Research Projects

Single Cell

Hitherto, nucleic acids  are commonly analysed by using pooled cell populations. However, cell-to-cell variation detected by single-cell measurements can reveal deeper insights into the interplay of gene regulatory circuits and allows to determine the degree of biological plasticity and flexibility to react to environmental changes. Eventually, single-cell analysis approaches provide an unique opportunity to discover exclusive characteristics of a diseased cell state. 

We recently started analysing quantitatively cellular stress-related signaling at the level of individual immune and cancer cells. We established methods to measure gene expression of gene sets in hundreds of individual cells by single-cell quantitative reverse transcription PCR. Furthermore, we applied powerful FACS-, microfluidics- and microdroplet-based single-cell RNA-seq workflows to decipher pathway modules in the context of cell-environment interactions on a transcriptome-wide scale. This approach allowed us to discover new gene-gene interactions during stress response. Eventually our data sets provided us with information to quantify the balancing of a cell between determinacy and flexibility to cope with environmental changes.

Recently, we further expanded our single-cell research activities towards analysing clinical tumor samples, including (simultaneous) detection of transcriptome, DNA methylation and genomic information. This way, we could decipher so far unexplored mechanisms of tumor development and discover novel treatment options to more efficiently targeting individual tumors.

  

Nutrigenomics

Many physiological processes are controlled by complex molecular mechanisms. This includes daily environmental factors such as nutrition. In order to prevent health decline and prolong the quality of life we aim to identify causal connections between environmental factors and disease, to increase the acceptance of emerging strategies for preventive medicine.

Recently, our research group has been exploring health implications of the interaction between nutrition and genomics or the so-called “nutrigenomics”. For example, the regulation of genes plays an important role in various molecular processes of metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance or atherosclerosis.

One emphasis of our research lies in analysing genome-wide and on the level of individual cells the modulation of gene expression to endow cells with resilience to respond to environmental changes.

A second emphasis of our research concerns the analysis and optimisation of natural products to interact with gene regulatory pathways. For example, we recently discovered a so far largely unexplored class of natural products, the amorfrutins that we isolated from the roots of liquorice. These metabolic efficient molecules interact selectively with the nuclear receptor PPARgamma to exert beneficial metabolic and anti-inflammatory effects. Furthermore, we recently presented a new paradigm of the mode of action of the famous, widely consumed natural product resveratrol from red wine.