Main Content

François-Xavier Lehr

Postdoctoral Researcher, RG Niederholtmeyer
MPI for Terrestrial Microbiology

Project: Cell-free synthesis and assembly of gene-transfer agents

Project summary:
Horizontal gene transfer (HGT) is an efficient way of sharing genetic material among microbes. Being both predators and evolutionary drivers, bacteriophages mediate HGT activity by delivering bacterial DNA during the infection of recipients. A class of phage-like particles called gene transfer agents (GTAs) is genomically encoded by phage genes that appear to have been “domesticated” by their microbial hosts. Instead of preferentially packaging and transferring their own genes, GTAs distribute host-specific traits by packaging small genomic fragments. Despite their natural abundance in bacterial and archaeal species, GTA particles have received little attention to date, and many aspects of their biology and diversity remain unstudied. In this project, I aim to establish cell-free protein synthesis as a tool for characterizing GTA particles. With the group of Anke Becker and Johannes Rebelein, we will engineer GTAs from Rhodobacter capsulatus and Dinoroseobacter shibae for cell-free expression and characterize the GTA production and DNA packaging parameters. This work will open up exciting opportunities to better understand GTA biology and for biotechnological applications.

Cooperation with: Anke Becker (UMR), Johannes Rebelein (MPI-TM)