The chemist Prof. Dr. Henning Jessen has received a Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). The ERC Consolidator Grants will provide two million euros over a period of five years for his research project. Besides Jessen, two other researchers of the University of Freiburg have received the award, the chemical biologist Prof. Dr. Maja Banks-Köhn and the Islamic Studies Scholar Prof. Dr. Johanna Pink. “I congratulate my colleagues on this outstanding success,” said Rector Prof. Dr. Hans-Jochen Schiewer, adding: “This honor is an excellent example of the outstanding work of our researchers. They are the driving force behind the innovative strength and international visibility of our strategic and emerging research areas.”
In his ERC project, Henning Jessen will be researching bacterial messengers of stress. When bacteria experience stress – for example, due to a lack of nutrients, a temperature shock, or antibiotics – they produce what are known as alarmones, which initiate a comprehensive and immediate adjustment program. This so-called stringent response can be found in all bacteria. This is what renders it an interesting area for the development of new antibiotics that will obstruct bacteria from reacting to stress adequately. In Jessen’s project, he will be developing new strategies for analyzing and modulating the levels of alarmones in living bacteria. He will also use new chemical tools to better analyze and understand the bacterial stringent response. For example, we still do not know how bacteria are able to stop this reaction and return to their original state. Another of Jessen’s goals is to establish new approaches for the development of antibiotics that will specifically prevent this stringent response, or at least suspend bacteria in a state in which they are no longer able to reproduce.
Jessen studied chemistry at the University of Hamburg, where he received a PhD in medicinal chemistry in 2008. He then worked as a postdoc in Switzerland at the École Polytechnique Fédérale in Lausanne, followed by the University of Basel. He began his independent career at the University of Zurich in 2011 and became Professor of Bioorganic Chemistry at the Institute of Organic Chemistry of the University of Freiburg in 2015. He is a member of the excellence clusters livMatS – Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems and CIBSS – Centre for Integrative Biological Signalling Studies der Universität Freiburg und ein Senior Fellow am Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies (FRIAS).