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MF: Methodology and Research Infrastructure

Lothar H. Wieler
Andrea Thürmer

In order to fulfil its task, the Robert Koch Institute depends on competent employees and a viable infrastructure. The creativity of its scientists and technical staff is the basic prerequisite for the further development of methods that are required for the institute’s mission: Promoting research and evidence, sharing knowledge, protecting and improving health. The Department of Methodology and Research Infrastructure is home to the innovation-driven fields of genome sequencing and bioinformatics. As a result of the merger of these so far decentralised infrastructures, considerable synergies are tapped. Apart from avoiding duplication of technical and personnel resources, the bundling of the technical and intellectual capacities takes centre stage and can be developed more efficiently. MF also takes over service tasks, for instance in the field of in-house training, the development of quality-controlled genome sequencing and analysis pipelines as well as housing of laboratory animals and planning of animal experiments. Altogether, this department further supports the application-oriented development of methods in a targeted manner, enabling an adequate prioritization of research projects.

MF currently includes three units: MF 1 Bioinformatics, MF 2 Genome Sequencing, and MF 3 Animal Facility. All topics have been considerably influenced and changed through technological innovation during the past years. It is now possible to sequence the entire genome of a pathogen within a short period of time. Genome sequencing is the basis for many different research questions. Through comparative genomics it is, for instance, possible to identify slightest differences between related strains of pathogens. The associated transcriptome provides, amongst other things, a better understanding of the physiological processes of the individual organism, for instance when adapting to a changing environment or interacting with other organisms. Another possibility is the direct sequencing out of natural environments. In this way, it is possible to obtain an “unbiased” picture of the microbial diversity in the respective habitat. As a result of the increasing throughput and the diverse questions, there is at the same time a strong need for a further automation of processes and the adaptation and extension of manifold demands in pathogen research. Given the large data volumes produced, as well as the high quality that needs to be ensured, close interactions with bioinformatics analyses are indispensable. Bioinformatics procedures and statistical algorithms allow for an extraction of relevant information and a correction of measurement errors. At the same time, integrating results from other experiments or from databases is possible in order to increase the robustness of analyses. For this, it is important to carefully plan the experiments together with the users from the outset in order to optimally design and adapt processes. Experimental design respecting the most recent state of science of the investigated issue is also essential for animal experiments, in order to generate valid and reproducible test results. This requires a technically, microbiologically and genetically standardised laboratory animal facility whilst taking animal protection into due account.

A common goal of the units within the MF department is to continuously apply methodological progress in co-operation with users from other units of RKI translationally and to guarantee a high quality level of the experiments.

Date: 01.06.2021