We congratulate Anna Weiss on receiving the VAAM PhD Award 2024 for her outstanding thesis, „Ecology of a Synthetic Gut Bacterial Community”.

Microbiome research has long struggled with poorly understood questions, particularly regarding the role of bacterial interaction networks in the intestinal ecosystem’s functionality. Anna tackled this using the Oligo-MM model, a synthetic bacterial community developed by the Stecher group for functional microbiome research.

In her thesis, Anna explored the metabolism and strain-strain interaction network of Oligo-MM, providing a valuable resource for the broader research community (Weiss et al., The ISME Journal 2021). Her dedication to science communication is evident in her original blog, „Exploring bacterial interactions – or how to become a bacteria whisperer,“ making complex scientific concepts accessible. Anna also applied novel mechanistic insights from her in vitro methodology to analyze strain-strain interactions, earning her second authorship in a Cell, Host & Microbe publication (Eberl, Weiss et al., 2021) that highlighted the microbial context’s role in colonization resistance against Salmonella infection.

In her final doctoral year, Anna addressed a pivotal question in intestinal microbiome ecology: identifying key species within a diverse community that play crucial roles in its structure and functionality. Her experimental approach, analyzing „drop-out“ communities, revealed surprising results about the influence of the metabolic environment on strain-strain interactions and keystone species. This groundbreaking study, published in Nature Communications with Anna as the first author (Weiss et al., 2023), has profound implications for the field and the interpretation of microbiome signatures.

Figure 1: left to right: Prof. N. Frankenberg-Dinkel, VAAM Vice President, Dr. Anna Weiss, Prof. J. Stülke, Head of PhD Award Committee