Principal Investigator

Michael Poulsen

Michael Thomas-PoulsenProfessor

Section for Ecology and Evolution
Department of Biology
Bygning 3 - 1. sal
2100 København Ø
Phone: +45 35 33 03 77
Mobile: +45 53 94 93 11

ORCID: 0000-0002-2839-1715
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Education & Employment  

2020-  Full Professor on the Evolution of microbial symbioses, Section for Ecology and Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen.

2014-  Associate Professor, Section for Ecology and Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen.

2010-2014  STENO Assistant Professor, Section for Ecology and Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen.

2005-2010  Post-doctoral Research Associate, Department of Bacteriology, University of Wisconsin-Madison, adviser Professor C.R. Currie.

2005 . Post-doctoral position, Centre for Social Evolution, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, adviser Professor J.J. Boomsma.

2002-2005  PhD, Department of Biology, University of Copenhagen, supervised by Professor J.J. Boomsma.

2000-2001  MSc, Department of Ecology and Genetics, Aarhus University, supervised by Professor J.J. Boomsma (University of Copenhagen) and Associate Professor E. Davis Parker (Aarhus University).

1995-2000  BSc, Biological Sciences, Aarhus University.

Awards & Grants  

2017  Consolidator Grant, European Research Council (15.000.000 DKK).

2017  Department of Biology, UCPH, grant for the 4.5ECTS PhD course on Chemical and Genomic Insight to Parasitic and Mutualistic Host-Microbe Interactions (67.000 DKK).

2017  Carlsbergfondet Research Infrastructure grant “Establishing the links between diet and microbiota in three divergent models” for MSc projects by students Kasun Bodawatta, Emilia Rolander, Malou Storm, and Kristjan Germer (177.000 DKK)

2017  DFF-Research Project 2 (Forskningsprojekt 2) from The Danish Council for Independent Research | Natural Sciences (5.871.506 DKK).

2015  Funding from the NOVA University Network for the PhD course Chemical and Genomic insight to host-microbe symbiotic interactions (112.886 DKK).

2015  Docent Dr. Scient. Lauritz Olsons Rejsefond travel grant awarded to MSc student Benjamin H. Conlon (15.987 DKK).

2015  One-year co-financing of a PhD stipend, Department of Biology (380.756 DKK).

2015  Villum Kann Rasmussen Young Investigator Fellowship (6.690.432 DKK).

2014  PhD stipend, Rafael Rodrigues da Costa, Science without Borders, CAPES Foundation, Ministry of Education of Brazil, Brazil (455.000 DKK).

2011  Best Photo Award, 6th Asia-Pacific Association of Chemical Ecology Conference. Beijing, China. 

2010  Four-year STENO fellowship from The Danish Council for Independent Research | Natural Sciences (4.119.287 DKK).

2008  Mentor for Derek Abramowski, Hilldale Undergraduate Research Fellowship (30.000 DKK).

2007-2008  Post-doctoral research fellowship from Carlsbergfondet (600.000 DKK).

2006  Post-doctoral research fellowship from Lundbeckfonden (350.000 DKK).

2004  Short-term fellowship, Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) (11.500 DKK).

2002  Best talk, Third Annual Meeting of the International School of Biodiversity Sciences, Aarhus, Denmark.

2002  Three-year PhD-fellowship from the University of Copenhagen (ca. 1.300.000 DKK).

Summary of Long-Term Research Interests

My research interests combine the fields of evolutionary ecology and molecular microbiology. I am particularly interested in how antagonistic (parasitic) and beneficial (mutualistic) microbial symbionts shape host ecology and evolution, how partners complement each other metabolically, and how host-symbiont associations defend themselves against exploitation. My work is fundamental in nature, but encompasses components of applied significance, such as the natural use of antibiotics, antibiotic resistance in parasites, and plant decomposition enzymes of interest to biofuel production. My focus is on the almost completely unexplored presence and role of additional symbionts associated with fungus-growing termites, part of the integrated approaches of my long-term research focus areas:

i) The evolution of symbiont complementarity. My studies of the contributions to plant decomposition by termites and their fungus gardens have provided the first -omics evidence of an intricate connection between the natural history of substrate processing and symbiotic partner complementarity.

ii) The evolution of termite microbiotas. We have established that the shift in fungus-growing termite gut microbiota composition coincided with fungus domestication 30MYA, and that a core set of microbes persists in the guts of the fungus-growing termite sub-family. This compositional shift was associated with the reduced handling of complex carbohydrates (now taken care of by Termitomyces fungi) and an enrichment of enzymes for fungal cell wall breakdown in the microbiota. Despite ancestral shared functional roles, gut communities have diversified: congeneric termite species have more similar microbiotas than species from different genera.

iii) Disease-defence dynamics in fungus-growing termites. With only Pseudoxylaria weeds being present in dying or abandoned combs, and culture-independent approaches indicating the virtual absence of other fungi within fungus combs, gut-mediated selective inhibition of non-mutualists in the substrate for Termitomyces growth is a candidate hypothesis. 

Michael Thomas-Poulsen
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Phone: +45 35 33 03 77
Mobile: +45 53 94 93 11