Since 1980 his studies have focused on the genetics and molecular biology of bacterial virulence factors with pathogenic Yersinia as model organisms with specific attention to lipopolysaccharide genetics and biosynthesis. Bacteriophages have taken up increasingly his interest, and at present all the projects in his laboratory deal with different aspects of phages. A major goal is to start a phage therapy unit in Helsinki.
Born 1952. MSc (1977) majoring biochemistry, University of Oulu). PhD (1985) University of Oulu. Post-doc (1985-87) with Hans Wolf-Watz, Umeå, Sweden. Head of DNA Laboratory (1987-1993) Dept Medical Microbiology, University of Turku. Academy fellow (1993-1996). Director (1996-1997) Turku Centre for Biotechnology. Academy Fellow (1998-2002). Professor of Bacteriology (2002-), University of Helsinki.
Docent in Microbial Genetics
Phone: +358 (0)2491 26731
Saija Kiljunen has MSc in biotechnology (University of Turku, Finland), PhD in medical biochemistry (UTU), and docentship in microbial genetics. She is working as a senior scientist in a phage therapy project, whose long-term aim is to establish a phage therapy center in Finland. The project was launched 2013 by Prof. Mikael Skurnik and it is a collaboration project with Helsinki University Hospital (HUS), HUSLAB Clinical Microbiology, and HUS Pharmacy. The work includes the isolation and analysis of new bacteriophages that infect antibiotic-resistant pathogenic bacteria, setting up production and purification methods to produce clinical-grade bacteriophage preparations, the development of methods for fast host range screening, and communication with Finnish medical authorities to promote the establishment of pharmaceutical guidelines and regulations that would allow the therapeutic use of phages in Finland.
Phone: +358 (0)2491 26731
Maria Pajunen received her MSc in biotechnology (1996, University of Turku, Finland), PhD in medical biochemistry (2002, Univ. Turku), and docentship in molecular microbiology (2006, Univ. Helsinki). She rejoined the Skurnik lab in 2015 after two post-doctoral periods elsewhere. She is currently working in Academy of Finland funded project: Bacteriophage genome mining for antibacterial leads. The increase of antibiotic resistance among clinically important bacterial pathogens is alarming and every research effort towards developing new antibacterials is welcome. Bacteriophages have evolved to exploit bacterial cells for their own benefit and use sophisticated molecular mechanisms to interfere with bacterial targets. Characterization of the phage exploitation mechanisms is likely to reveal also novel antimicrobial targets.
During her first post-doc from 2002 to 2010 in professor Harri Savilahti’s lab both at the Institute of Biotechnology in Helsinki and at the Department of Biology in University of Turku. In his lab she studied the molecular mechanisms of DNA transposition with the specific interest on target specificity of bacteriophage Mu transposition, in vitro assembled transposition complexes and their use in functional genomics. This collaboration is still ongoing as she serves as vice member of the board in Domus Biotechnologies Ltd. The second post-doc from 2010 to 2015 she spent with professor Jukka Finne in the Glycoscience group at the University of Helsinki on deciphering the regulation of polysialic acid expression. Polysialic acid is an important oncodevelopmental antigen expressed on neuroblastoma cells and its role in this childhood cancer is still essentially unexplored.
Post-doctoral fellow (Now in Rob Lavigne's lab, KU Leuven, Belgium)
Xing received in 2017 her PhD in microbiology from the University of Helsinki, Finland. Her doctoral research was about the genetics of bacteriocins produced by lactic acid bacterium Leuconostoc carnosum, and the application of these bacteriocins in genome editing. Based on the class IIa bacteriocin targeting mechanism, she developed a counterselection method to screen for the loss of integrative plasmid, when using homologous recombination to delete fragments in bacterial genome.
In November 2018, Xing joined Skurnik lab as a postdoctoral fellow. Her work is to identify the molecular targets for the bactericidal non-structural phage proteins. She believes that better understanding of the targeting mechanism in phage-bateria interaction would be useful for pharmaceutical industry to design new drugs to treat infections caused by the bacteria resistant to conventional antibiotics. At the moment, she is validating toxic hits of Yersinia phage φR1-RT, and overexpressing these toxic proteins for the identification of their targets.
Her motto: If Thanos could not wipe out half of the population of antibiotic resistant bacteria, then the responsibility falls upon us to find new way to deal with them.
Phone: +358 (0)2491 26372
At 2007, Mabruka graduated from the Medical University of Benghazi (Libya) with a degree of Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery, then she worked at the Department of Gastroenterology as a junior doctor; during which she joined the Department of Microbioloy and Parasitology of the University of Benghazi as a tutor and master student. During her studies she got a scholarship from the university to get the PhD degree from abroad….and she chose Finland.
She started her doctoral project at the beginning of 2011 with Skurnik’s group at the Department of Bacteriology and Immunology. She belongs to the Doctoral Programme in Microbiology and Biotechnology (MBDP).
Her doctoral research is about bacteriophages (bacterial viruses) which infect the Yersinia bacteria. In her PhD work, she has extensively characterized Yersinia phages isolated from pig stool samples originating from different Finnish pig farms. Specifically, she characterized 16 phages infecting Yersinia enterocolitica, and three phages infecting Yersinia pseudotuberculosis.
As a consequence of increased antibiotic resistance, interest to use phages as antibacterial agents has also increased. Being lytic, voided of toxins and other harmful genes, the phages characterized in her PhD work can be safely used as therapeutic and/or prophylactic tools to cure and prevent yersiniosis or even plague.
In addition to phages, she loves her three children and enjoys playing, reading and baking delicious muffins with them.
Joseph has been trained as a virologist to study the pathogenesis and epidemiology of viruses that poses threat to human health and to develop prevention measures against them. However, he has turned into “a virus-hunter” with the objective of using the microbes to improve human health and economic status.
Joseph holds a B.Sc. in Biomedical sciences [Jomo Kenyatta University of Agri & Techno (JKUAT)] and M.Sc. in Infectious Diseases (Virology major) (Kenyatta University) – Nairobi, Kenya. He has served as a research intern at the Kenya Medical Research Institute – Centre for Virus Research (KEMRI-CVR), a volunteer lab technician (University of Nairobi Medical School; Research and Teaching units) and as a research fellow (Institute of Primate Research) in Nairobi, Kenya. He joined the University of Helsinki research unit through fellowship grants from CIMO and ISID\ESCMID.
He is currently a virology PhD student at the University of Nairobi KAVI-Institute of Clinical Research, Nairobi-Kenya. His PhD thesis work involves isolation of novel bacteriophages of therapeutic and biocontrol significance against pathogenic Staphylococcus bacteria. This work is a continuation of his previous master’s thesis which dwelt on the safety and efficacy of phage therapy against bacterial infections.
Phone: +358 (0)2491 26372
Phone: +358 (0)2491 26316
Department of Bacteriology and Immunology
PO Box 21 (Haartmaninkatu 3)
FI-00014 University of Helsinki, Finland
In 2013 Henni started her studies in Laboratory analytics at Metropolia University of Applied Sciences and as part of the studies she carried out her bachelor’s thesis work in Skurnik lab on phage therapy project after which she graduated in 2016. After graduation she has continued her work in the phage therapy project as a lab technician.
I have Bachelor's Degree in Laboratory Sciences (Metropolia University of Applied Sciences) and MSc in general microbiology (University of Helsinki). I work as laboratory analyst in phage therapy project. I started in Skurnik lab in June 2017.
Miguel Gomez-Raya finished his BSc in Biomedicine at the University of Barcelona (Spain) in 2018. He joined our laboratory at the beginning of 2018 while on an Erasmus exchange and did his bachelor’s thesis on the DNA polymerases of YerA41, a bacteriophage that contains a highly modified genome. He is currently doing a Master’s programme in Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology at the University of Helsinki. As part of our research group, he is now doing his Master’s thesis in the characterization of the newly found DNA polymerase of YerA41. If you do not see him in the laboratory or in class, he most likely is somewhere in Helsinki either in a sauna, ice-skating, eating cinnamon buns or taking pictures with his camera, or elsewhere in the world visiting friends and family.
Sheetal Patpatia joined Yersinia and bacteriophage laboratory in 2015 during her bachelor’s advanced training. Her projects have been widely related to phage therapeutics and developing newer methods such as high throughput rapid host-range screening for bacteriophages. She is currently pursuing her master’s in Translational medicine at University of Helsinki, Faculty of Medicine and working on her MSc thesis project.
Kimi is a Master’s student in the Microbiology and Microbial Biotechnology program at University of Helsinki. He is working on optimizing the methods for production and purification of bacteriotoxic phage proteins to identify their molecular targets in a bacterial cell.
Anna started her bachelor’s training at Yersinia and bacteriophage laboratory in February 2019. Her work is focused on finding host strains for Klebsiella pneumoniae phages.
Matti Ylänne, MSC student, joined Phage Therapy laboratory in September 2019. Me has carried out his MSc studies in University of Jyväskylä, and in his MSc thesis he has characterized Acinetobacter bacteriophages.