Rolff Lab – Evolutionary Biology
at Freie Universität Berlin

Jens Rolff

Professor Institute for Biology Freie Universität Berlin
Address Königin-Luise-Str. 1-3 14195 Berlin
Telephone +49 (0)30 838-54893
Email jens.rolff [at] fu-berlin [dot] de
The evolution of long-lasting immunity and bacterial antimicrobial resistance

Currently most of my research is focused on understanding the evolution of long-lasting immune function in insects. Thanks to funding by the ERC we are investigating the hypothesis that antimicrobial peptides in insects deal with persistent infections and/or prevent the evolution of resistant bacterial mutants. The main questions are: (a) how to prevent the evolution of bacterial resistance against antimicrobials? (b) Why is it adaptive for insects to exhibit long lasting costly immune responses?

We use the beetle Tenebrio molitor to examine the temporal dynamics of an antibacterial response using transcriptomics. Building on this we are manipulating the antimicrobial response in vivo and  in vitro. These experiments will investigate the response of the model pathogen Staphyloccocus aureus to the changes in the beetle's 'multidrug' response. S. aureus resistance to these experimental selection scenarios will be studied at the phenotypic and genomic level.

This research takes a novel approach to understand the evolution of drug resistance in pathogens, one of the most important applied evolutionary questions of our times. Elucidating the evolution of integrated immune responses will greatly enhance the understanding of immunity in insects, the most speciose metazoan taxon of great importance to human health (vectors) and nutrition (pollinators).

Priming against insect antimicrobials
A new project investigates if and how insect antimicrobials prime bacteria. Does exposure to one stressor such as antimicrobial peptide determine the response/resistance to a second stressor. To explore these questions we have set up a microfluidic system (‘mother machine’). This research is part of a research consortium on organismic response to stress (
Evolution of sexual dimorphism
I am still following my long standing interest (see 2002 paper in PRSB) on sexual dimorphism in immunity. What are the underlying reasons that in many animals and perhaps plants (Williams et al 2011) females are more immunocompetent than males?
Evolution of metamorphosis
Complete metamorphosis, re-arranging the whole body during the pupal stage, happens in the vast majority of insects. One main problem insects face during metamorphosis is related to their gut flora. If the gut flora would be released into the haemolymph the hosts would die of septic shock. If the host kills of the gut flora completely before metamorphosis, they would have difficulties to acquire the required gut flora from the environment. We have only just started investigating how this riddle has been resolved.
2012 Professor, Free University Berlin.
2003-2011 NERC Research Fellow, Lecturer, Senior Lecturer University of Sheffield, UK
2001-2003 Marie Curie Research Fellow, University of Sheffield, UK
2000-2001 Postdoctoral research fellowship (DFG), Technische Universitaet Braunschweig, Germany and University of Sheffield, UK
1999 Postdoctoral research associate, Centre for Population Biology, Imperial College at Silwood Park, UK
1999 PhD, Technische Universitaet Braunschweig, Germany
1996 Diploma in Biology, Technische Universitaet Braunschweig, Germany


Books edited:

Insect Infection and Immunity Insect Evolutionary Ecology

Book reviews on Insect Infection and Immunity: TREEIntegrative & Comparative Biology and Myrmecological News


(most papers are available on, otherwise just e-mail)

Cationic antimicrobial peptides do not change recombination frequency in Escherichia coli. A Rodríguez-Rojas, J Moreno-Morales, AJ Mason, J Rolff Biol Lett

Predicting drug resistance evolution: insights from antimicrobial peptides and antibiotics. G Yu, D Baeder, RR Regoes, J Rolff, Proc Roy Soc B

Makarova O, Johnston PR, Walther B, Rolff J, Roesler U (2017) Complete genome sequence of the disinfectants susceptibility testing reference strain Staphylococcus aureus ATCC 6538. Genome Announcements

Makarova O, Johnston PR, Walther B, Rolff J, Roesler U (2017) Complete genome sequence of the ST398 livestock-associated methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (ST398 LA-MRSA) strain 08S00974. Genome Announcements

Zanchi C, Johnston R, Rolff J (2017) Evolution of defense cocktails: antimicrobial peptide combinations reduce mortality and bacterial persistence. Mol Ecol 26:5334–5343.

Keehnen N, Rolff J, Theopold U, Wheat CW (2017) Insect Antimicrobial Defences: A Brief History, Recent Findings, Biases, and a Way Forward in Evolutionary Studies. Advances in Insect Physiology (Vol. 52, pp. 1-33). Academic Press.

Khan I, Das, J, Agashe D, Rolff J (2017) Immunopathology and aging of immune function after early infection. Proc Rozy Soc Lond B doi:

Baeder D Yu G, Hoze N , Rolff J Regoes R (2016) Antimicrobial combinations: Bliss Independence and Loewe Additivity derived from mechanistic multi-hit models. Phil Trans Roy Soc B, 371, 20150294.

Hausmann, S, Petermann, J, Rolff, J (2016) Wild bees as pollinators of city trees. Insect Conservation and Diversity, 9, 97-107.

Johnston P, Dobson A, Rolff J (2016) Genomics of antimicrobial resistant Staphylococcus aureus. G3, Genes, Genomes, Genetics, in press.

Makarova O, Rodriguez-Rojas A, Erevci M, Weise C, Dobson A, Johnston P, Rolff J (2016) Longlasting immunity and persistent infection in insects revisited, Phil Trans Roy Soc B., 371, 20150296.

McGonigle J, Purves J, Rolff J (2016) Intracellular survival of Staphylococcus aureus during persistent infection in the insect Tenebrio molitor. Dev. Comp. Immunol. 59, 34-38.

Rolff J, Schmid-Hempel P (2016) Perspectives on the evolutionary ecology of arthropod antimicrobial peptides. Phil Trans Roy Soc B, 371, 20150297.

Yu G, Baeder D, Regoes R, Rolff J (2016) The More The Better? Combination Effects of Antimicrobial Peptides. Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, in press

Hilker, Monika; Schwachtje, Jens; Baier, Margarete; Balazadeh, Salma; Bäurle, Isabel; Geiselhardt, Sven; Hincha, Dirk; Kunze, Reinhard; Mueller-Roeber, Bernd; Rillig, Matthias; Rolff, Jens; Romeis, Tina; Schmülling, Thomas; Steppuhn, Anke; van Dongen, Joost; Withcomb, Sarah; Wurst, Susanne; Zuther, Ellen; Kopka, Joachim (2016). Priming and memory of stress responses in organisms lacking a nervous system. Biological Reviews, 91(4), 1118-1133.

Dorling J, Moraes C, Rolff J (2015) Survival and persistence of Staphylococcus aureus in Tenebrio molitor. Developmental and Comparative Immunology, in press.

Johnston P, Rolff J (2015) host and symbiont jointly control the microbiota during metamorphosis, PLOS Pathog 11(11): e1005246.

Johnston P, Mikolajewski D, Rolff J (2015) Identification of viruses associated with larvae of the dragonfly Leucorrhinia dubia, and damselfly Coenagrion puella from RNA sequencing data. International Journal of Odonatology, invited paper 18 (1), 81-88.

Rillig MC, Jens Rolff, Britta Tietjen, Jeannine Wehner, Diana R. Andrade-Linares (2015) Community priming – effects of sequential stressors on microbial assemblages, FEMS Microbiology Ecology, fiv040.

Rodriguez-Rojas A Makarova O, Mueller, U Rolff J (2015) Cationic Peptides Facilitate Iron-induced Mutagenesis in Bacteria, PLOS Genet 11(10): e1005546.

Mikolajewski D, Ruesen L, Mauersberger R, Johansson F, Rolff J (2015) Relaxed predation results in reduced phenotypic integration in a suite of dragonflies. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 28(7), 1354-1363.

Rodríguez-Rojas A, Makarova O, Rolff J (2014) Antimicrobials, Stress and Mutagenesis. PLOS Pathog 10(10): e1004445. doi:10.1371/journal.ppat.1004445

Mikolajewski, D.J.*, M. DeBlock & R. Stoks (2015). The interplay of adult and larval time constraints shape species differences in larval life history. Ecology, 96(4), 1128-1138.

Dobson A, Purves J, Rolff J (2014) Increased survival of experimentally evolved antimicrobial peptide-resistant S. aureus in an animal host, Evolutionary Applications, 7, 905-912.

Johnston, P. R., O. Makarova & J. Rolff (2014) Inducible defenses stay up late: temporal patterns of immune gene expression in Tenebrio molitor. G3: Genes, Genomes, Genetics, 4, 947-955.

Dobson A, Purves J, Kamysz W, Rolff J (2013) Comparing selection on S. aureus between antimicrobial peptides and common antibiotics, PLoS One 8, e75621.

Mikolajewski D, Wohlfahrt B, Joop G, Beckerman A (2013) Sexual size dimorphism and the integration of phenotypically plastic traits    Ecological Entomology 38, 418-428.

Johnston P, Rolff J (2013) Immune- and wound-dependent differential gene expression in an ancient insect Developmental and Comparative Immunology, 40, 320-324

Dobson A, Johnston P, Vilcinskas A, Rolff J (2012) Identification of immunological expressed sequence tags in the mealworm beetle Tenebrio molitor. Journal of Insect Physiology, 58 (12), 1556-1561.

Hammerschmidt K, Deines P, Wilson, A, Rolff J (2012) Quantitative genetics of immune function under different photoperiods. Heredity, 108, 569-576.

Lazzaro B, Rolff J (2011) Danger and the evolution of insect immunity (Perspective). Science, 332, 43-44.

Pursall, ER, Rolff J. (2011) Immune responses accelerate ageing: Proof-of-principle in an insect model. PLoS One, 6, e19972.

Pursall R, Rolff J (2011) Immunopathology in ecological immunology. In GE Demas, RJ Nelson: Eco-immunity, Oxford University Press, in press.

Williams A, Antonovics J, Rolff J (2011) Dioecy, hermaphrodites and pathogen load in plants, Oikos, 120, 657-660.

Mikolajewski D, De Block M, Rolff J, Johansson F, Beckerman A, Stoks R (2010) Predator-driven trait diversification in a dragonfly genus: covariation in behavioral and morphological antipredator defense. Evolution, 64 3327-3335.

Nunn C, Lindenfors, P, Pursall, ER & Rolff J (2009) On sexual dimorphism in immune function. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, 364, 61-69.

Rolff J, Reynolds SE (eds) (2009) Insect infection and immunity: evolution, ecology and mechanisms. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Haine, E, Moret, Y Siva-Jothy M & Rolff J (2008) Antimicrobial defence and persistent infection in insects. Science 322, 1257-1259.

Haine E, Pollit L, Moret Y, Siva-Jothy M & Rolff J (2008) Temporal patterns in immune responses to a range of microbial insults (Tenebrio molitor). Journal of Insect Physiology, 54, 1090-1097.

Hammerschmidt K, Reinhardt K & Rolff J (2008) Does double-blind review favor female authors? Frontiers in Ecology, 6, 354-355.

Mikolajewski D, Stoks R, Rolff J & Joop G (2008) Predators and cannibals modulate sex-specific plasticity in life history and immune traits. Functional Ecology, 22, 114-120.

Reynolds SE, Rolff J (2008) invited minireview. Immune function keeps endosymbionts under control. Journal of Biology, 7, 28.

Haine E, Rolff J & Siva-Jothy M (2007) Functional consequences of blood clotting in insects. Developmental and Comparative Immunology, 31: 456-464.

Rolff J (2007) Why did the acquired immune system of vertebrates evolve? Developmental and Comparative Immunology, 31: 476-482.

Joop G, Siva-Jothy M & Rolff J (2006) Gender and the eye of the beholder in coenagrionid damselflies. Evolutionary Ecology, 20, 259-270.

Joop G, Mitschke, A, Rolff J & Siva-Jothy M (2006) Immune function and resistance in male and polymorphic females in a damselfly (Coenagrion puella). BMC Evolutionary Biology, 6, 19 DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-6-19.

Stoks R, de Block M, Slos S, van Doorslaer W and Rolff J (2006) Time constraints mediate predator-induced plasticity in immune function, condition and life history. Ecology, 87, 809-815.

Fellowes M, Holloway G & Rolff J (Eds.) (2005) Insect Evolutionary Ecology. CABI Publishing, Wallingford.

Rolff J, Armitage SAO & Coltman DW (2005) Genetic constraints, sexual dimorphism and immune defence. Evolution, 59, 1844-1850.

Siva-Jothy MT, Moret Y & Rolff J (2005) Evolutionary ecology of insect immunity. Invited review. Advances in Insect Physiology, 32, 1-48.

Joop G. & Rolff J. (2004) Plasticity of immune function and condition under the risk of predation and parasitism. Evolutionary Ecology Research, 6, 1051-1062.

Mikolajewski D & Rolff J (2004). Benefits of morphological defence demonstrated by direct manipulation in larval dragonflies. Evolutionary Ecology Research, 6, 619-626.

Rolff J & Siva-Jothy MT (2004) Selection on insect immunity in the wild. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 271, 2157-2160.

Rolff J, Van De Meutter F &Stoks R (2004) Time Constraints Decouple Age and Size at Maturity and Physiological Traits. American Naturalist, 164, 559-565.

Armitage S, Thompson J., Rolff J. & Siva-Jothy MT (2003) Examining the costs of induced vs. constitutive immune defense in Tenebrio molitor. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 16, 1038-1044.

Rolff J & Kraaijeveld AR (2003) Selection for parasitoid resistance alters mating success inDrosophila. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B (Suppl.), 270, S154-155.

Rolff J. & Siva-Jothy MT (2003) Invertebrate Ecological Immunology. Science, 301, 472-475.

Rolff J (2002) Bateman’s principal and immunity. Proceedings of the Royal Society of London B, 269, 867-872.

Rolff J & Joop, G (2002) Estimating condition: pitfalls of using weight as a fitness correlate. Evolutionary Ecology Research, 4, 931-935.

Rolff J & Siva-Jothy MT (2002) Copulation corrupts immunity: a mechanism for the cost of mating in insects. Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, USA, 99, 9916-9918.

Braune P & Rolff J (2001) Parasitism and survival in a damselfly: does host sex matter? Proceedings of the Royal Society of London, B, 268, 1133-1137.

Rolff J (2001) Invited Review: Evolutionary ecology of water mite-insect interactions: a critical appraisal. Archiv für Hydrobiologie, 152, 353-368.

Rolff J. (2001) Effects of age and gender on immune function of dragonflies from a wild population (Odonata, Lestidae). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 79, 2176-2180.

Rolff J & Kraaijeveld AR (2001) Host preference and survival in selected lines of a Drosophilaparasitoid, Asobara tabida. Journal of Evolutionary Biology, 14, 742-745.

Rolff J, Braune P & Siva-Jothy MT (2001) Ectoparasites do not affect ejaculate volume in the dragonfly Coenagrion puella. Physiological Entomology, 26, 315-319.

Rolff J, Vogel C & Poethke HJ (2001) Co-evolution between ectoparasites and their insect hosts: a simulation study of a damselfly water mite association. Ecological Entomology, 26, 638-645.

Rolff J (2000) Parasitism in damselflies during emergence: two hosts, one pattern. Ecography, 23, 273-282.

Rolff J (2000) Intime Interaktionen: ektoparasitische Wassermilben an Libellen. Libellula, 19, 41-52.

Rolff J, Antvogel H & Schrimpf I (2000): No correlation between ectoparasitism and male mating success in a damselfly: why parasite behavior matters. Journal of Insect Behavior, 13, 563-571.

Rolff J (1999) Parasitism increases offspring size in a damselfly: experimental evidence for parasite-mediated maternal effects. Animal Behaviour, 58, 1105-1108.

Rolff J & Schröder B (1999) Regaining the water: a simulation model approach for Arrenuruslarvae (Hydrachnellae) parasitizing damselflies (Coenagrion puella L.: Odonata). In:
J. Bruin, LPS van der Geest & M Sabelis (Hrsg.): Evolution and Ecology of Acari, Kluwer.

Zeiss C, Martens A & Rolff J (1999): Male mate guarding increases females’ predation risk? A case study on tandem oviposition in the damselfly Coenagrion puella (Insecta: Odonata). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 77, 1013-1016.

Rolff J (1998) Parasite-mediated sexual selection: parasitized non-choosy females do not slow down the process. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 44, 73-74.

Befeld S, Katzur K, Lepkojus S & Rolff J (1997) Emergence patterns of Coenagrion hastulatum(Charpentier) in Northern Germany (Zygoptera: Coenagrionidae). Odonatologica, 26, 337-342.

Rolff J (1997) Better hosts dive: detachment of ectoparasitic water mites from damselflies (Hydrachnellae, Acari; Coenagrionidae, Odonata). Journal of Insect Behavior, 10, 819-827.

Rolff J & Kröger C (1997) Intraspecific predation in immature Coenagrion puella: a switch in food selection? Odonatologica, 26, 215-219.

Rolff J & Martens A (1997) Completing the life cycle: detachment of an aquatic parasite (Arrenurus cuspidator, Hydrachnellae) from an aerial host (Coenagrion puella, Odonata). Canadian Journal of Zoology, 75, 655-659.

Bonn A, Gasse M, Rolff J & Martens A (1996) Increased fluctuating asymmetry (FA) in the damselfly Coenagrion puella correlated with ectoparasitic water mites: implications for FA theory. Oecologia, 108, 596-598.

Bölscher B, Gasse M, Lingnau M, Rolff J & Sandkühler K (1995) Großräumige Verteilungsmuster der Sommervögel in einem Niedermoorkomplex im subkontinental beeinflußten Teil Norddeutschlands: Beispiel Drömling. Braunschweiger Naturkundliche Schriften, 4, 743-753.

Writing about science:

Rolff J (2011) It’s time scientists set an example by reducing their carbon footprint. The Guardian.

Rolff  J & Sedley D (2009) Leave nothing but footprints? Times Higher Education.

Rolff J (2009) After the Toll rush. Public Service Review, Science and Technology.

Hammerschmidt K, Reinhardt K & Rolff J (2008) Does double-blind review favor female authors? Frontiers in Ecology, 6, 354-355.