prof. dr. J.W. (Jan-Willem) Veening

Professor at the University of Lausanne


Research units:

Postal address:

Phone: +31 50 363 4468

Fax: +31 50 363 2368

Research interests

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Introduction to my research

Although Streptococcus pneumoniae (pneumococcus) is present in up to 80% of young children without disease symptoms this bacterium is still, arguably, the most devastating human microbial pathogen in the world. It can cause several serious diseases such as meningitis, septicemia and pneumonia and each year, more than 2 million people die because of pneumococcal infections.


How and why the pneumococcus switches from benign to pathogen is therefore one of the key questions the research of my group tries to address.


Within genetically identical populations of bacteria, often only specific subpopulations of cells enter the same developmental pathway and exhibit the same phenotype; a phenomenon known as phenotypic bistability or phenotypic heterogeneity. How populations of genetically identical cells bifurcate into phenotypically distinct subpopulations in the same environment is an important question for our research.


Another question to answer is why pneumococcus is becoming more and more resistant to the antibiotics used nowadays and therefore posing an increasing threat to human health. To understand how bacteria deal with stress is crucial for the control of these pathogens.


Finally, we are interested in the pneumococcal cell cycle and try to understand how DNA replication, chromosome segregation and cell division are coordinated. Insights from this line of research might lead to the identification of new antibiotics and vaccine targets.


To answer these important fundamental questions we employ a multidisciplinary systems biology approach and use state-of-the-art genetic tricks, synthetic biology tools, quantitative fluorescence microscopy, transcriptomics, mathematical modeling and bioinformatics. Often it requires tool development.


This combination of approaches has already led to several key insights such as how pneumococcus retains its characteristic rugby-ball shape (Beilharz et al., PNAS, 2012), how transcription elongation is controlled (Yuzenkova et al., Nucleic Acids Research, 2014), what the impact is of the capsule for infection (Kjos et al. J Bacteriology, 2015) and why the pneumococcus takes up DNA from its environment in response to certain antibiotics (Slager et al., Cell, 2014).



  1. Young Academy Introduction speech

    Activity: Talk or presentationInvited talk

  2. EMBO (External organisation)

    Activity: ScientificMembership of network

  3. Antibiotics - Now!

    Activity: ScientificParticipation in conference

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Press / Media

  1. Stinksokken

    Press / Media: Research

  2. Pneumokokken doorgronden

    Press / Media: Research

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  1. Lidmaatschap De Jonge Akademie

    Prize: National/international honour

  2. ERC Starting grant

    Prize: Fellowship awarded competitively

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