RNA Biology

Prof. Joerg Vogel studied biochemistry at Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany, and at Imperial College, London, UK. In 1999, he received his PhD from Humboldt University with a thesis on Group II intron splicing. He spent his postdoctoral years at Uppsala University, Sweden (2000-2001) and as an EMBO fellow at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem, Israel (2002-2003) searching for small RNAs in Escherichia coli and other bacteria. In 2004, he started an Independent Junior Research Group at the MPI for Infection Biology. He has recently been appointed Director of the Institute for Molecular Infection Biology at the University of Würzburg.

Main research interests

  • Identification and characterisation of noncoding RNAs (sRNAs) in bacterial pathogens
  • Regulatory roles of sRNAs in host-pathogen interactions

Welcome to the world of small noncoding RNA

The last few years biologists' perceptions of the roles RNA can play in various organisms have changed dramatically. Traditionally, the two main roles of RNA had been seen to be in genetic information transfer – as mRNA, and as the genetic material of some viruses – and in protein synthesis – as ribosomal RNAs and tRNA adaptors. In contrast, the regulatory potential of RNA appeared to be mainly confined to small antisense RNAs that control biological functions in bacterial plasmids, phages and transposons.

Small, noncoding RNAs (sRNAs) in the size range from 20 to 500 nucleotides were long regarded as a minor addition to the bulk of the known classes of cellular RNAs. However, systematic searches keep discovering ever greater numbers of these molecules both in prokaryotes and in eukaryotes.

We use biochemical, genetic and biocomputational approaches to characterize bacterial sRNA functions, particularly with respect to host-pathogen interactions. Our model systems include Salmonella and Helicobacter species. We are particularly interested in the molecular mechanisms by which sRNAs regulate their mRNA or protein targets. In addition, we have been characterizing the roles of Hfq, a bacterial Sm-like protein widely regarded as a major chaperone of regulatory sRNAs, in the virulence of Salmonella.

We are also keen to understand if and how the eukaryotic host employs small RNAs to respond properly to a bacterial infection. Here, the main focus has been on the identification of microRNAs and other ~ 20 to 30 nt noncoding RNAs in infected macrophages, nonphagocytic cells and animals.

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