Antibacterial weapons from the phyllosphere


A diverse microcosm, called the phyllosphere, exists on the surfaces of leaves. It is here that bacteria wage war on each other with antibiotics. We are systematically analysing these organisms and substances to discover new active substances.

Portrait / project description (ongoing research project)

Today's antibiotics come mainly from naturally occurring bacterial substances isolated from soil samples. However, there exist numerous additional microorganisms with major potential as drug sources that has as yet barely been tapped into. These include bacteria found on leaf surfaces. Our decision to study them was motivated by well-documented evidence that they produce antibiotics as a defence against hostile bacteria. Using state-of-the-art methods of genetic analysis and bioinformatics, we plan to identify bacteria that show considerable promise for the discovery of antibiotic substances. We will isolate and test these substances chemically and pharmacologically with the goal of making especially promising substances available for the development of medicines.


Previous research into natural antibiotic substances has focused primarily on soils. However, thanks to new technologies, we can now efficiently search for such substances in a wide range of different ecosystems.


Our goal is to discover new groups of bacteria that are rich in antibiotics and suitable for the extraction of active substances. We aim to isolate multiple substances that show considerable promise for clinical research.


There is a great need for new active antibiotic agents. We intend to make them available. Our project also delivers fundamental findings on which groups of bacteria are, in principle, rich in antibiotics and thus facilitates a targeted search for new substances.

Original title

Ecosystem- and genome-guided antibiotic discovery

Project leaders

  • Prof. Jörn Piel, Departement Biologie, ETH Zürich, Zürich
  • Prof. Julia Vorholt, Departement Biologie, ETH Zürich, Zürich



Further information on this content



Prof. Jörn Piel Institut für Mikrobiologie Departement Biologie ETH Zürich HCI Vladimir-Prelog-Weg 4 8093 Zürich +41 44 633 07 55