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The Symbiotic and Pathogenic Interaction group

Research focuses on mechanisms and evolution of bacterial antibiotic tolerance and resistance including antibiotic discovery but also, more broadly, on diverse topics related to bacterial survival under stress conditions. Research is performed both at bacterial population and at single-cell levels as well as during interaction with the eukaryotic host (cellular and animal models).

Jan Michiels

Group Leader
Group leader, VIB, 2017-present
Francqui Research Professor, KU Leuven, 2017-2021
Director of the Centre of Microbial & Plant Genetics, KU Leuven, 2015-present
Group leader, KU Leuven, 2001-present
Postdoc, KU Leuven, 1993-2001
PhD, KU Leuven, 1989-1993

Research focus

The primary focus is to uncover the basic molecular principles of bacterial persistence and how bacteria enter or exit this state. Understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms may help to develop new therapeutic approaches to combat pathogenic bacteria. From an evolutionary point of view, we explore how bacterial populations adapt persistence characteristics by genetic mutations during fluctuating antibiotic regimens. In this context, we also examine the link between persistence and the evolution of genetic antibiotic resistance. We focus on the model bacterium Escherichia coli and several pathogenic species including the ESKAPE pathogens.

Bacterial persistence

Closely in line with our work on persistence, we are investigating how host factors control the spread of antibiotic resistance through conjugative transfer. In addition, work on the persistence regulator ObgE led to a third line of research that addresses cell cycle control.

Our translational research focuses on the discovery of novel antibiotics, bacterial tolerance to ethanol (with the aim of producing second-generation bio-ethanol) and bio-production of oleochemicals.

A final line of research uses advanced genetic techniques to enhance survival of nitrogen-fixing rhizobia in a diverse collection of natural isolates. The major aim here is to improve survival of dormant Rhizobium in legume seed coatings by enhancing stress tolerance.


Research topics


To showcase the world-class scientific research of the Jan Michiels Lab, you can discover their scientific papers in more detail.



We are always on the lookout for highly motivated colleagues to join our team. If you are interested to work on single-cell regulatory genomics - computational or experimental, please contact us.



The Jan Michiels Lab can only thrive thanks to the dedication and commitment of its people, no matter what their function or seniority. 



To stay up to date in rapidly developing fields, scientists regularly interact with (international) colleagues. Conferences and other (scientific) events are an excellent way to facilitate such a continent-spanning knowledge exchange.