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

Gottfried Wilharm

Group members

M. Sc. Ulrike Blaschke
Dipl.-Biochem. Christof Neugebauer
MTA Evelyn Skiebe
M. Sc. Kristin Weber


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 programme 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: 17.04.2018


  • Wilharm G, Skiebe E, Higgins PG, Poppel MT, Blaschke U, Leser S, Heider C, Heindorf M, Brauner P, Jäckel U, Böhland K, Cuny C, Łopińska A, Kaminski P, Kasprzak M, Bochenski M, Ciebiera O, Tobółka M, Żołnierowicz KM, Siekiera J, Seifert H, Gagné S, Salcedo SP, Kaatz M, Layer F, Bender JK, Fuchs S, Semmler T, Pfeifer Y, Jerzak L (2017): Relatedness of wildlife and livestock avian isolates of the nosocomial pathogen Acinetobacter baumannii to lineages spread in hospitals worldwide
    Environ. Microbiol. 19 (10): 4349–4364. Epub Sep 19. doi: 10.1111/1462-2920.13931. more

  • 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