Introducing MIMS-EMBL group leaders: Björn Ole Schröder - Gut microbiota and intestinal mucosal barrier function

Over the past 12 months, MIMS has recruited five new group leaders. In this interview series, we profile each new group leader and detail their research interests and hopes for their time at MIMS. Here, we introduce Björn O Schröder, who joined MIMS in April 2019.

2019.05.21 | Annabel Darby

Dr Björn Schröder. Photo: Christopher Coe

Fig 1. From: Schroeder BO, Gastroenterology Report 7(1), 2019, 3–12

Can you tell me a bit more about your background and your research?

I completed my PhD in Stuttgart, which involved working with antimicrobial peptides (AMPs). These are host-produced peptide antibiotics which can both kill microbes and also shape the composition of gut microbiota. I was specifically interested in one particular peptide which was previously thought to be inactive. I discovered that by altering the assay conditions so that they more likely resemble the environment in the gut, the peptide actually became very active; proving that adjustments in environmental conditions can shape how peptides behave.After my PhD, I joined Fredrik Bäckhed’s lab in Gothenburg to study whether antimicrobial peptides are involved in metabolic disease and how interactions with the gut microbiota takes place. During that time, I also started collaborating with the lab of Gunnar Hansson; a leading expert in the field of mucus biology. Here, we were interested in how diet affects both the gut microbiota and the mucus biology. We discovered that a diet lacking in dietary fibre led to damage of the gut’s mucus layer. We also discovered that we could repair this damage; either by replacing a specific bacterium or by adding a specific fibre. 

What will your research programme at MIMS consist of?

My aim at MIMS is to understand in more detail how modern dietary habits affect intestinal defence mechanisms. In the industrialized world, diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease and metabolic disease are increasing and have been linked to the gut microbial community and intestinal barrier defects. As diet is one of the most important factors that shapes the community in the gut, I hope to clarify the effect of specific food components on the complex regulation of gut barrier function. Besides contributing to improved dietary recommendations for the Western society, I hope to identify important bacteria that can be used as future probiotic supplements to improve barrier function in the gut. Moreover, I hope to find nutritional compounds that can enrich these positive bacteria to provide long-term health benefits for the Western gut.

What do you hope to achieve in your first phase as group leader?

I am currently recruiting people for my group so I hope to build up a well-functioning team and get my research programme started. I would especially like to get a PhD student and post-doctoral researchers in position and establish the required methods in Umeå. 

Who do you currently collaborate with?

I have an ongoing collaboration in Germany for my current research project and am also in contact with some researchers at EMBL Heidelberg. With the gut microbiota research I’m doing and the bioinformatics expertise there, EMBL is really the top institution in Europe when it comes to this type of research and I’m really excited about these collaborations! I also found a lot of great potential here at MIMS and on campus in Umeå, as there are lots of shared interests. And of course, I am still in good contact with my previous laboratories. 

How did you come to move to Umeå?

I felt that the environment at MIMS was very friendly and productive and thought it would be a great place to start my group. Also, working at a place that has such a positive and collaborative atmosphere is definitely very encouraging. As I was previously in Gothenburg, I was already familiar with Sweden and the Scandinavian way of life, which I think is perhaps even more pronounced here in Umeå. So now I’m curious about the bright midsummer and excited to see whether it really compensates for the dark December! 

Current vacancies

The Schröder Group is currently looking for postdoctoral candidates, PhD students and undergraduate students (Summer/ Bachelor-/ Master level). Please email Björn Ole Schröder (bjorn.schroder@umu.se) for more informationMore informationVisit the Schröder Group website: 

https://mucubacter.org/ and the group's page at MIMS: www.mims.umu.se/groups/bjorn-schroder.html

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