Microbial secondary (or specialized) metabolites have been exploited by mankind for decades, especially as antibiotics and other medical drugs. Despite their enormous societal importance, the precise roles and impacts of microbial antibiotic secondary metabolites in natural microbial niches are not understood. It remains a central question why microorganisms acquire and maintain genes encoding for production of such complex molecules.
The purpose of CeMiSt is to unravel the roles and impact of microbial secondary metabolites in nature, in microbial communities. Our hypothesis is that these molecules display a much broader spectrum of functionalities than currently thought, and are essential in shaping microbial growth, metabolism and population dynamics at community level. Thus, they impact ecology and evolution on a grand scale. We also hypothesize that composition and structure of the microbial community shape their production. We will study natural environments and determine if biosynthetic gene clusters are expressed and target metabolites produced. We will engineer controlled model systems of mixed microbial communities and determine how secondary metabolites affect diversity and functionality of the community. Subsequently, we will in both natural and engineered communities determine how the biosynthetic gene clusters encoding secondary metabolites change and evolve over time.
CeMiSt is hosted by the Technical University of Denmark and is a multidisciplinary endeavor based on microbial ecology, molecular microbiology, natural product chemistry and bioinformatics. Whilst the scientific focus of the Center is to answer fundamental biological questions, it has not escaped our notice that the Center may discover novel metabolites with interesting medical or biotechnological applications.