Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen, Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine (IMIT), Dpt. Microbial Bioactive Compounds

Full Professor, Microbiology

University of Tübingen,
Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology  and Infection Medicine (IMIT),
Dpt. Microbial Bioactive Compounds
Auf der Morgenstelle 28
72076 Tübingen

+49 7071 2974706



Background and expertise of the representative

Heike Brötz-Oesterhelt is full professor and Head of the Department for Microbial Bioactive Compounds within the Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine at the University of Tübingen. Her group has a strong expertise in analysing antibacterial mechanisms on the molecular level. Heike Brötz-Oesterhelt has conducted mode of action studies since 1992, on inhibitors of various areas of bacterial metabolism, and established a versatile assay platform for mechanistic studies of antibacterial agents (including reporter strains, in vitro macromolecular syntheses, precursor incorporation assays, full genome knock-out and knock-down libraries, time-lapse microscopy etc.). She has discovered, for instance, the first lipid II (i.e. a peptidoglycan precursor of central importance) sequestering antibiotic outside of the class of glycopeptides, the first specific inhibitors of bacterial DNA ligase or phenylalanyl-tRNA synthetase, as well as the unprecedented antibiotic target Clp protease. ADEP-type antibiotics deregulating this protease show exceptional anti-persister activity and are currently in preclinical development. Apart from mode of action studies, Heike Brötz-Oesterhelt investigates mechanisms of antibiotic uptake into bacterial cells. After her PhD in microbiology, she worked for 12 years in leading positions in antibacterial drug discovery in industry. She headed interdisciplinary drug discovery teams towards clinical candidate selection, was Biological Coordinator of all early antibacterial research activities of Bayer HealthCare from 2004 – 2006 and cofounded the biotech company AiCuris in 2006 as Head of Bacteriology. In 2010, she accepted a call for an academic professorship. She authored 55 publications and 8 patents, served on several scientific advisory boards, for instance for the German Association for General and Applied Microbiology (VAAM), and chaired the Gordon Research Conference for New Antibacterial Discovery and Development in 2016.

Organisation profile

The Eberhard Karls University Tübingen has a long-standing history in antibiotics discovery, dating back to the 1960s, and an extended collection of characterised actinobacterial secondary metabolite producers. The Department of Microbial Bioactive Compounds at the Science Faculty was newly established in 2014 to provide so-far-missing mechanism of action expertise to the antibiotic research environment. The research group of Heike Brötz-Oesterhelt now synergistically complements the groups Prof. Wolfgang Wohlleben (focussed on Streptomyces genetics and antibiotic biosynthesis) and Prof. Nadine Ziemert (focussed on natural product genomics). Together we have all required expertise to detect novel antibiotics, to optimize their production, to determine their antibacterial potential against multi-resistant pathogens and to elucidate their targets.

Together with seven further microbiology research groups from the Faculty of Science and from the Medical Faculty these three groups form the Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine (IMIT), the first interfaculty microbiology institute in Germany (founded in 2009), with the aim to comprehensively study bacterial pathogenicity and treatment strategies from fundamental as well as clinical perspectives.

Research on bacterial secondary metabolites including antibiotics is also pursued by four research groups of the Institutes of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Organic Chemistry at the University of Tübingen. Here, expertise is particularly strong in isolation and structure elucidation of complex natural products.

Research of the Department of Microbial Bioactive Compounds is financed by the German Research Association (DFG) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Central research projects of the department are embedded within the Collaborative Research Centre „The Bacterial Cell Envelope“ (SFB 766), the Research School “Bacterial Survival Strategies” (RTG 1708) and the Thematic Translational Unit “Novel Antibiotics” of the German Center for Infection Research. Currently, the department employs approximately 20 researchers.

Microbiology and Infection Biology are a dedicated focus area of the University of Tübingen, strongly supported by strategic development plans and core facility infrastructure (e.g. Proteome Center, Quantitative Biology Center [QBIC], Center of Academic Drug Discovery and Development [TüCAD2]).

Contribution to the network

Heike Brötz-Oesterhelt will contribute to the network by antibiotic mode of action studies, uptake studies across the bacterial cell envelope as well as her expertise in lead profiling and optimisation. Her group will identify and characterize novel antibacterial agents with activity against WHO priority pathogens and absence of co- and cross-resistance to therapeutically applied antibiotic classes. Novel targets and innovative modes of interaction with known targets will be investigated and evaluated on a molecular level. Heike Brötz-Oesterhelt will further support the consortium by establishing contacts to her broad network of international collaboration partners in big pharma, biotech and academic antibiotic research.