We study the relationships that Mobile Genetic Elements (MGEs) establish with their bacterial hosts. To do so, we use the medically relevant pathogen Staphylococcus aureus as model system with a strong focus on Methicillin Resistant S. aureus or MRSA. Staphylococcal MGEs are intrinsically related to pathogenesis. They encode a broad number of virulence genes such as toxins and antibiotic resistance genes. We are particularly interested in studying DNA replication of staphylococcal MGEs and how they express their genes during their horizontal transfer. Due to the limited content of MGE genomes, they hijack a broad variety of proteins from their host for their own benefit, not only for gene expression but also for DNA replication. This feature provides us the perfect 'place' to look for proteins or complexes as targets for drug design. We are also interested in employing bacteriophages as biotechnology and/or therapeutic tools. Due to the problem of antimicrobial resistance, antibiotics are no longer effective against bacterial infections, perfectly exemplified by MRSA. We aim to study staphylococcal bacteriophages that are suitable for phage therapy and to engineer phage-like particles as biotechnology tools.
The approaches that we use to reach our goals vary from standard molecular biology, microbiology and biochemistry techniques to structural biology such as X-ray crystallography and single particle analysis of electron cryo-micrographs (cryo-EM).