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Young researcher studies Antarctic bacteria as a potential source of new antibiotics

Thanks to a European grant for young scientists, Stanislava Králová will bring together two lines of research conducted in Brno and Vienna.

“Every microbiologist is a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but if you follow good laboratory practices, you can nearly completely eliminate any risk inherent to research on potentially dangerous organisms,” explains Stanislava Králová.

Already during her PhD studies at the MU Faculty of Science, Stanislava Králová was researching bacteria found in Antarctica, which she obtained from expeditions organised by Masaryk University. Two years ago, she visited MU Antarctic station at James Ross Island personally.

During her time with the Czech Collection of Microorganisms, she managed to describe four new species of bacteria and is working on characterising four more. Lately, she has begun to explore the possibilities of obtaining new effective antibiotics against multidrug-resistant bacteria from the recently discovered and described Antarctic microorganisms.

Multidrug-resistant bacteria pose an increasing threat as existing antibiotics are no longer effective against them. Unless new effective substances can be found soon, global healthcare will essentially return to conditions before the discovery of penicillin, the first antibiotic.

The study of Antarctic bacteria is expensive and challenging, so Králová looked for ways to secure resources to pursue it thoroughly. She approached Professor Alexander Loy from the University of Vienna, a world-renowned expert on the microbiome, microbial communities and whole genome sequencing of bacteria, with an offer of research collaboration. Under his guidance, she prepared an application for a prestigious European grant from the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) programme.

“Only about a thousand researchers get this grant each a year and nearly 12,000 people applied in this particular call, so I was really surprised that I got it,” says Králová. Winning the grant means certain research funding for two years, as well as additional funding from the Vienna laboratory which will cover a part of the study costs.

Postponed transfer

The young microbiologist will take about 100 Antarctic bacteria species that she has previously isolated and characterised with her to Vienna. These include soil actinobacteria and bacilli. She will also choose from some bacteria that she has not worked with before, but which have interesting biosynthetic genes.

“I will try to cultivate other bacteria from this year’s Antarctic expedition and develop new procedures for culturing those bacterial genera that we have not been very successful in isolating and culturing so far. We know that they can produce a variety of substances with interesting antibiotic properties,” says Králová.

She will work on all this in Brno for the time being and move to Vienna at the beginning of next year. The European grant allows this and, given the current pandemic as well as family situation, the young microbiologist has decided to wait until travel between the two cities becomes hassle-free again. On the bright side, this means that when she arrives, brand new laboratories that are now being finished at the University of Vienna will be waiting for her.

In addition, she can extend her stay in the Austrian capital by another year, because she was one of the five most successful applicants for an MSCA grant at the University of Vienna – as a result, the university will pay for additional twelve months of research beyond the scope of the European grant.

She just needs to come up with ideas on how to develop her research even further. “I have some ideas for this extra year, but Professor Loy and I will set specific objectives based on the results obtained during the first year of our research.”

The Vienna laboratory offers Králová new opportunities to study the antibiotic properties of Antarctic bacteria. The experts there have developed considerable skill in the formation of communities of different bacterial species that can function stably together. “Then they investigate whether the relationships within these communities also trigger new gene expressions; in other words, whether the individual bacterial species produce new substances that lend the bacteria previously suppressed properties. This is what I want to leverage in the study of Antarctic bacteria, which often don’t behave the same in the laboratory as they do in their natural environment, and as a result they don’t exhibit their full biotechnological potential,” she says.

Králová would therefore like to create similar communities with Antarctic bacteria and see if this leads to the production of interesting substances that she could then investigate for use as new antibiotics.

In her search for substances that could help treat people infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, Králová also collaborates with the University Hospital Brno. “The hospital collects samples of multi-resistant bacteria for me, some of which are now treatable only with a single remaining antibiotic drug. Thanks to this collaboration, I will be able to test extracts from the Antarctic microorganisms in Vienna directly on resistant strains encountered in real clinical practice and look for substances that could help manage the problem of antibiotic resistance,” says Králová.

She is not afraid of working with Antarctic antipathogenic bacteria. “Every microbiologist is a bit of an adrenaline junkie, but if you follow good laboratory practices, you can nearly completely eliminate any risk inherent to research on potentially dangerous organisms,” she adds.

This will not be Králová’s first international stay involving research of the antibiotic properties of novel bacteria. For example, during her six-month internship in the US as part of her PhD studies, she worked together with American and Norwegian scientists on new species of marine bacteria in which she investigated the ability to produce antibacterial substances that could be used to produce new antibiotics.

“This way, I will keep working on an interesting problem I enjoy tackling and I will also stay in touch with my alma mater, which I don’t want to leave. I will also gain lots of new experience, especially in the preparation of grant applications, without which you can’t really get anything done in science nowadays,” concludes Králová.


Stanislava Králová (born 1991) studied experimental biology at the Faculty of Science of Masaryk University, where she also completed her PhD studies in microbiology. Between 2015 and 2017, she completed several short internships at Ghent University, University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and in a private diagnostic laboratory in Vienna. In 2019, she went on an expedition to Antarctica, where she spent three months. This year, she was awarded a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) grant for a project at the University of Vienna to search for new antibiotics in Antarctic bacteria.