Jillian Petersen

© Han-Fei Allen Tsao

Microbiologist Jillian Petersen investigates how different organisms live together in mutualistic relationships. Virtually all animals – including humans – live in so-called symbiosis with bacteria that have a significant positive impact on our health, metabolism and evolution. The ERC Starting Grant project aims at researching previously unexplored yet fundamental processes of symbiotic relationships. For this purpose, Petersen has established a unique model system in her laboratory, in which marine lucinid clams host certain bacteria in their gills. These bacteria, in turn, provide the clams with nutrients. This symbiosis has existed for hundreds of millions of years and is one of the oldest known natural symbiotic relationships. A deeper, fundamental understanding of the function and evolution of symbioses is an essential foundation for using “good” bacteria in future technologies and therapies for medicinal purposes.