17 January 2023 – Just like larger organisms, bacteria have evolved ways to defend themselves from pathogens. One of these strategies – stringent response, which involves bacteria shutting down their metabolism and switching resources away from growth – is the focus of new EMBO Installation Grantee Hedvig Tamman, whose group studies the intricate cellular signals activated when the common environmental bacterium Pseudomonas putida senses a threat.
“Stringent response in bacteria is somewhat like how our own bodies respond when we get sick and need to go to bed,” says Tamman, who will establish her group at Tartu University, Estonia. “By isolating viruses called bacteriophages – or phages – and testing them on the bacteria, we want to understand how the state of stringent response of bacteria influences the infection efficiency of phages. Relationships between bacteria and their phages can be highly complex – some phages are deadly to bacteria, while others can actually help protect their host from other phages. We want to learn the roles that stringent response plays in such circumstances and understand the constant arms race taking place between bacteria and their phage enemies.”
In future, Tamman says that the work could have the potential to support medical applications that target harmful bacteria. “I feel excited about even small discoveries, but it’s nice that I can carry out projects that have huge potential down the line,” she says. “My Installation Grant will provide me and my group important training opportunities and the chance to network with young and more established researchers in the EMBO communities. These connections will enable me to further my research and grow my team. It’s great to be in Estonia in this vibrant university, just a stone’s throw from the peace and calm of beautiful nature.”