Protein Evolution

The overarching research topic of our group is the evolutionary history of present-day biochemical pathways and their protein components: How did proteins evolve and diversity their functionality? How did proteins with new functionality evolve by mixing and matching of pre-existing protein modules, the so-called "functional domains"? How did species as different as mammals, fungi, plants and bacteria evolve analogous pathways by using seemingly unrelated components? And finally, are these components really unrelated, or are their hidden evolutionary links to be found? We address these questions by a combination of bioinformatical and experimental approaches. While such evolutionary considerations apply to all kinds of proteins and pathways, our groups focuses on two areas of particular biological interest:

Regulated cell death pathways

One major topic is the evolution of regulated cell death pathways. Regulated cell death modalities, such as apoptosis, necroptosis and pyroptosis, are not only important for mammals; similar cell death types have been observed in plants and some fungi. While the mechanisms and protein components of these cell death pathways appear to be distinct, a number of evolutionary commonalities could be established — with more such examples currently being worked on. A deeper understanding of cell death evolution will allow mechanistical insights that might even help to understand and combat human diseases with a lack or overabundance of cell death activity. Please check the links at the bottom of this page for some of our recent activities in this area.

Ubiquitin and protein degradation pathways

A second major topic addressed by our group is the evolution of protein degradation pathways — in particular those regulated by ubiquitin. Protein ubiquitination is a highly complex system, with more than 1000 human genes devoted to its regulation and execution. One of the many activities of protein ubiquitination is the antibacterial and antiviral defense. Due to the resulting evolutionary pressure, many pathogens (including coronaviruses) have evolved ubiquitin-cleaving enzymes — typically by co-opting and modifying genes from their host cells. Our group is currently studying the mechanism and evolution of ubiquitin-directed bacterial effectors and how they help the bacteria to survive within host cells.Please check the links at the bottom of this page for some of our recent activities in this area.

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