Magnetotactic bacteria and magnetosome-based
theranostic systems

Our objectives

Magnetotactic microorganisms, capable of moving along the lines of the earth’s magnetic field, are of interest to scientists seeking to develop biomedical applications capable of transporting and delivering treatments to the heart of the organism.

Microorganisms such as bacteria and algae have developed efficient systems to detect external stimuli in their complex environment and respond to changes by moving with the help of organs called flagella or pili. These microorganisms can thus be described as “micro-swimmers”.


For the past ten years or so, research has been focusing on the development of artificial bacterial flagella, particularly for biomedical applications, notably for the treatment of diseases (by using these micro-swimmers to transport molecules for treatment). Microorganisms are also used either directly or as inspiration for the design of medical robots.

Developing new biohybrid approaches

These developments are currently facing scientific and technical obstacles, and new approaches must be developed to make the manufacture of these devices simpler and more robust. Purely synthetic approaches cannot achieve the level of efficiency that natural systems display in terms of detection, which leads to hybrid developments. In particular, the MaTher project proposes to develop the potential of so-called “magnetotactic” bacteria as biohybrid cargo systems. These bacteria synthesise magnetic nanoparticles (called ‘magnetosomes’) that can be used to direct cell movement, or as contrast agents for medical imaging.


Few research groups in the world are currently working on magnetotactic bacteria and microswimmers for biomedical applications. The Aix-Marseille site (including CEA Cadarache) has a unique opportunity, with Dr. Faivre’s research team, and the MaTher project, to develop this research. An important financial and institutional effort has also been developed in Germany recently through a priority programme of the German Research Foundation (DFG).

A Franco-Hispanic-German collaboration

MaTher associates Dr. Faivre’s team with complementary teams in Germany and Spain. It should establish a strong scientific collaboration between the Aix-Marseille team and the research group of Prof. Dr. Stefan Klumpp (theoretical biophysics) at the University of Göttingen, a collaboration initiated by Dr. Faivre during his stay in Germany, with joint research grants in Germany. The Institute of Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC), a Spanish centre of excellence, and in particular its Smart nano-bio-devices group led by Prof. Samuel Sánchez, is also a partner in the project and provides expertise in synthetic and hybrid devices.

The project is coordinated by the Aix-Marseille Institute of Biosciences and Biotechnologies – BIAM (UMR 7265 Aix-Marseille University-CNRS-CEA), in conjunction with its partners. MaTher officially started on 1 February 2020 for a period of 24 months.

Contact : Damien Faivre

A*Midex label

The MaTher project was selected on 18 March 2019 by the A*Midex Foundation’s Steering Committee as part of the A*Midex Foundation’s “International 2018” call for projects. This call aims to structure and strengthen the international cooperation of Aix-Marseille University and A*Midex partners through the support of international research, development and innovation projects with high strategic potential. 17 projects were selected in the framework of the 2018 call for International projects for a total budget of €2,617,798. They were subject to an independent scientific evaluation by two international experts per project. For more information on this call for projects.