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Junior research group Skin Microbiome

The junior research group "Skin Microbiome" investigates the influence of the skin’s microbiome on potential toxification of xenobiotic substances.

The microbiome is currently one of the fastest growing areas of scientific interest. The term comprises the entity of all microorganisms living in or on another organism. Studies have shown that the human microbiome influences the immune system, metabolism, vascular aging, brain functions as well as our hormonal system. As the metabolic diversity of the human microbiome is significantly greater than that of their host this can lead to the modulation of toxicity of xenobiotic substances. The underlying mechanisms comprise direct enzymatic modification of compounds, alteration of human phase I and II metabolism as well as altered substance kinetics. However, in terms of potential toxicological impact these mechanisms have so far been scarcely investigated. This is particularly the case for skin although it is subject to constant xenobiotic exposure.

Research focus

In order to address this BfR developed a novel long-term co-culture system, which for the first time allows systematic investigation of the microbial influence on substance toxicity on the skin in situ. The system is based on human 3D skin models colonised with skin bacteria.

Following a proof of concept study with two B[a]P-degrading organisms the system is currently being extended and optimised to include more organisms and an extended range of consumer-relevant substances such as azo dyes and plant protection products (PPPs). In addition the system now includes a model to also investigate substance or dysbiosis-triggered effects on tumorigenesis and melanoma formation.

Previous studies suggest a link between melanoma and microbial dysbiosis. Yet, possible underlying mechanisms remain elusive. To further elucidate the complex interplay between melanoma progression and skin microbiome the group relies on 3D melanoma models colonised with skin commensals and pathogens.


In addition to working with 3D skin models and bacterial cultures, the junior research group applies and develops state-of-the-art methods from different disciplines. The characterization of commensal bacteria is performed by high-throughput sequencing technologies. Analytical methods such as GC-MS/MS or LC-MS/MS are used to identify and quantify bacterial metabolites of the test substances. Toxicologically relevant effects on the skin are investigated using various immunological, colourimetric and transcriptional techniques as well as LC-hrMS/MS.

Recent publications


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