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Martin Pilhofer

Martin Pilhofer


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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 was promoted to full professor of cryo-​electron microscopy in the Department of Biology in 2024.

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.

Martin Pilhofer | Awards Film

Martin Pilhofer | Insights Film

Martin Pilhofer's News

The work of NOMIS researcher Martin Pilhofer, who holds the NOMIS-supported Professorship of Cryo-Electron Microscopy at ETH Zurich, was profiled in an article in Uplift, an ETH Foundation magazine. Pilhofer’s […]

NOMIS researcher Martin Pilhofer and colleagues have published their research in Nature, suggesting that a complex actin-based cytoskeleton predated the emergence of the first eukaryotes and was a crucial feature […]

NOMIS researcher Martin Pilhofer has been profiled in an article by Beat Gygi in Die Weltwoche. The article was published in German; an English translation of the introduction follows. Nobel […]

NOMIS researcher Martin Pilhofer, Professor of Cryo-Electron Microscopy at ETH Zurich, has been awarded a European Research Council (ERC) Consolidator Grant. The Consolidator Grants are intended to help outstanding researchers […]

Researchers from ETH Zurich and the University of Tübingen have taken a high-resolution look at the structure and function of cell-to-cell connections in filamentous, multicellular cyanobacteria. This enables them to […]

ETH Zurich has announced that it has obtained a new state-of-the-art cryo-electron microscopy device, is modernizing its existing equipment, and has established the Professorship of Cryo-Electron Microscopy, which will enable […]

Martin Pilhofer's Insights

Abstract: The amoeba-resistant bacterium Legionella pneumophila causes Legionnaires’ disease and employs a type IV secretion system (T4SS) to replicate in the unique, ER-associated Legionella-containing vacuole (LCV). The large fusion GTPase Sey1/atlastin is implicated in ER dynamics, ER-de-rived lipid droplet (LD) formation, and LCV maturation. Here, we employ cryo-electron tomography, confocal microscopy,
Abstract: Contractile injection systems (CIS) are bacteriophage tail-like structures that mediate bacterial cell–cell interactions. While CIS are highly abundant across diverse bacterial phyla, representative gene clusters in Gram-positive organisms remain poorly studied. Here we characterize a CIS in the Gram-positive multicellular model organism Streptomyces coelicolor and show that, in contrast to