Martin Pilhofer

Professor of Cryo-Electron Microscopy

Martin Pilhofer is Professor of Cryo-Electron Microscopy at ETH Zurich (Switzerland).

Born in Germany, Pilhofer studied biology at the University of Bayreuth (Germany) and at the Technical University of Munich (TUM; Germany). He completed his PhD in microbiology with Karl-Heinz Schleifer at the TUM. From 2008 to 2013, he joined Grant Jensen’s lab at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech)/Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Pasadena, US, as a postdoctoral researcher in structural cell biology. Pilhofer started an independent research laboratory at ETH Zurich as an assistant professor in 2014. He was awarded a European Research Council Staring Grant in 2016 and was selected as an EMBO Young Investigator in 2018.

Pilhofer’s research focuses on understanding bacterial cell-cell interactions across different scales of resolution. These interactions are often mediated by complex macromolecular machines. In an interdisciplinary approach, Pilhofer and his team apply the key technology cryo-electron tomography to image macromolecules in their cellular context while engaging in mediation of cell-cell interactions. The main interest is the architecture, function and evolution of bacterial contractile injection systems. Recently, the team began exploring cell-cell communication structures in multicellular organisms. The resulting biological insights advance the fundamental understanding of cell-cell interactions and could lead to innovative antibiotic and/or drug delivery strategies. While driven by biological questions, the lab is also engaged in the development of innovative cryo-electron microscopy methods, including the sample preparation by focused-ion beam milling. The new technologies are being applied in multiple collaborations investigating problems in infection biology, cellular biochemistry, structural biology, systems biology and health sciences.