Christine Moissl-Eichinger, Dr. rer. nat.:

Interactive Microbiome Research

Department of Internal Medicine, Medical University of Graz, Auenbruggerplatz 15, A-8036 Graz;
phone: +43-316-385 72808, fax: +43-316-385 13062,  e-mail
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Microbiome, pregnancy disorders, pre-eclampsia, gestational diabetes mellitus

Research interest:

The human body carries billions of microorganisms that influence health and well-being. Dysbioses (i. e. an imbalance of the human microbial community) has been linked with many disorders, including inflammatory bowel diseases, diabetes, but also mental problems. In my group, we are interested in the interaction of the human microbiome and the host itself, how the microbes mirror the physiological constitution of the body. We specifically use next generation sequencing, in combination with visualization methods in order to identify, characterize and finally understand the microorganisms involved in interactive processes.

Over the course of a normal, healthy pregnancy, the body undergoes substantial hormonal, immunological, and metabolic changes (1, 2). Since the human microbiome and the human body are interacting strongly with each other, changes usually go along with changes in the microbial community (composition and abundances of certain members). For instance, it has been reported, that the bacterial load is increased during the course of gestation (3), or that the microbial composition reflects a “metabolic-syndrome-like” status of the pregnant woman (4). Also the placenta harbors a unique microbiome, representing the first platform that presents bacterial components to the unborn (5).

Studies focusing on the development of the microbiome during pregnancy are comparatively rare; this is particularly true for pregnancy disorders. In addition, many studies are based on standard techniques only, e. g. analyzing the entire microbial community without being able to distinguish between the active (living) and dead microbial community. Thus, the results obtained are often misleading and “blurred” by the background. The microbial community of the human body is composed of bacteria, archaea and fungi. However, archaea and fungi are often neglected to be important members of the human microbiome, since they are difficult to detect, and thus require different methods and set-ups of the laboratory procedures.

Our goal is to use improved, state-of-the-art methods in order to analyze the function and activity of the human microbiome in pregnancy disorders such as gestational diabetes mellitus and pre-eclampsia. We claim that with our methods, we can create the first full picture of the microbiome, including bacteria, archaea and fungi, by focusing on the living portion thereof only. We claim that pregnancy disorders are potentially linked to an increased microbial load in urine, amniotic fluid and / or the child’s meconium. We will use different methods in state-of-the-art microbiome research, including 16S rRNA gene-based next-generation sequencing, propidium monoazide treatment of the samples, fluorescence in situ hybridization to visualize the microorganisms and metagenomics and / or metatranscriptomics, as well as metabolomics.

Presentation video:


  1. Mor G, Cardenas I: The immune system in pregnancy: a unique complexity. Am J Reprod Immunol, 2010; 63(6):​425–433.
  2. Newbern D, Freemark M: Placental hormones and the control of maternal metabolism and fetal growth. Curr Opin Endocrinol Diabetes Obes, 2011; 18(6):​409–416.
  3. Collado MC, Isolauri E, Laitinen K, Salminen S: Distinct composition of gut microbiota during pregnancy in overweight and normal-weight women. Am J Clin Nutr, 2008; 88(4):​894–899.
  4. Koren O, Goodrich JK, Cullender TC, Spor A, Laitinen K, Bäckhed HK, Gonzalez A, Werner JJ, Angenent LT, Knight R, Bäckhed F, Isolauri E, Salminen S, Ley RE: Host remodeling of the gut microbiome and metabolic changes during pregnancy. Cell, 2012; 150(3):​470–480.
  5. Aagaard K, Ma J, Antony KM, Ganu R, Petrosino J, Versalovic J: The placenta harbors a unique microbiome. Sci Transl Med, 2014; 6(237):​237ra65.

Collaborations within the DP-iDP:

  • C. Wadsack will provide clinically well-defined placenta samples and amniotic fluid.
  • M. van Poppel will support the students to link epidemiological aspects to microbiome data.
  • B. Huppertz will support the students in creating a pregnancy-related microbiome culture and tissue collection for subsequent microbiome analysis.

Collaborating research groups where PhD students could perform their research stay abroad:

  • R. Schmitz-Streit (University of Kiel, Germany) is microbiology and an expert in detection of archaea. She will support the students in qPCR approaches.
  • H. Huber (University of Regensburg, Germany) and his colleagues at the University Hospital of Regensburg will support with visualization and cultivation of key microbial species.

Industrial partners:

Steigerwald, Darmstadt, Germany; Schwabe, Karlsruhe, Germany; Compliance Advice and Services in Microbiology GmbH, Köln; Germany; ACIB GmbH, Graz, Austria; Allergosan, Graz, Austria;

Know-how and infrastructure of the research group:

The laboratory of Christine Moissl-Eichinger has a long-standing expertise in the field of microbiology and microbiome research. She is involved in numerous life-detection consortia, as well as PI and Co-PI of ongoing medical microbiome research studies.

The group comprises one post-doctoral fellow, one technician and three PhD students. Various techniques are being used for a detailed analysis of the full microbiome, including bacteria, archaea and fungi. The group is located at the Center for Medical Research, ZMF, at the Medical University, where numerous, state-of-the-art equipment is made available to the researchers. This includes: Mi-Seq Illumina sequencing facility, qPCR facility, flow cytometry, fluorescence microscopy, as well as an anaerobic work station for analyzing and cultivation of strictly anaerobic microorganisms. In addition, ZMF provides excellent support in bioinformatics and biostatistics and has established a Galaxy-based pipeline for the processing of complex NGS data.

Scientific concepts and techniques that students will learn in this laboratory:

DP-iDP students will be trained in microbiology and will receive insights in the complexity and diversity of the human microbiome. They will particularly be involved in the sample processing, from DNA to bioinformatics tool application. They will learn practical microbiology methods (from standard to specific, such as the cultivation of strictly anaerobic microorganisms), microscopy methods, DNA extraction and PCR-based methods. In addition, they will particularly be trained in the processing of next generation sequencing data (through pipelines such as qiime or mother) and bioinformatics, in order to analyze, display and interpret the gained data properly for publication and thesis.