VW Research Group Experimental Ecology and Evolution


Microorganisms are well known to readily enter into synergistic metabolic interactions with both other micro- and macroorganisms. The molecular prerequisites and selective conditions that favour the evolution of such cooperative interactions, however, remain poorly understood.

   Hence, the main goal of our research is to answer the question: Why do organisms cooperate with each other? For this, we use the cooperative exchange of essential metabolites amongst two or more bacterial strains as an experimentally tractable model. By rigorously and systematically studying the molecular and ecological causes as well as the physiological and evolutionary consequences of a cooperative lifestyle, we aim at contributing to the development of a solid, empirically-based framework that allows to mechanistically predict the evolution of cooperative behaviours within microbial communities.

   We address this fascinating research question by combining the methodological power of laboratory-based experiments with recent advances in the fields of molecular microbiology and synthetic biology. First, specific ecological interactions between different microorganisms are synthetically engineered. The rationale of this design is based on a priori knowledge on the essential features of the focal interaction and its genetic implementation is guided by computational approaches. Second, theoretical models are being developed that provide testable hypotheses, which are then experimentally verified by exposing precisely defined microbial consortia to certain environmental conditions or selection pressures. These experiments are either performed on ecological time-scales, to monitor fitness-related shifts in the frequency distributions of the interacting populations, or in long-term evolution experiments, during which new genotypes arise by mutation and selection. Finally, post-hoc analyses are performed to study the underlying processes on a phenotypic, a physiological, and a genetic level. This laboratory-based approach is complemented by the study of natural microbial populations, in which we verify the general applicability of our findings.

Current research themes in our group are: 

  • Ecology and evolution of cooperative cross-feeding interactions
  • Coevolutionary dynamics within microbial communities
  • Genomic and physiological consequences of a synergistic coevolution
  • Host-symbiont interactions
  • Bacterial multicellularity  
Dr. Christian Kost


Group Leader:

Dr. Christian Kost
+49 (0) 3641 57 1212

Lab news

13.06.2016 Glen successfully defends his PhD thesis, which is entitled "The evolution of metabolic dependency in bacteria“. Congratulations Glen! He now moves to Switzerland, to join the group of Martin Ackermann at the ETH Zürich.

07.04.2016 Silvio successfully defends his PhD thesis, which is entitled "Evolutionary systems biology of bacterial metabolic adaptation". Congratulations Silvio! He now continues his academic career as a post doc at the Medical Systems Biology Group of Prof. Christoph Kaleta at CAU, Kiel. 

30.03.2016 Silvio's paper titled "Metabolic network architecture and carbon source determine metabolite production costs" has been accepted for publication at the FEBS Journal. Congrats Silvio!

16.03.2016 Daniel wins one of the best poster awards at the Annual Conference 2016 of the Association of General and Applied Microbiology (VAAM) held in Jena. Congrats Daniel!

February 2016. Our work on intercellular cross-feeding via nanotubes and on adaptive gene loss were featured in Max Planck Research and in a podcast by detektor.fm

February 2016. Muhammad starts his PhD thesis funded by the International Max Planck Research School. Congrats Muhammad!

February 2016. Ariane finishes her Masters thesis titled " Generation of auxotrophic Bacillus subtilis strains". Congratualtions Ariane!

10.01.2016 Ramya Ganesan joins our group for a 6 month internship. Welcome Ramya!

    01.10.2015  Esther Voigt joins our group as a new master's student. 
                           Welcome Esther!

 Samir Giri joins our lab as a new PhD student. Welcome Samir!

    16.08.2015 John Carey highlights two of our publications in a PNAS News Feature
                             on the evolution of symbiotic interactions (link).  

01.04.2015 Ghada Yousif joins the EEE group as a new DAAD-funded PhD
                      student. Ghada will work on metabolic cross-feeding within soil 
                      microbial communities. Welcome Ghada!

Muhammad Atiqur Rahman from the University of Tampere
                 (Finland) joined our lab as a new master student.

    30.01.2015 Glen's and Silvio's paper on the effects of epistasis and plastiticty of
                          auxotrophy-causing mutations has been accepted at Evolution (article).

Breaking news: Samay's, Shraddha's, and Lisa's paper on the
                     intercellular communication of bacteria via nanotubes has been
                     acccepted for publication in Nature Communications 
                     (article) (press release)(Highlight in Nature).

25.09.2014  Samay successfully defends his excellent doctoral thesis "Ecological mechanisms that stabilize cooperative cross-feeding in bacteria". Congratulations Samay! He now moves on to work with Greg Velicer's group at ETH Zurich.  


Christian Kost and Martin Ackermann organize a symposium on the upcoming ESEB meeting in Lausanne on the levels of selection in microbial systems (more).


15.10.2014 Elena Inguglia joins the lab as a new master student. Welcome Elena!

Ariane Zander joins the lab as a new master Student. Welcome Ariane!

1.11.2012 Shraddha Shitut joins our group as a new PhD student. Welcome

1.10.2012 Anne successfully defends her excellent diploma thesis "Metabolic costs of
                    copy number, size, and GC-content of plasmids as model endosymbionts".
                    Congratulations Anne!

                    Fortunately, we could convince Anne to stay a little longer and do her   
                    PhD in our group. 

1.07.2012 Silvio Waschina joins the lab as a new PhD student that is cosupervised
                     by Christoph Kaleta and Christian Kost. Welcome back Silvio!

9.01.2012  Silvio successfully defends his excellent diploma thesis, which is entitled  "Theoretical design
                       and experimental verification of amino acid overproducing strains of Escherichia coli using
                       CASOP GS". Congratulations Silvio!

1.11.2011 The lab welcomes Daniel Preußger, who is joining us as a master
                      student. Welcome Daniel!


1.09.2011 Glen D'Souza joins the lab as a new PhD student. Welcome Glen!

30.08.2011 Tobias Weise hands in his bachelor's thesis, which is entitled: 'Aufbau und Inbetriebnahme
                       einer Chemostaten-Anlage zur Kokultivierung mutualistischer Bakterienstaemme'
                       Congratulations Tobias! Unfortunately Tobias leaves us to commence the Master's program
                       biotechnology at the FH Jena.

Martin Kaltenpoth and Christian Kost coorganize a symposium on "Mutualistic interactions: causes and consequences" at the ESEB conference 2011 in Tuebingen (more...)

18.05.2011 Sandra Scholz hands in her diploma thesis, which is entitled 'Establishing of a flexible labeling
                      strategy for soil bacteria with fluorescent proteins
'. Congratulations Sandra! She will now join
                       Axel Mithoefer's group for a PhD.

1.04.2011 Christian Kost becomes a faculty member of the International Max
                     Planck Research School (IMPRS) in Jena.

 28.02.2011 Tobias Weise and Silvio Waschina join the lab as a bachelor
                         and a diploma student respectively.

9.01.2011 The lab farewells Ingrid. It was great having you here.

01.11.2010  Anne-Kathrin Dietel joins the lab as a new master student. Welcome Anne!

15.09.2010 Ingrid Teich does an internship with us.

13.07.2010 Felix Bertels successfully defends his diploma thesis at the University of Applied Sciences.
                      Congratulations Felix!

08.07.2009 Our work is supported by an 'Advanced Postdoctoral
                       Fellowship' of the VolkswagenStiftung.

24.11.2009 The lab welcomes Sandra Scholz as a new diploma student.

05.11.2009 Christian Kost co-authors a paper on the evolution of bet-hedging (more...).

01.11.2009 Samay Pande joins the lab as a new JSMC-funded PhD student.
                       Welcome Samay!