Institut für Hygiene und Mikrobiologie


    Why working with Neisseria meningitidis?

    Neisseria meningitidis (the meningococcus) is actually a commensal bacterial species of humans which colonises the nasopharynx of up to 30% of the healthy population. Whereas most isolates from healthy carriers are considered as non-pathogenic, a small number of strains belonging to so called hyperinvasive lineages can cause life-threatening diseases such as acute bacterial meningitis or sepsis. Despite timely antibiotic treatment invasive meningococcal infections in particular represent a major childhood disease with a mortality rate of 10% and high morbidity in survivors. Apart from epidemic outbreaks, approximately 500,000 cases of meningococcal disease are estimated to occur every year on a worldwide basis posing a heavy burden on the public health systems especially in developing countries.


    Infant suffering from meningococcal disease (taken from

    What are we working at?

    The work of our group focuses on the quite basic question of “Why do only certain meningococci cause disease?”, or, more scientifically, “What is the genetic basis of meningococcal virulence?”

    A basic assumption for pathogenic bacteria is that virulence is genetically determined by virulence factors encoded in the bacterial chromosome. But what these genetic factors are and how they might have evolved in meningococci is only poorly understood so far.

    In addition to differences in the gene complement between carriage and invasive strains virulence differences could in principle also result from differences in the regulation and expression of genes common to all meningococcal strains under infection conditions. However, little is currently known also about potential differences in the transcriptomes of carriage and invasive meningococcal strains.

    Since classical candidate gene-based approaches have failed to identify a virulence gene set in N. meningitidis as outlined above, our group therefore employs the whole spectrum of up-to-date molecular biological and genomic techniques including comparative whole-genome sequencing as well as expression microarrays and RNA-Seq to search in an unbiased as possible manner for so far unidentified genetic virulence determinants in N. meningitidis.  

    To learn more about the work in our lab please follow the links below:


    Evolutionary Pathogenomics

    Functional Genomics and Systems Microbiology

    Please follow this link to see where we work.




    Our work would not be possible without our collaborating partners:


    Anke Becker (LOEWE-Center for Synthetic Microbiology Marburg)

    Christoph Bock (Research Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, Vienna)

    Michael Dondrup (Computational Biology Unit, Bergen Center for Computational Science, University of Bergen)

    Alexander Goesmann (CeBiTec, Bielefeld University)

    Tobias Müller (Department of Bioinformatics, University of Würzburg) 

    Jörg Vogel (Institute for Molecular Infection Biology, University of Würzburg)



    Our work would also not be possible without the funding by:

    Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) – Priority Programme SPP1316 “Host-Adapted Metabolism of Bacterial Pathogens”:
    “Gene regulatory mechanisms of metabolic adaptation in Neisseria meningitidis in ex vivo infection models” (SCHO 1322/1-1)
    Period: 07/2011 – 06/2014
    Christoph Schoen

    Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung (BMBF) – Funding Initiative PathoGenoMik-Plus:
     “Application of comparative genomics derived knowledge for surveillance and prevention of meningococcal disease” (0313801A)
    Period: 07/2006 – 06/2010
    Christoph Schoen, Matthias Frosch


    Institut für Hygiene und Mikrobiologie
    Josef-Schneider-Straße 2
    97080 Würzburg

    Suche Ansprechpartner

    Campus Medizin