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A Link in Evolutionary Theory

Biologist Sonja-Verena Albers receives two grants from the Volkswagen foundation for her research into archaea

A Link in Evolutionary Theory

Sonja-Verena Albers. Photo: Patrick Seeger

Archaea are one of the three domains of life, alongside bacteria and eukaryotes. They are the direct forebears of eukaryotes, but are more like bacteria in their development and organization. So they represent an important link in evolutionary theory. Archaea can colonize extreme habitats such as hot sulfurous springs or extremely saline lakes, however they can also be found in the oceans or the human intestine. For her research on these microorganisms, Prof. Dr. Sonja-Verena Albersfrom the University of Freiburg’s Institute of Biology II has now received two grants from Volkswagen’s charitable foundation.

From the Momentum funding line the Freiburg biologist has been awarded a total of 950,000 euros over five years. With Momentum, the Volkswagen foundation supports professors who want to explore a new area of focus in their field in the first three to five years after obtaining tenure. Until now Albers has analyzed archaea at a molecular biology level. For her results on the formerly largely uninvestigated microorganisms, she was appointed a member of the EMBO, the European Molecular Biology Organization. Now, the scientist wants to continue her research in the field of cellular biology. To do this she will use two different archaea modeling systems: Sulfolobus species that occur in acidic hot springs, and Haloferax, extreme salt-loving organisms which occur for example in the Dead Sea. With her work using fluorescence microscopes, Albers wants to discover how archaea cells divide, how their cell envelopes are reorganized during growth and cell division, and how the cell division machinery is localized.

The “Life?” funding line aims to support natural science researchers who are trying to understand the fundamental principles of life. Albers is leading a team including colleagues from the Philipps University of Marburg, University College London, G.B., and the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, G.B., that will receive a total of 1.5 million euros from this funding line over the coming four years, with 400,000 euros going to the Freiburg biologist. Previous studies indicate that eukaryotes arose from a symbiosis between an archaeal cell and a bacterial partner. Albers and her team of researchers want to use structural, molecular and cellular biology as well as computer models to understand how the complex eukaryotic cell developed from the archaeal ancestor.


Prof. Dr. Sonja-Verena Albers
Institute of Biology II – Microbiology
University of Freiburg
Tel.: +49 761 203-2630

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