Research Group Gebhard

german version

Academic Biography

  • Since 2023 Professor of Molecular Biotechnology, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, Germany
  • 2022-2023 Professor of Molecular Microbiology, University of Bath, UK
  • 2014-2022 Lecturer/Senior Lecturer, University of Bath, UK
  • 2014 Habilitation (Microbiology), Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany
  • 2009-2014 Junior Group Leader, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, Germany
  • 2006-2009 Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Otago, NZ
  • 2003-2006 PhD, University of Otago, NZ
  • 2000 Graduate Diploma in Applied Science, University of Waikato, NZ
  • 1996-2003 Biology Diploma, Christian-Albrechts-University Kiel, Germany

AG Gebhard, November 2023

Research Interests

Bacteria are found in almost any habitat on Earth, and one key to their success is their extraordinary ability to monitor their environment and respond to changes and stresses they might encounter. They achieve this by means of sophisticated stress response pathways and metabolic processes that protect the cell from harmful conditions.

My group is interested in understanding how these stress adaptation mechanisms work and how we can exploit the exquisite resilience of bacteria for biotechnological applications and new solutions to some of the World’s current problems, including antimicrobial resistance and an urgent need to reduce carbon emissions.


Antibiotic resistance against cell envelope-active drugs

The first step in antibiotic resistance very often is the detection of the drug by the bacterium, which leads to activation of dedicated resistance systems that protect the cell. The bacteria achieve such information processing via sophisticated signalling pathways that can relay specific information from the outside to the inside of the cell and trigger the most appropriate response. Our work is focussed on understanding how these signalling systems work, what information they gather, how the different protein components communicate, which genes are switched on or off as a result of signalling, and how these responses adapt the bacterium to the encountered stress.

Using a combination of in vivo and in vitro approaches, supported by bioinformatics and mathematical modelling, we study signalling pathways involved in resistance against cell wall antibiotics in the Gram-positive bacteria Bacillus subtilis and Enterococcus faecalis. Sub-projects range from mechanistic investigations of individual pathways at the genetic or biochemical level, to systems-level investigation of whole regulatory networks. We then exploit the understanding gained from this work to identify potential drug targets to block signalling and thereby resistance, as a means of counteracting drug-resistant infections.


Stress-tolerant bacteria for production of sustainable construction materials

Many bacteria are uniquely adapted to very stressful environments where they might encounter extreme conditions of pH, temperature or salinity, to name a few. We are interested in finding bacteria in natural habitats that reflect conditions found in the built environment, e.g. concrete or similar building materials. We specifically target bacteria with the ability to precipitate calcium carbonate minerals, such as calcite, the main component of limestone. These bacteria can be harnessed for industrial applications, e.g. in self-healing bio-concrete, where they can heal micro-fractures to prevent more serious damage to buildings or structures like bridges or tunnels. In the longer term, these applications are envisaged to reduce or even replace the use of cement, which is responsible for 8% of anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

Our approaches range from environmental isolations, microbial physiology to metabolic engineering and synthetic biology to understand the mechanisms of biomineralization and identify optimal conditions for application of the bacteria in bio-based sustainable construction materials. In an interdisciplinary collaboration with civil engineers and material scientists we are aiming to take this project from the natural environment to commercial application.



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