New research project will reveal antimicrobial secrets of social spiders

The Novo Nordisk Foundation’s Interdisciplinary Synergy Programme has granted DKK 14.7 million to three professors at Science and Technology and a German colleague to carry out research into social spiders as a source of new antimicrobial substances.

2017.03.17 | Christina Troelsen

The research team initially consists of (from left): Postdoctoral Fellow in Microbiology Marie Lund, Researcher in Molecular Genetics Jesper Bechsgaard, PhD student Mette Marie Busck (Microbial Symbionts), Professor of Chemistry Thomas Vosegaard (Project Manager), Professor of Biology Trine Bilde (Project Manager), Professor of Microbiology Andreas Schramm (Project Manager), Postdoctoral Fellow in Biology Virginia Settepani, Professor of Biochemistry Michael Lalk, University of Greifswald (Project Manager). Photo: Aarhus University

The Novo Nordisk Foundation has awarded a grant to Professor Trine Bilde, Department of Bioscience – Genetics, Ecology and Evolution, Professor Andreas Schramm, Department of Bioscience – Microbiology and Centre for Geomicrobiology, and Professor Thomas Vosegaard, Department of Chemistry and iNANO, and their German colleague Professor Michael Lalk, University of Greifswald, for a new interdisciplinary research project that will study whether social spiders have antimicrobial substances than can be developed for new antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance poses a global threat to public health because pathogenic bacteria develop and spread resistance faster than new antibiotics can be developed. Most of the known antibiotics were discovered last century by screening soil bacteria, and the need for new antibiotics means that we must start to use new methods and search elsewhere in nature.

Nature contains an abundance of possible sources for the discovery of new antimicrobial substances, and the researchers in this project will study a more exotic but nevertheless extremely promising one of these natural resources – social spiders. These spiders live closely together in large groups, where they share food items and parental care, and therefore have a high risk of spreading pathogenic bacteria among themselves. At the same time, they are inbred and have extremely low genetic variation, probably being protected against pathogenic bacteria through a symbiosis with microbes that provide a ‘microbial defence’ against the harmful bacteria.

The researchers’ hypothesis is that this defence contains new antimicrobial substances than can be developed for new antibiotics. The project will use a combination of a new biological system with new microbial screening methods and chemical analysis methods to look for new substances with antibiotic properties.

For more information, please contact

Professor Trine Bilde
Department of Bioscience – Genetics, Ecology and Evolution

Professor Andreas Schramm
Department of Bioscience – Microbiology and Centre for Geomicrobiology

Professor Thomas Vosegaard
Department of Chemistry and Interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre (iNANO)

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