Respiratory supercomplex from Mycobacterium smegmatis
Respiratory supercomplex from Mycobacterium smegmatis


In cells, there are molecular machines that together make up energy factories. These factories provide the energy that enable everything from muscle activity and nerve signalling to cell division and growth. 

These machines can work together in what is called a supercomplex. Either dynamic, where the machines included vary, or a permanent complex that is static. The aim is to understand more about why certain organisms have static supercomplexes, which also appear to have additional biochemical functions. 

“We will investigate why certain bacteria have additional functionalities in their system for energy conversion compared with almost all other organisms, including us humans, and what the consequences of those functionalities are,” says Martin Högbom, professor of biochemistry at Stockholm University.

New opportunities for fighting tuberculosis

The researchers will be studying the bacterium Mycobacterium smegmatis and manipulating its supercomplex in various ways so as to gain a deeper understanding of its different functions. They will also build digital models of supercomplexes from closely related species such as Mycobacterium tuberculosis, which causes tuberculosis. 

“Our research is primarily about obtaining a better understanding of the world around us, but it could also lead to medical applications. The bacteria that utilize this system cause, for example, tuberculosis and show a rapid development of antibiotic resistance. The bacteria’s energy conversion is a promising target for new drugs, but we must first understand how it works,” says Martin Högbom.

In addition to Martin Högbom, the research group also includes Peter Brzezinski and Pia Ädelroth of Stockholm University, as well as Ville Kaila who recently moved to Stockholm University from Technische Universität München. The project runs for five years and has received funding of SEK 38 million from the Knut and Alice Wallenberg Foundation.


Martin Högbom Lab