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Project Group 2: Acinetobacter baumannii – Biology of a Nosocomial Pathogen

Gottfried Wilharm

Group members

MTA Evelyn Skiebe
M. Sc. Christine Heider
M. Sc. Magdalena Heindorf
M. Sc. Ulrike Blaschke


Acinetobacter baumannii and related species such as A. pittii and A. noso­co­mi­a­lis are Gram-negative bacteria that appear as opportunistic pathogens in hos­pi­tals where they constitute a serious threat especially to immuno-compromised patients. They can cause ventilator-associated pneumonia, infections of wounds, soft-tissue and the uri­nary tract as well as sepsis and meningitis. In­crea­sing­ly, they appear as multi-drug resistant pathogens, restricting thera­peu­tic options more and more. Since our com­pre­hen­sion of these pathogens is still very limited, we intend to contribute to the under­stan­ding of their biology by addressing the following topics:

  • Molecular characterisation of the factors determining virulence and persistence
  • Elucidating mechanisms of horizontal gene transfer and adaptive resistance development
  • Characterisation of metabolic pathways of the pathogen
  • Identification and characterisation of novel potential drug targets
  • Identification of natural reservoirs of the pathogen

A colony of Acinetobacter baumannii spreading on a semi-solid medium surface. Source: RKIA colony of Acinetobacter baumannii spreading on a semi-solid medium surface Source: RKI

Besides studying Acinetobacter, work funded by the Deut­sche For­schungs­ge­mein­schaft (DFG) in the context of priority pro­gram 1316 „Host-adap­ted meta­bo­lism of bacterial patho­gens“ deals with the interplay bet­ween meta­bolism and viru­lence deter­mi­nants stu­dy­ing the gram­negative entero­pa­tho­gen Yer­si­nia en­te­ro­co­li­ti­ca. Yersinia species patho­ge­nic to humans, Y. enterocolitica, Y. pseudo­tu­ber­cu­lo­sis and Y. pestis, deploy a molecular injection device (a so-called type III protein se­cre­tion system, abbreviated T3SS), to deliver a cock­tail of effector proteins into host cells to mani­pu­late the host’s immune responses. Together with coo­pe­ra­tion partners we in­ves­ti­gate the metabolism of the pathogen in the context of infection apply­ing nuclear magnetic resonance spec­tro­sco­py (NMR) and gas chroma­to­gra­phy coupled to mass spectrometry. Studies on the metabolism of pathogens are an important complement to the understanding of in­fec­tions and may pave the way to the development of novel therapeutic options.

Open positions

Vacancies you will find advertised by the Robert Koch-Institute. Inquiries re­gar­ding practical training, bachelor, master or diploma theses can be addressed to the project leader directly.

Date: 01.02.2016


  • Poppel MT, Skiebe E, Laue M, Bergmann H, Ebersberger I, Garn T, Fruth A, Baumgardt S, Busse HJ, Wilharm G (2016): Acinetobacter equi sp. nov. isolated from horse faeces.
    Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 66: 881-888. Epub 2015 Nov 30. doi: 10.1099/ijsem.0.000806. more

  • Wilharm G, Heider C (2014): Interrelationship between type three secretion system and metabolism in pathogenic bacteria.
    Front. Cell. Infect. Microbiol. 4: 150. Epub Oct 27. doi: 10.3389/fcimb.2014.00150. more

  • Heindorf M, Kadari M, Heider C, Skiebe E, Wilharm G (2014): Impact of Acinetobacter baumannii superoxide dismutase on motility, virulence, oxidative stress resistance and susceptibility to antibiotics.
    PLoS One 9 (7): e101033. Epub Jul 7. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0101033. more

  • Wilharm G, Piesker J, Laue M, Skiebe E (2013): DNA uptake by the nosocomial pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii occurs during movement along wet surfaces.
    J. Bacteriol. 195 (18): 4146-4153. Epub Jul 12. doi: 10.1128/JB.00754-13. more

  • Skiebe E, de Berardinis V, Morczinek P, Kerrinnes T, Faber F, Lepka D, Hammer B, Zimmermann O, Ziesing S, Wichelhaus TA, Hunfeld KP, Borgmann S, Gröbner S, Higgins PG, Seifert H, Busse HJ, Witte W, Pfeifer Y, Wilharm G (2012): Surface-associated motility, a common trait of clinical isolates of Acinetobacter baumannii, depends on 1,3-diaminopropane.
    Int. J. Med. Microbiol. 302 (3): 117-128. Epub May 2. doi: 10.1016/j.ijmm.2012.03.003. more

  • Pfeifer Y, Wilharm G, Zander E, Wichelhaus TA, Göttig S, Hunfeld KP, Seifert H, Witte W, Higgins PG (2011): Molecular characterization of blaNDM-1 in an Acinetobacter baumannii strain isolated in Germany in 2007.
    J. Antimicrob. Chemother. 66 (9): 1998-2001. Epub Jun 21. more

  • Volkmann M, Skiebe E, Kerrinnes T, Faber F, Lepka D, Pfeifer Y, Holland G, Bannert N, Wilharm G (2010): Orbus hercynius gen. nov., sp. nov., isolated from faeces of wild boar, is most related to Enterobacteriales and Pasteurellales.
    Int. J. Syst. Evol. Microbiol. 60 (11): 2601-2605. Epub 2009 Dec 18. more

  • Wilharm G, Lepka D, Faber F, Hofmann J, Kerrinnes T, Skiebe E (2010): A simple and rapid method of bacterial transformation.
    J. Microbiol. Methods 80 (2): 215-216. Epub 2009 Dec 15. more

  • Schmid A, Neumayer W, Trülzsch K, Israel L, Imhof A, Roessle M, Sauer G, Richter S, Lauw S, Eylert E, Eisenreich W, Heesemann J, Wilharm G (2009): Cross-talk between type three secretion system and metabolism in Yersinia.
    J. Biol. Chem. 284 (18): 12165-12177. Epub 25 Feb. more