CAU Logo
Christian–Albrechts–Universität zu Kiel
Institut für Medizinische Informatik und Statistik

Research Training Group
genes, environment, inflammation


The Research Training Group is a joint and highly interdisciplinary effort from the

  • Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel and the
  • Universität zu Lübeck

Both institutions are actively participating in the DFG Excellence Cluster "Inflammation at Interfaces". A group of scientists working together at these institutions initiated this Research Training Group. Together, they stand for expertise, innovative approaches and the belief that interdisciplinary research will be the most promising. Students obtain access to a wide variety of different in vitro and in vivo methods and theoretical computational approaches such as subsequent data mining and bioinformatic analyses. Optimal infrastructures are available at the two universities in Kiel and Lübeck, not least the currently built Center of Molecular Life Sciences (ZMB) and the nationally unique Comprehensive Centers for Inflammation Medicine (CCIM).

For example, the RTG members have access to the following high-throughput platforms:

  • DNA lab
  • genexpression
  • genotyping
  • sequencing
  • functional genomics (cell and mouse models)

We exchange experiences with the DFG Research Training Group 1727  "Modulation of Autoimmunity" in Lübeck.

Within this Research Training Group we will study the environmental influences responsible for the development of complex, chronic diseases. Moreover, we will systematically examine the previously understudied interplay between the (micro-)environment and predisposing genetic factors. Our research is based on a highly interdisciplinary and technology-driven approach and involves scientists from many different countries. Our results will help to define novel pathophysiological trigger factors and aid the development of innovative therapeutic approaches. Much of our work is based on mouse models, as these warrant a homogeneous and controlled modification of the environment; for example, different diets can be fed and the impact on the gut microbiome and inflammatory conditions measured. Having access to patients, we will validate our findings in the human model system, too. Another focus of our Research Training Group is on the gut microbiome, an organ-like system that recently received a lot of attention due to its relevance in metabolism, health and disease, and due also to the avenue that it may be modified by means of pre- and probiotics.

By working in an interdisciplinary network, our doctoral students will receive a broad training for their future scientific career. Their mentors are scientists and clinicians working in the fields of molecular biology, biochemistry, human genetics, microbiology, immunology, epidemiology, bioinformatics and statistics. They combine their molecular and clinical expertise to guarantee that doctoral students receive a coordinated and innovative education. In addition to the work on individual projects, our students will participate in seminars and practical courses, including topics on molecular and cellular biology methods, how to handle laboratory animals, genetics and bioinformatics. They will also learn soft skills in dedicated courses.

Genome-wide Investigation of Gene-Environment Interactions Using a Case-only Design for Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Michael Krawczak
Direktor des IMIS

Dr. Sandra Freitag-Wolf
Wissenschaftlerin am IMIS

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Lieb
Direktor des Instituts für Epidemiologie (IfE)

Arunabh Sharma
Doctoral Student

Background and current state of research

Gene-environmental (G×E) interactions are frequently cited to explain the gap between the identified genetic variants and the proportion of heritability they actually explain. Chronic inflammatory bowel diseases are only one example for which many genetic risk factors have been identified, but the interplay with environmental risk factors is hypothesized as important for actual disease manifestation. However, little progress has been made to identify such interactions in the past. A possible reason for this lack of identification is an insufficient power of previous case-control or cohort studies, given a presumably moderate size of genetic effects and their interactions with environmental factors. A powerful design for analyzing G×E interactions in epidemiological studies is the case-only design, where only information on diseased cases, but not on controls is required, and which is considerably more powerful than the standard case-control approach. In the past, case-only studies have been conducted following a candidate gene approach, but their usefulness has yet to be fully explored for genome-wide applications.