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Image: Weizmann Institute of Science
|Year of election:||2022|
|Section:||Genetics/Molecular Biology and Cell Biology|
Research interests: Molecular biology, cell biology, phage, phage-bacteria interactions, bacterial immunity, CRISPR-Cas
Rotem Sorek is an Israeli geneticist and molecular biologist. His groundbreaking contributions led to better understanding of the “immune system” of bacteria. In particular, Sorek has discovered numerous immunity mechanisms that bacteria use to protect themselves against viruses - the so-called phages. Sorek is also credited with the discovery that important components of the human innate immune system have evolved from many bacterial defense systems.
Rotem Sorek's team deciphered the molecular mechanisms that bacteria use to fight off infection, which are called the bacterial “immune system”. They investigated how bacteria fight against viruses – the so-called phages – that can attack and destroy bacteria. His research led to the realisation that bacteria encode a complex network of over 100 anti-phage immune systems. One of the most significant insights from Sorek's studies is the discovery that key components of the human innate immune system originated in evolution from ancient bacterial systems that protect against phages.Sorek has developed computational and experimental platforms that systematically search for new immune systems in microbial genomes, leading to the discovery of new, widespread multi-gene immune systems. His studies have generated a new field in microbiology that meanwhile involves numerous laboratories worldwide.
One of the most important findings from Sorek's studies is the discovery that key components of the human innate immune system have originated from bacterial defense against phages. Examples include genes with so-called Toll Interleukin Receptor (TIR) domains and the cGAS-STING pathway, which was originally discovered in animals. This provides evidence for a common, ancient ancestry of innate immunity components shared between animals, plants, and bacteria. Sorek's discoveries explained the evolution of the human innate immune system.
Another profound contribution of Sorek is his discovery that viruses can use small-molecule communication to coordinate their infection dynamics. His studies were the first to show that viruses can communicate, and they represent a paradigm shift in virology.