Grant in an amount of up to two million euros. Her research project "Cyclic-di-GMP: New Concepts in Second Messenger Signaling and Bacterial Biofilm Formation" aims to lead to a comprehensive understanding of biofilms that cause serious complications in infectious diseases due to their resistance to antibiotics as well as significant technological problems by growing on various surfaces. The project was selected from 1584 proposals and as one of 513 in the life sciences.
The funding extends over a period of five years and will be used to hire several additional postdoctoral researchers and graduate students for Professor Hengge's research group. Furthermore, the funding will be used to expand international collaboration and purchase laboratory equipment. In particular, two international conferences on biofilms will be held at Freie Universität. The research will focus on the molecular genetic control mechanisms and the processing of various environmental signals to determine the origin, architecture, and properties of biofilms of the model organism and major pathogen, Escherichia coli.
In medicine, biofilms play a pernicious role because they contain bacteria resistant to antibiotics and the attacks of the immune system. They can lead to chronic infections and colonize all types of catheters. In the oral cavity, biofilms are responsible for the development of caries and parodontosis, among other things.
Biofilms can also cause major engineering and technological problems since bacteria grow anywhere on surfaces that are permanently wet or are in an aqueous environment such as all types of water supply systems and ship hulls. Biofilms can lead to the blockage of pipes and to corrosion, thus causing damage in the millions. They can also cause the inversion of sewage treatment plants. These problems are often addressed through expensive, not very durable cleaning or painting over the surfaces using varnish or paint containing toxic heavy metals. Professor Hengge expects that by gaining a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms by which biofilms are formed, it will be possible to develop substances that can prevent biofilm formation in medical and technical areas.
Regine Hengge, born in 1956 and the mother of two children, studied and completed her doctorate at the University of Konstanz. After a postdoctoral period at Princeton University, she returned to Constance for her habilitation. Since 1998 she has been conducting research and teaching at the Institute of Biology at Freie Universität. She has received a number of scientific awards, including the State Research Award of Baden-Württemberg (1996) and the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize (1998). Regine Hengge is an elected member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, and the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). Her research interests include molecular signal transduction and regulatory mechanisms in bacteria, especially in bacterial stress responses and biofilm formation, and the systems biology of complex regulatory networks.
The Advanced Investigator Grants of the European Research Council are awarded to researchers working at European research institutions who have already established themselves as independent research leaders. The ERC Advanced Grants are intended to enable them to achieve outstanding and innovative results in basic research. The ERC has up to 490 million euros for its Advanced Grants in this funding round.