Lena Pernas starts her research group

Max Planck Researcher Lena Pernas

Investigating the metabolism of infection

Lena Pernas has started her Max Planck Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing. Her group is seeking to understand how human metabolism influences the progression of infectious disease.

When pathogens attack the cells of a body, they need nutrients to grow and proliferate - the same nutrients that host organelles need for their biogenesis and to perform cellular metabolic processes. This creates a competition for nutrients between the microbe and the host. A key player in this competition are mitochondria, which are organelles that are the powerhouses of cells and take up and breakdown different nutrients to provide energy to cells. Yet, whether mitochondria actively defend the cell during infection was little understood.

Lena Pernas’ work could recently show how this is possible: When the human parasite Toxoplasma gondii infects a host, it siphons cellular fatty acids. To counter this, host mitochondria enhance fatty acid uptake, limiting the parasites access to this resource and thereby restricting its growth.

With her new group at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing, Pernas has now the possibility to gain a deeper understanding of host-pathogen interaction also during the ageing process. Ageing has profound effects on metabolism and the response to microbial infection and therefore provides an optimal angle to begin dissecting their interplay. “I feel very lucky to start my group at Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing where I have access to great science, diverse, yet complementary colleagues, and incredible support to answer questions at the intersection of infection, metabolism, and ageing”, says Pernas.

About the person

The American researcher Lena Pernas performed her Bachelor’s studies in Microbiology, Immunology and Molecular Genetics at the University of California in Los Angeles, and pursued her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology at the Stanford University School of Medicine in the US with support from a Stanford/NSF graduate fellowship. In 2014 she joined the group of Luca Scorrano at the University of Padua in Italy where she was supported by DTI-Telethon, an EMBO Long-term fellowship, and the Life Science Research Foundation. She was appointed as a Max Planck Research Group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Biology of Ageing in January 2019. In 2017 Science News chose her as one of the top ten scientists to watch.

Read more about the research in the Lena Pernas' Research Group.

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